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Farmers Market SNAP Programs Face Challenges from Gov’t Shutdown, Novo Dia Uncertainties

Posted On: January 16, 2019 By Farmers’ Markets Coalition

by Ben Feldman, FMC Executive Director | ben@farmersmarketcoalition.org

unnamed (2)Since its inception, FMC has prioritized advocating for support for SNAP EBT equipment and administrative funding to increase SNAP access at farmers markets. In 2012, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) first began offering support using $4 million in funds from the President’s annual budget for the agency. Now, seven years later, a variety of avenues have been pursued and tested, with significant gains made: the share of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets continues to rise, even as total SNAP dollars spent decreases across the country.

However, farmers markets will not be able to reach their full potential as fresh food access points for our low-income shoppers until markets have long-term access to no-cost, reliable, wireless SNAP processing systems at farmers markets.

July of 2018 highlighted the tenuous situation of equipment access at farmers markets, when one of the major equipment providers, Novo Dia Group, announced that they would be shutting down by the end of that month. Immediately after the announcement in July, FMC set up aninformation center where markets could find updates on the situation and information on alternative equipment options, and launched a mini-grant program to help out markets in dire need.

While temporary relief was found, farmers markets once again face uncertainty with regard to SNAP on a number of fronts. Although provisions were made to extend Novo Dia’s service through February 2019, the company has not provided clarity regarding their future. In responding to FMC’s request for additional information, Novo Dia representatives responded by saying “NDG never stated that a shutdown would occur at the end of February 2019,” and that future updates would be posted on their website.

Additionally, the unprecedented, partial government shutdown has further complicated the SNAP picture for farmers markets in the following ways:

  • Prior to the shutdown, USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) was exploring options for avoiding a disruption in service by Novo Dia, should the company cease operations. Since the beginning of the shutdown, no further planning has occurred and it remains unclear what, if any, options are being pursued by FNS.
  • No new authorizations to accept SNAP are being processed by FNS. Farmers markets seeking authorization to accept SNAP will be forced to wait until the government reopens for there to be any progress on their application.
  • Implementation of the recently passed farm bill has not begun. Under normal circumstances, USDA would be moving quickly to review the final language that was signed into law and begin the implementation process. This includes language directing FNS to ensure markets are able to operate SNAP programs without needing multiple FNS numbers or terminals. Because the shutdown followed almost immediately after the passage of the farm bill, staff were unable to make any progress towards implementation of this or other provisions related to farmers markets.
  • Lastly the federal government is scrambling to ensure funding for SNAP recipients funding, resulting in the need for an early payout of billions of dollars for the month of February. The Trump administration is bankrolling $4.8 billion in benefits to SNAP redeeming outlets by January 20th. For SNAP redeeming farmers markets, this may result in an influx of SNAP dollars in the next two weeks while leaving future funding uncertain once the allocations are spent. FMC encourages markets to notify farmers and vendors accepting SNAP that there may be an increased demand for fresh foods through the program. Equally important is communicating to recipients the early funding implications, as there may be some confusions around the extra benefits received. A list of the dates each state will be releasing February SNAP funds has been compiled by USDA and can be found here.

In the meantime, FMC will continue its work to provide stability for markets offering SNAP. Throughout 2019, FMC will also continue to coordinate with markets, network leaders, elected officials and the USDA to compile and share information, assess the problem, and identify paths of action to help markets avoid a disruption in SNAP services.

Additionally, FMC will step up efforts to support the inclusion of free wireless EBT equipment for markets in state SNAP contracts through collaboration with state partners and policy leaders. We believe that such an approach is needed in order to ensure a long term solution that protects markets from the uncertainty they face today.

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Government shutdown to kick SNAP recipients in their empty stomachs

Our Kitchen Table received a copy of this press release from Michigan Department of Social Services this morning. While the president had fun feeding football players fast food in Washington DC, those relying on food assistance to feed their families are expected to simply fast.

The State of Michigan is trying to help SNAP recipients by providing February benefits early.

food

 

FMC Analysis: Why the 2018 Farm Bill is Good for Farmers Markets

FarmersCapHill

Farmers and market managers join FMC to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for farmers market programs in the farm bill.

