A key strength of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is its structure as an entitlement program that utilizes regular channels of commerce through public and private partnerships. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, authorizes food retailers to accept SNAP benefits. SNAP customers then redeem those benefits by using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit cards at authorized stores. This makes SNAP a cost-effective means for government to get food assistance to needy people. It also means that SNAP customers can shop where and how other customers shop for their groceries. And it means SNAP can respond quickly to increased need, whether due to economic downturns or natural disasters.

One of the people behind the scenes who helps to ensure SNAP transactions are a reliable, mainstream, and dignified way for eligible people to obtain their food was center stage this summer. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which represents large retail food stores, honored Andrea Gold, who manages USDA’s SNAP retailer operations, with its Esther Peterson Consumer Service Award. Ms. Peterson had served as special assistant for consumer affairs under U.S. Presidents Johnson and Carter and as vice president for consumer affairs at Giant Food, Inc.

“In the spirit of award namesake Esther Peterson, Gold is devoted to finding solutions to critical SNAP customer issues, serving grocery customers whenever a need arises – often after hours and on weekends,” said Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer, senior vice president, government relations, FMI. “She strives to make the program more efficient for food retailers and create a seamless payment experience for the grocery shopper.”

FMI also pointed to Gold’s service in the wake of natural disasters. As part of the National Response Framework, Gold helps the retail food industry provide SNAP nutrition assistance to those most affected by a crisis through USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

President and CEO of FMI, Leslie G. Sarasin, said, “Andrea is literally the calm in a storm and a source of order in the midst of chaos. When confronted with a crisis, she and her team work with speed and efficiency to provide sustenance to victims of a natural disaster when they find themselves suddenly, and often critically, in need of the very basics of food and water. Andrea remains a front-line resource to states and food retailers when a Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) and related options are in place, and we’re grateful for her leadership.”

Currently, Gold and her team are working with stakeholders to pilot online SNAP purchases and continuing to help SNAP keep up with other developments in retail operations and technology. While the work is often technical and behind the scenes, Gold’s work helps to get vital nutrition assistance to people in a modern, mainstream, and efficient fashion. It is work that deserves the important recognition FMI bestowed.