By SHANNON WATKINS
More fresh foods will be available to the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also formerly referred to as “food stamps”) recipients though farmers markets, according to an announcement made by U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.
Because of funding provided by Congress through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012, the USDA announced last year that it has an extra $4 million to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment in farmers markets that do not currently accepting SNAP benefits.
Monday’s action expands eligibility for grant funds to include direct marketing farmers, as well as farmers markets. Funds may be used to purchase or lease equipment or pay for wireless access and are available to states through Sept. 30 of this year.
“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Concannon. “In general, research shows that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pocket of American farmers. Installing wireless technology at farmers markets expands the customer base for markets and increases the share of the SNAP dollar that goes directly back to local farmers and into local economies.”
Locally, the Pulaski farmers market does not expect to accept SNAP cards yet, according to Pulaski Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Peggy White. “We may have it later in the summer or next year,” she added.
The Radford farmers market, by contrast, will be accepting SNAP. According to Main Street Radford’s Director, Becky Haupt, “We’re hoping to get a lot of usage. We’ve been to training, we have the machines, and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s a good way to reach a different set of customers.”
The USDA has made expanding SNAP recipients’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers markets a priority in recent years. In 2008, about 750 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers accepted SNAP. In 2012, over 3,200 participated – a four-fold increase in markets, which was accompanied by a six-fold increase in redemptions at these outlets.