Posted On: December 13, 2018 by Farmers’ Market Coalition

After months of inaction and political maneuvering, Congress has hit the gas on the farm bill, introducing the Farm Bill Conference Report late Monday night, and then holding votes in both the Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The report represents the final compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill, and includes important wins for farmers markets, farmers, and local food. In the end, the report leaned heavily on the Senate’s bill with regard to farmers markets; good news for our industry as the House proposal would have made massive cuts to key programs.

The bill now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it before the end of the week.

This achievement couldn’t have happened without the many calls, emails, and office visits that FMC members made over the last 18 months. This year, FMC engaged with 129 different legislative offices, while many of you met with and hosted your state and local officials at market.

Nine months ago, we were facing the very real prospect of the elimination of FMPP and the significant benefits that it brings our industry, but you stepped up to demonstrate the tremendous impact farmers, market managers, and local food leaders can make when we work together. The results speak for themselves, and we can’t thank you enough for standing shoulder to shoulder with FMC and advocates across the country to fight for the future of our local food systems.


So what are those wins for local food? Let’s take a look:

  • Permanent, baseline funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a new program that combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program(FMLFPP), and the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) into a comprehensive local food program (see page 408).
    • The Program is to receive $50 million dollars per year (which gets the program to the permanent baseline level and ensures its continuation even if the farm bill expires) with 47% going to FMLFPP grants. While this represents a drop from funding specifically for FMLFPP as compared to the 2014 farm bill, the drop is offset by the security of baseline funding, as well as additional funding in LAMP for related activities.
    • One such example is the Grants to Support Partnerships, designed “to support partnerships to plan and develop a local or regional food system.”
    • FMLFPP applications also now require a 25% match from the applicant.
  • Language directing USDA Food and Nutrition Service to resolve its longstanding “one machine per location” policy, and allow farmers markets “to operate an individual electronic benefit transfer point of sale device at more than 1 location under the same supplemental nutrition assistance program authorization.” FMC members have, for years, expressed concern about the barrier this policy has presented to expanding SNAP access (you can read this language on page 149 of the report).
  • A big increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program, which will also be renamed to honor local food pioneer and former FMC board member, Gus Schumacher.
    • Funding for the program will ramp up from $45 million in 2019, to $56 million in 2023. As with LAMP, this gets the program to permanent, baseline levels so that the program will continue even if the farm bill expires.
    • Evaluation requirements are simplified to eliminate redundant and sometimes burdensome reporting requirements, and increases training, technical support, and information sharing.
    • Includes funding for produce prescription grants through a seperate application process.
  • Continued funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
  • The bill also contains what is known as “report language” that directs USDA “to take appropriate action to ensure that EBT service is not disrupted and SNAP customers maintain the ability to use their benefits at farmers markets.” While report language doesn’t carry the force of law, it still is an important signal to USDA that Congress is aware and keeping track of this issue, particularly given the ongoing questions surrounding the shutdown of Novo Dia, one of the largest wireless SNAP processors for farmers markets.

What Happens Next?

Once the bill is signed by the President, implementation of the various provisions of the bill will begin to be put into effect. This happens as the agencies tasked with each provision create regulations through the process of “rulemaking”. How rapidly the farmers market provisions listed above are implemented depends on a number of factors. Programs with only minor changes, like FMLFPP and VAPG, typically don’t require rulemaking and will likely only need small changes to the Request for Proposals. This would put them on track for a similar timetable of previous years.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, USDA Food and Nutrition Service could take some time to implement changes to the “one machine per location” policy. Given that there is no written guidance on the policy, the agencies’ previous concern about altering the policy, and its generally wary approach, it is likely that the changes will go through a rulemaking process, and may not be implemented quickly.


Stay Engaged!

Of course, FMC will continue to keep you all updated on implementation developments as they happen. Politics is always moving and changing and we must stay engaged and vigilant. Stay in touch with your members of Congress. Stay connected to the issues. Donate to FMC’s advocacy efforts. Get out to market each week and support family farmers. These ways and others are how we can transform our local food systems together.

In the meantime, take a moment to celebrate this victory for local food and farmers markets – you deserve it!

