May 9, 2012
On Wednesday, May 9, USDA announced $4 million in funding to expand EBT capacity at farmers markets across the U.S. as part of the Agency’s larger mission to improve healthy food access in low-income communities.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides benefits to recipients through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. With the transition from paper to electronic benefits in the mid-1990s, SNAP purchases at farmers markets declined due to a lack of equipment and technology to accept and process these electronic benefits.
The USDA funding, made available by Congress through the Fiscal Year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, will work to reverse this trend and boost SNAP sales at local food outlets. While there are over 7,100 farmers markets in the U.S., a mere 1,500 of these currently have the capacity to accept EBT.
On a press call, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan explained that the philanthropic community and organizations like NSAC member Fair Food Network and NSAC partner Wholesome Wave are largely to thank for the available EBT technology at some markets.
In looking at the limited capacity to process EBT at farmers markets, Merrigan said that she asked herself “Why couldn’t it be all of them?” USDA estimates that the $4 million will significantly expand this number, hopefully adding 4,000 additional markets to the list of those accepting EBT.
The funding will be distributed to States and weighted more heavily towards States lacking large numbers of EBT-capable markets. It will then be up to the discretion of the States to administer the funding.
Later this year through a Federal Register notice USDA will announce a period during which the Agency will accept public comments on disbursements of these funds in future years.
NSAC strongly advocates for expanding EBT access at farmers markets and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing outlets such as community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) and farm stands. Not only does ensuring EBT capability expand access to healthy, fresh food for low-income Americans but it also bolsters economic development. When farmers sell directly to consumers, they are able to retain a larger share of the dollar that can then be reinvested in the local community.
The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act contains key EBT provisions aimed for inclusion in the final 2012 Farm Bill. NSAC supports inclusion of all of the provisions of this bill in the 2012 Farm Bill. We will be alerting members and readers to opportunities to work for this goal as the farm bill moves to the Senate floor and to the House Agriculture Committee, both of which may happen in June.