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The Board of Directors Responds to Courtesy Discount Concerns

Early in 2006, the Finance department began reporting to the Co-op’s Board of Directors an alarming trend in the rapidly rising number of courtesy discounts being taken at the registers. Courtesy discounts are the 10 percent discount on all purchases, every day, for those who qualify for them by either being over 60, disabled, or living on a low-income. Courtesy discounts have been offered to our shoppers for over 30 years, however over the past several years the amount of these discounts has grown disproportionately with the overall sales for the Co-op. It is projected that the courtesy discount amount will put a great deal of stress the Co-op’s budget in a matter of only a few years.

In December 2006, the Co-op’s Board of Directors began the process of requesting input from owners/members through the formation of task force to discuss possible optionsfor the current courtesy discount program.

Courtesy Discount Task Force

Sixteen members responded to a request for self-nominations in the December 2006 Board Report in the Reader. The Courtesy Discount Task Force (CDTF) included Co-op members who were recipients of the senior, low-income and/or disabled discount and those who were not receiving the discount. The group was facilitated by Anne Reynolds from the UW Center for Cooperatives, and the first meeting was held in January 2007 where members were given an overview of the discount structure and the grim financial projections the Co-op would be likely to experience if the program remained the same. All of those attending expressed the desire to see that any changes to the system be made and carried out with respect and responsibility for the individuals receiving the discount and for the Co-op in general.

The final document

The Task Force met monthly to discuss possible remedies and to review additional information they’d asked for to aid in making their recommendation. In April 2007 the group composed a final document that was presented to the Board of Directors, who added their wish for a “grandfather” clause to the following recommendation:

“In order for the Cooperative to maintain equitability for all of its owners:

  • The CDTF recommends basing all discounts solely on each applicant’s financial need: Low-Income.
  • The CDTF recommends eliminating “Senior” and “Disabled” discounts (grandfathering all of those seniors/disabled members already receiving the discount).
  • The CDTF further recommends the following programs and/or creating additional educational opportunities for all classes of membership: Senior/Disabled Days or Specials
  • Increased access and/or free or reduced rates for home delivery to Seniors/Disabled/Low Income members.

This recommendation would only affect new seniors or disabled applicants if they did not qualify under the low-income requirements.

The availability of FREE memberships would not be affected by this recommendation and those (seniors/disabled) who qualify would still be allowed to set up a free membership but would not receive this discount unless they qualify under the income guidelines.


Since the first introduction of the work done by the Task Force, the Board has asked for more clarity on the definition of, and how to substantiate, low income. The following list was composed:

Owners/Members may qualify for a Low Income membership if they receive one or more of the following services and can provide confirmation of them:

  • QUEST/Food Stamp Program
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • School Breakfast Program (for free and reduced-price meals only)
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (for free and reduced-price meals only)
  • Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
  • Community Food and Nutrition Program
  • National School Lunch Program (for free and reduced-price meals only)
  • Medicaid
  • Section 8 Housing

Kathleen Doherty, one of those who served on the committee who has since been elected to our Board of Directors, commented on the her work on the committee. “In terms of ‘policy,’ the benefit should match the need. In other words if people were low income, lower prices (i.e. the discount) would still enable them to actively participate in the Co-op. Following that logic, if people had a physical disability, offering them free delivery would enable them to actively participate in the Co-op. Bestowing benefits on members without regard for their specific, unique needs shows favoritism to particular classes of people.”

Conn Huffaker, another member of the committee, had this to say about the work: “Having had the privilege to be a member of the Courtesy Discount Task Force, I can assureyou the committee always had all Willy Street Co-op’s members’ interests in mind. I was very impressed by my fellow committee members’ thoughtful questions and concerns as we reviewed the Co-op’s fiscal and demographic data, mission statement and history while we progressively worked toward a consensus. Many of us did not initially wish to recommend a change in policy to the Board, but the evidence was clear that some kind of revision was necessary for the future financial health of the Co-op.”

Listening sessions and feedback

Currently our bylaws dictate that the Co-op’s owners must vote on any changes to the Courtesy Discount system, however, the next steps as we see them include holding Listening Sessions to hear from our Owners while providing education about the Co-op’s need for change as indicated in the proposed bylaws changes. Owners can attend one or both of these meetings on Monday, February 18th and/or Wednesday, February 27th at 6:00pm in our Community Room. We’re also expecting and invite our Owners to weigh in on this subject in writing if that’s more convenient. If you’d like to send a note via email, please send your thoughts to:.