“We are remaining optimistic that service will not be interrupted and we will continue to accept SNAP benefits at our market.” – Linnea Carlson, Jamestown Public Market Manager
JAMESTOWN – Some food stamp recipients across the country– including the Jamestown Public Market – could soon lose access to farmers market benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as SNAP and previous known as food stamps – allows low income residents the ability to pay for food, including fresh fruit and vegetables at participating farmers markets. But technical difficulties may put an end to some markets being able to accept SNAP payments.
According to the Washington Post, the Novo Dia Group, an Austin-based company that processes some 40 percent of SNAP transactions at farmers markets nationwide, said it will end its service by July 31, leaving about 1,700 of the more than 7,000 markets that offer SNAP (including the one in Jamestown) with no way to serve low-income customers, unless a new opportunity presents itself.
In 2012 the USDA set up the Free SNAP Wireless Equipment Program to provide mobile devices to farmers markets. Since then, more than 2,500 markets have received card readers, tablets or smartphones. But markets still needed software to process the federal benefits.
That’s where Novo Dia and others came in. With their various platforms in place, SNAP benefits redeemed at farmers markets nationally increased by 35 percent, to $22.4 million in 2017 from $16.5 million in 2012, meaning more fresh produce for low-income people in both rural areas and cities.
“At the present time, we are extremely grateful to have the support of advocates, such as the Farmers Market Federation of NY and the Farmers Market Coalition, as they work with the Novo Dia Group to find a solution,” Jamestown Public Market manager Linnea Carlson told WRFA. “We are remaining optimistic that service will not be interrupted and we will continue to accept SNAP benefits at our market.”
The shutdown also could compromise a range of incentive programs that have emerged over the past decade to improve low-income shoppers’ access to healthful food, including dollar-for-dollar matching of all purchases.
“Right now, we do not want to cause the public to feel that they can not continue to use their benefits. They can. We have been instructed to carry on business as usual until a solution can be found,” Carlson said.
However, she said the local market also wants to make this issue known to the public for several reasons; the first being, SNAP benefits at the Jamestown market and others across the country benefit both the customer and farmers/growers.
“All monies stay local, and support small, family farms and local business. The ability of individuals and families to spend their SNAP benefits at our public market has increased healthy food access in Jamestown and has made our market inclusive of all community members,” Carlson said.
Carlson added that the Jamestown market also feels it’s important for the community to be aware of these issues and stay vigilant in holding both elected officials and businesses accountable as changes are made within the food system.
“Whether this is sharing the news as detailed in the Washington Post, advocating for a strong 2018 Farm Bill, or volunteering for community projects, our community can make a change,” she said.
Carlson added that the Jamestown Public Market is standing by the Farmers Market Coalition’s statement.
“While we work to aid impacted markets, we encourage communities nationwide to get out and support their farmers markets like never before. Invite a friend, take your family, and enjoy the festive atmosphere. But above all, buy from your local farmer. You depend on them for the food you eat. They depend on your business to grow your food,” the coalition’s statement read.
In the divisive debate over food assistance, the success of SNAP at farmers markets has been one of the few issues that Washington lawmakers agree on. Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) told WRFA Wednesday morning that he was unaware of the news regarding the Nova Dia Group, but added he will look into the matter.
“What we’ll do is follow up to make sure the Jamestown Public Market and others have the capabilities to ensure those SNAP benefits are being utilized and available to the people to access them at the farmers markets not only across the district, but I imagine this is something that would impact the entire nation as a whole when you lose a provider of that magnitude,” Reed said.