Weigh in on Urban Ag at the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market Saturday

grSoutheast Area Farmer’s Market
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Oct. 27
MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE

Bridge Cards, Double Up Food Bucks and WIC Welcome!

The City of Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee wants to know your thoughts about urban agriculture. Come to the market Saturday and let them know what you think. OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King is on the committee. Some questions that she and Our Kitchen Table is asking include:

  • Should zoning ordinances be changed to support urban farms? If they are, who should operate them? City residents and small, local farmers, or high-powered agricultural industrialists looking for investment opportunities?
  • Who should eat the food? Neighborhood residents with little access to healthy whole foods or the clientele of high-end restaurants?
  • How will urban ag projects will impact the neighborhoods where they operate? Will they support the existing residential community or hasten gentrification and higher housing costs?

“School gardens, urban farms, [and] composting and educational initiatives have tremendous potential for shaping a city’s fabric,” says Levi Gardner, Urban Ag committee chair. “Through this community engagement process, we hope to better understand how these initiatives and many others like them fit into our growing city. While we are benchmarking against other cities in this process; we are welcoming Grand Rapids residents to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns about this work.”

Expired Farm Bill Bad for Farmers Markets & Farmers

unnamed (4)Reposted from Farmers Market Coalition

Farmers, agriculture organizations, and local food advocates across the country have spent the past year fighting for a farm bill that’s supportive of farmers markets, the 2014 Farm Bill expired on October 1st with no replacement and no extension in sight. With midterm elections looming, and the House now on recess until after the midterms, it seems unlikely that any progress will be made before congress reconvenes for the lame duck session in November.

Unfortunately, even that timeline may be optimistic as some members of Congress have speculated that there may not be the political will to get a bill done during a lame duck session. This is an incredibly disappointing — if not deeply concerning — outcome for two reasons:

Over the course of the farm bill’s history, this is only the second time it has expired without a new bill in place (note: When the farm bill expired for the first time October 1, 2012, an extension quickly passed in December of that year, but a new bill wasn’t finalized until 2014). The increasingly partisan nature of Congress has now once again stymied what used to be a very bipartisan process.

Letting the farm bill lapse with no extension on the foreseeable horizon puts critical programs for farmers and farmers markets in jeopardy at a time when farmers are particularly vulnerable.While grants already awarded through the Farmers Market & Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), and other federal programs will remain operational, no new grants can be awarded until Congress passes new legislation. Congress must either pass a new farm bill or pass language that authorizes funding for FMLFPP and FINI and eight other related programs, collectively known as the “Tiny But Mighty” programs.

Congress should pass a new farm bill, incorporating the Senate’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) before the end of the year. Absent that, Congress must pass an extension that provides funding for the “Tiny But Mighty” programs — otherwise these successful programs would cease to operate.

What can you do?

First, contact your members of Congress today, and tell them the time for delay is over; farmers need a farm bill now.

Second, remember this is an election year. Show up to town halls and campaign rallies in your area, speak up in your support of farmers markets, and vote!

Food Access in Michigan Project launches website

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Percent of food insecure* households in Michigan

The Food Access in Michigan (FAIM) Project has launched its website – www.faimproject.org – highlighting the systemic challenges in addressing food insecurity while seeking to support regional food systems that strengthen local communities across the state.

The FAIM Project is a USDA-funded study rooted in an environmental justice framework examining food access and food insecurity in Michigan. Primarily housed within the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, the multi-disciplinary research team is a collaboration across co-investigators from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Michigan-Flint, Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University, Lake Superior State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

One in 7 people are food insecure in Michigan, while state also has a growing local food economy, with agriculture making up the second largest industry in Michigan. The goal of the FAIM project is to develop strategies for fostering vibrant, food secure communities that are rooted in principles of justice and equity for everyone along the food chain.

The FAIM Project website shares current research on food insecurity and food access, the challenges facing small farmers across Michigan, a database of policies that support food access and local food economies, interactive maps and spatial analysis of the future potential for Michigan’s agricultural land, illustrations of the ways food retailers shape people’s daily experiences with food, as well as highlighting the work of FAIM Project community partners endeavoring to engage their communities in growing food through a variety of urban agriculture initiatives.

