Initiative Improves Use of Electronic Food Stamps at Farmers' Markets

Lawmakers tucked an initiative called the Farmersí Market Promotion Program into the 2008 Farm Bill. This program financed, among other items, USDA grants that allow farmersí markets to accept SNAPóthe benefit commonly known as food stamps. The Allegheny Frontís Hal B. Klein has more on how these grants are funding technology that helps bring farmersí market produce to low-income consumers.

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HOST: Lawmakers tucked an initiative called the Farmersí Market Promotion Program into the 2008 Farm Bill. This program financed, among other items, USDA grants that allow farmersí markets to accept SNAPóthe benefit commonly known as food stamps. The Allegheny Frontís Hal B. Klein has more on how these grants are funding technology that helps bring farmersí market produce to low-income consumers.

KLEIN: Food stamps themselves have never been forbidden at farmers markets...but when the benefits changed from physical stamps to electronic transfers, or EBT, in 2004, market vendors didnít have the technology to accept them. Getting an EBT system up and running is expensiveócosts can easily top $1,000Öso this is where USDA grants from the Farmersí Market Promotion Program can help. The Main Street Market in Washington PA is the first regional market to take advantage of the grants. Market manager Ken Snisky says operating the system is a smooth process.

SNISKY: The customers come to us, they tell us what they want to take off their cardsÖwe run their cards through the machine, we give them these little tokens, they spend the tokens as if they were cash with the vendorsÖvery simple.

KLEIN: Farmer Ed Jodikinos, a vendor at the market, adds that the program has also been helpful to farmers.

JODIKINOS: Itís actually picked up our business probably a couple percent.

KLEIN: Access to electronic transfers at farmersí markets is slowly expanding in Western PA. The stateóusing funds that began with USDA grants--bought 100 electronic transfer machines and made them available for free to markets; one Pittsburgh market now accepts EBT, and Just Harvest, a hunger advocacy organization, is working with regional markets to do the same.

Despite billions of dollars of proposed cuts to SNAP spending in the 2012 Farm Bill - including a failed amendment by PA Senator Pat Toomey to gut funding to farmersí marketsóthe program remains fully funded in the current House and Senate bills.

For The Allegheny Front, Iím Hal B. Klein.