Posted On: January 16, 2019 By Farmers’ Markets Coalition
by Ben Feldman, FMC Executive Director | firstname.lastname@example.org
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.