To the Editor:
Gristedes is and always has been committed to serving the residents of the local communities and appreciates the unique nature of Roosevelt Island. Gristedes renovated and revamped its store on Roosevelt Island for the 5th time in May 2013 in order to provide the residents with an improved shopping experience that would better serve their needs.
Gristedes is compliant in its lease obligations and operates a first-class retail establishment that supports the residents of Roosevelt Island. Last month Gristedes had to terminate its participation in the WIC program in all of our locations. The WIC program placed a financial burden on Gristedes and strained our relationship with our bank, which Gristedes accepted for a long period of time in order to service our customers. We reached out to WIC but its unwillingness to amend its administrative procedures, left us no choice but to leave the program.
Our Roosevelt Island store, like the vast majority of our stores, took fewer than 5 WIC checks in the average week. Gristedes values the business of those 5 WIC customers and we tried, to no avail, at both the local and state level to work this out so we could continue to participate in the program. It is our understanding, that the Federal Government issues the funds, which are then administered by the State Government.
The state has gone to a system of “blind WIC checks” which lists the eligible item but no longer contains the price. Prior to this system, if the price of the product listed by the retailer exceeded what WIC was willing to pay, WIC would simply pay the retailer the price it deemed appropriate (often a 30% discount to the normal retail price), which Gristedes accepted for decades.
This blind WIC check system, now instructs WIC’s bank to return the check if the amount listed exceeds what WIC is willing to pay. While WIC ultimately does pay Gristedes for the product at the price it deems appropriate, the revised procedure resulted in over 700 returned deposit checks every month at Gristedes. As a result our bank has issued us a warning about accepting these checks and charged us significant return check fees. This has strained our relationship with the bank and cost Gristedes money as the returned check fee often exceeds what is ultimately received from WIC. This broken system was the subject of an article by the New York Post published on August 23, 2016.
We remain open to rejoining the WIC program if and when the implementation can be adjusted so as to reduce the burden placed on the retailer.
If the parties involved want to meet with the intentions of making appropriate changes needed to the WIC program, and to make sure our bank is satisfied and will start accepting the checks again, Gristedes will be first in line in an effort to try and accommodate the 5 customers on Roosevelt Island who have been using WIC in our store.
I have discussed it with both Congresswoman Maloney and Public Advocate James and we are willing to have a meeting to make sure the State is complying with the Federal regulations. We are all trying to work together to come to a resolution for all WIC consumers.
Gristedes Chairman and CEO