USDA spending $4 million to increase food stamp use at farmers markets

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The Department of Agriculture announced a $4 million dollar, expanded-eligibility plan to increase food stamp access at farmers markets this week.

Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon announced that in an effort to make more produce readily available to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamp program, the agency is expanding the use of wireless point-of-sale equipment to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers who do not already have such equipment.

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” Concannon said in a statement.

“In general, research shows that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pocket of American farmers. Installing wireless technology at farmers markets expands the customer base for markets and increases the share of the SNAP dollar that goes directly back to local farmers and into local economies,” he added.

In the last four years USDA has been pushing increased fresh produce access for SNAP participants. In 2008 750 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers accepted food stamps. Last year more than 3,200 did, according to USDA.

SNAP redemptions at farmers markets in that four-year period increased six-fold, the agency reported.

The $4 million in funding to lease or buy the equipment was provided in the 2012 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, which the agency heralded last May. The funding is available to states through the end of September.

“SNAP participation at farmers’ markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers — a win-win for agriculture and local communities,” then-Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said at the time.

SNAP participation is near an all time high with more than 47.7 million people accepting benefits.

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