USDA Reports Increasing Use of SNAP Benefits at Farmers Markets
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants are spending more of their benefits to make purchases at roadside farm stands, farmers markets and directly from local farmers than ever before, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
SNAP redemptions at those outlets totaled $18.8 million in 2014, a nearly six-fold increase since 2008. SNAP-authorized famers, farm stands and farmers markets also increased during that time from about 750 to 6,400.
"All Americans, including those participating in our nutrition assistance programs, need to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet,"Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in a statement "America's farmers have an important role to play in addressing that need in communities across the country. Accepting SNAP benefits also increases the customer base for local producers, adding an extra economic boost to the community."
Through a partnership with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, the USDA provides free wireless equipment to qualifying farmers and farmers markets, enabling them to accept SNAP via electronic benefit transfers (EBT). In May the USDA announced the availability of $3.3 million in competitive funding to help farmers markets serve SNAP participants through Farmers Market SNAP Support Grants.
Those awards will be announced in September.
The USDA also recently awarded $31.5 million in funding to local, state, and national organizations to support programs that encourage SNAP participants to buy more fruits and vegetables, including the fresh produce found at America's farmers markets and direct marketing farm outlets.
Funded through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, the projects will help policymakers determine how best to provide incentives to SNAP participants to increase healthy purchases.
Farmers are a vital lifeline to healthy nutrition in low-income areas, because many bring their products to food deserts with few, if any, supermarkets or grocery stores.
"Redemptions through farmers and producers nourish local economies, while helping those in underserved neighborhoods," Concannon said. "Without farmers markets, roadside farm stands and farmers who sell directly to the public, residents of these communities may have to travel to grocery stores outside their area to obtain fresh produce or make-do with processed foods."