Last summer, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), released the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To-Handbook. The handbook assists farmers’ market operators and direct marketing farmers in determining the steps necessary to become authorized to participate in SNAP and, subsequently, the steps related to managing participation.
It includes tips and guidelines on how to make the program work successfully for vendors and customers. The handbook also features a list of resources, a glossary of important terms, and several case studies from farmers markets that have successfully implemented EBT technology. AMS’s USDA Farmers’ Market Directory is available online to locate farmers’ markets that accept nutrition assistance program benefits.
There are many benefits to making farmers’ markets more accessible to all communities, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet in these hard times. The concentration of fresh and nutritious foods found at farmers’ markets and sold by direct marketing farmers helps introduce low-income households to a variety of healthy options. As SNAP clients increase their demand for local produce, small farmers have potential to increase in their customer base. Our goal here at FNS is to authorize an additional 200 direct marketing farmers and/or farmers’ markets to accept SNAP benefits and increase redemptions nationally by at least $750,000 each year. We are on our way to reaching these goals. At the end of Federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, according to AMS, a total of 6,132 farmers’ markets were operating around the United States. This represents a 16 percent rise from 2009. Of this total, 1,611 farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers were authorized by FNS and redeemed $7,547,028 in SNAP benefits. This is a 263 percent increase in the number of authorized farmers and farmers’ markets and a 49 percent increase in SNAP redemptions over the previous five fiscal years.
Under regular SNAP rules, EBT equipment is provided free of charge and the expense is shared by the SNAP state agency and FNS. For farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers that do not have access to a land line and electricity necessary for the standard equipment to work, the markets may elect to use manual paper vouchers or purchase wireless equipment through a third party processor. FNS reimburses states that wish to provide wireless equipment to farmers and markets at the rate of 50 percent of the cost of equipment as part of the administrative cost associated with benefit issuance. Under a demonstration waiver, FNS allows markets to implement scrip projects that allow a farmers’ market to obtain one FNS authorization to accept SNAP benefits for all eligible vendors at the market by using a single point-of-sale (POS) terminal. The scrip (paper, tokens or receipts) is purchased at a centrally-located POS terminal that accepts SNAP benefits and is exchanged for eligible food products by participating vendors. Many markets also use this process for accepting credit and debit cards.
FNS has conducted a congressionally-mandated cost benefit analysis to assess the feasibility of equipping all farmers’ markets nationwide with wireless EBT point-of-sale (POS) equipment. This analysis focuses on requiring centralized operation of a single EBT terminal to issue scrip, as it is the most cost effective way to equip farmers markets and often the most practical way for markets to manage participation. It is likely that most farmers’ markets will implement SNAP if funding is made available. President Obama has included a request for $4 million in the 2012 budget to support this effort.
For more information on how to become an authorized retailer that accepts SNAP benefits at your farmers’ market, or to read the FNS Report to Congress, please visit the FNS Farmers’ Market website at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.
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