Farmers markets start dollar-for-dollar SNAP matching

Posted 12/11/19

Jefferson County Farmers Markets’ food stamp matching program is in flux due to a lack of grant funding this year.

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Farmers markets start dollar-for-dollar SNAP matching

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Jefferson County Farmers Markets’ food stamp matching program is in flux due to a lack of grant funding this year.

In past years, the three farmers markets in Jefferson County, two in Port Townsend and one in Chimacum, received federal grant funding for a matching program that would allow shoppers who use the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/EBT) to receive an additional $2 for fresh fruit and vegetables for each $5 they spent on their SNAP/EBT card.

But in 2020, the state’s Department of Health (DOH) was not awarded the same federal grant money, which would have continued SNAP matching at farmers markets around the state for the next five years.

Because of this, there is limited state funding available to support farmers market SNAP match programs.

Despite the lack of federal funding, DOH and the Washington State Farmers Market Association will be working with farmers markets across the state to roll out a common one-to-one SNAP match program in 2020.

Farmers markets that accept this state funding will offer a one-to-one match for SNAP with a cap set by each market based on their budget.

This means that for every dollar spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, shoppers who use SNAP/EBT will receive a matching dollar good for fresh fruit and vegetables.

But the amount that farmers markets can offer as matching money will be dependent on their budgets.
“The funding is a fraction of what we’ve received in past years,” said Amanda Milholland, director of the
Jefferson County Farmers Markets. “We’ll have to set cap depending on how much money we can raise.”

If they manage to raise $11,000, the cap for matching could be up to $20 per shopper. The match money will come in the form of a voucher that shoppers can use at the market to purchase produce.

But if the market doesn’t raise that much, the cap could be lower.

“The amount is dependent on how much we raise between now and the start of the season,” Milholland said.
Based on sales from the previous year, the average SNAP user spends about $20 at the market. Having match money allows them to get more locally grown fruits and vegetables.

While the grant funding is less this year, the one-to-one match program is good for markets, Millholland said.

“The one-to-one SNAP match program presents a tremendous opportunity for farmers markets around the state to simplify how they incentivise SNAP and help people with low incomes bring home more nutritious food,” she wrote in a press release.

This will be the first year that farmers markets in the state have a common SNAP match rate.
According to Milholland, having multiple rates and match caps around the state was confusing for shoppers using SNAP.

“A statewide program will help eliminate some of the barriers that keep shoppers who use SNAP from redeeming their food benefits at farmers markets,” she wrote. “This benefits community health by increasing access to the most nutrition-dense foods available. At the same time, it will encourage SNAP shoppers to keep their money in local economies through direct producer to consumer sales and will simplify farmers market
SNAP promotions with a common message.”

But with a limited budget, local farmers markets need community support so as not to run out of matching funds mid-season.

“State funds for next season for our three farmers markets will be $6,000, a little over half of what Jefferson County Farmers Markets received annually from the federal grant,” she said. “With the one-to-one SNAP match requirement that money will go quickly. We are thankful for the state SNAP match funding and excited for the potential of the one-to-one SNAP match program. We need community support to help cover this fund gap and continue empowering community members with low incomes to choose nutritious, locally grown food. Our goal is to raise $11,000 for SNAP matching during the 2020 season.”

Last market season, with the five-to-two matching and other food assistance programs, the farmers markets in Jefferson County provided more than $14,600 to low-income market shoppers.

This means that approximately 500 households brought home close to $39,000 in nutritious, locally grown and produced food from the farmers market in 2018. This figure combines matching funds, SNAP dollars, as well as Women Infants and Children vouchers and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers spent at the Port Townsend and Chimacum Farmers Markets last year.

In Jefferson County, around 4,400 people rely on federal food assistance through SNAP. More than 13% of the Port Townsend population lives below the poverty line. A total of 53% of students in Port Townsend and 81% of students in Brinnon qualify for free and reduced lunch during the school year.

“We know that our food access programs work because we see community members every week who put them to use so they can bring home healthy, locally grown food from the farmers market,” Milholland said.
“We see the excitement of children munching into crunchy carrots, the appreciation of parents when they walk away from the market booth with an extra $13 dollars to add to their $20 SNAP budget.”

The SNAP program may be threatened even more by the Trump administration in the coming year. A press release published by the USDA on Dec. 4 detailed a new rule that makes it more difficult for states to waive a requirement that able-bodied adults without children work at least 20 hours a week or else lose their benefits. This change is expected to eliminate Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for 688,000 adults. It will go into effect in April.

“It’s a tricky thing because this progress is so important, but it’s not secure funding from one year to the next,” Milholland said.

Fifteen percent of the Washington population uses SNAP benefits, and could potentially lose their benefits next year, she said.

“But the Jefferson County Farmers Markets has a really strong commitment to keeping our SNAP program intact,” she said.

Not only does the program benefit low-income families and seniors, but it also benefits the local economy.

With match funding, shoppers are able to purchase more produce, which benefits the many local farmers who sell their fruits and vegetables at the three county farmers markets.

One way that Jefferson County Farmers Markets is raising funds is through the United Good Neighbors Give Jefferson Campaign. Donations can be made through its website:
givejefferson.org.

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Robert Gray

Seem like the city and county could donate a little cash for this worthy cause.

Saturday, December 14, 2019