The FAIM Project team hopes the website will serve as a resource for researchers, activists, and community members working to address food insecurity; for food retailers and farmers, whose daily work enriches all our lives; and for public health & emergency food assistance professionals, and truly anyone interested in working to create a more just and equitable food system across Michigan.

To learn more about the FAIM Project please visit: www.faimproject.org

To connect with the FAIM Project team, please email: faimproject@gmail.com

Farm bill developments further food assistance stigma by including work requirements and diet education

OKT would like to point out that the developing farm bill further stigmatizes people receiving food assistance by including work requirements and education stipulations. These imply that the reason for hunger and under-nutrition is that people are unwilling to work and/or unable to make smart food choices. In fact, the problem is lack of  employment opportunities that pay a living wage and limited access to healthy foods within income-challenged neighborhoods. –Editor

GetStoredImageAugust Update:
2018 Farm Bill
Nutrition Programs

By: Grace Michienzi

Back in June, the Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill with a bipartisan 86-11 vote, according to the Washington Post (Dewey and Werner). This followed the partisan passing of the House of Representatives version of the Farm Bill, which had no support of the Democratic Party, primarily because of its “strict work requirements on able-bodied adults” seeking SNAP participation (Dewey and Werner). According to the Congressional Calendar, both the House and the Senate are currently in August recess, however, with the September 30 deadline approaching, the work on the Farm Bill is not over (“Days”).

According to Politico, the Senate voted to conference the Farm Bill on July 31 (Rodriguez). This is because, now that both parts of Congress have passed their versions of the Farm Bill, the House and the Senate have to come together to conference their bills and will end up with one bill that will pass both houses by the September 30 deadline. Senator Mitch McConnell is hopeful that conferees from the House and the Senate will produce a report after Labor Day, according to Politico (Rodriguez). According to the article, the changes to work requirements and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will likely be the biggest cause for debate, both between the two parties and between the House and the Senate (Rodriguez).

Some are speculating why the focus of the Nutrition Programs has even been on work requirements. According to The Hill, the work requirements have been a large part of the bipartisan debate in the House and the Senate, however, the proposed changes would only affect a “relatively small percentage of SNAP recipients” (Glickman et al). The writers suggest that the actual conversation should be about diet, citing research done at Tufts University that presents that SNAP recipients have a lower quality diet than income-eligible non-participants (Glickman et al). The editorial argues that amending funding that goes to SNAP-ed, a program that aims to educate SNAP recipients on nutrition, will “make SNAP even more effective for those it serves—and a better use of the public’s money” (Glickman et al).

According to SNAP-Ed Connection, Michigan’s Implementing Agencies of SNAP-Ed are Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Nutrition Network – Michigan Fitness Foundation (“State”). According to the writers at The Hill, there has never been a more important time for the debate about Nutrition to refocus, however, it is unlikely that the debate will change this late in the year (Glickman et al).

 

Works Cited

“Days in Session of the U.S. Congress.” Congress.Gov, Library of Congress, United States

Copyright Office, congress.gov/days-in-session.

Dewey, Caitlin, and Erica Werner. “Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Sweeping Farm Bill,

Setting up Fight with House.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 June 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/senate-passes-sweeping-farm-bill-setting-up-fight-with-house/2018/06/28/0007d532-7aff-11e8-80be-6d32e182a3bc_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2f17cf43668e.

Glickman, Dan, et al. “Focusing on Nutrition Is Paramount to Getting a Sound, Bipartisan

Farm Bill Out.” The Hill, Capitol Hill Publishing Corporation, 10 Aug. 2018, thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/401209-focusing-on-nutrition-is-paramount-to-getting-a-sound-bipartisan-farm-bill.

Rodriguez, Sabrina. “Senate Finally Votes to Conference Farm Bill.” Politico, POLITICO, 1

Aug. 2018, http://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-agriculture/2018/08/01/senate-finally-votes-to-conference-farm-bill-303256.

“State SNAP-Ed Contacts: Michigan.” SNAP-Ed Connection, United States Department of

Agriculture, 6 Aug. 2018, snaped.fns.usda.gov/state-snap-ed-contacts/michigan.