Warm Reception in Washington

Last week, Ohio Bev joined colleagues from around the nation at our annual American Beverage Association Fly-In. We met with eleven Ohio Congressional offices over two days. Anyone who’s done a fly-in knows the DC pace is swift with harried legislative directors and triple-booked members rushing from one meeting to the next, wedging in floor votes and downloading dozens of issues in a day.

Given this climate, we needed to succinctly convey our industry’s “story” in Ohio and outline current issues where DC help is essential. I feel very fortunate to represent nearly 10,000 hardworking Ohioans directly employed in the non-alcoholic beverage industry whose employers contribute $6.5 billion annually to the state’s economy through wages, benefits, taxes and charitable contributions. This story makes us welcome in every Congressional office, regardless of political affiliation.

Whether we met with the gracious Congresswoman Joyce Beatty who represents a wealth of our Columbus facilities or the engaging Congressman Bill Johnson who knows our employer footprint in Wintersville, South Point and Little Hocking, these members care deeply about our industry and its worth to Ohio. While we may not always get agreement on every “ask”, we always get a fair hearing and genuine interest. Plus, I’m convinced our members genuinely like seeing friendly faces from back home.

After the economic impact story, we moved into an aspect of the Farm Bill which concerns the SNAP program. Occasionally, we see proposed amendments to restrict purchase of our sweetened beverages with SNAP benefits. This year, we believe a New York legislator will push this idea in a misdirected attempt at “reforming” the SNAP program.

To push back, we shared the realities of putting government in charge of determining “good foods” and “bad foods” and creating more bureaucracy in a program that many seek to reform. This would create a “food code” administered by government that would rival our tax code. And we underscored that bans and restrictions don’t teach us anything about managing our caloric intake.

So, the bottom line is restricting certain purchases in the SNAP program won’t save money, will likely drive up costs of compliance and won’t change any health outcomes. We are very pleased that members, regardless of party ID, understood and agreed with these points.

We ended our visits with a new issue on transportation. Our industry is part of a broad coalition of businesses working to bring trucking into the 21st century and allow states to raise their weight limits on Interstate Highways. The move to 6-axle, 91,000-GVW trucks will reduce congestion on state and local roads, reduce infrastructure costs, trim fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and create savings for American manufacturers that can be reinvested into our communities.

We don’t expect immediate action on this idea, but we used the DC visits to plant the seed. There is much more work to be done to build consensus and alleviate concerns from skeptics, but members are ready to discuss this.

As always, I’m happiest working in Ohio but appreciate the hard work and unique challenges facing our Congressional delegation. Anytime we tell our story and plant seeds for better policies, is time well spent.

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