People who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, could lose the ability to buy fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets by the end of the month. Officials in Utah are working to avoid impacts on farmers and SNAP customers.
The contract that allows SNAP customers to use those benefits at farmers markets is up on July 31, right in the growing season for farmers. According to Brian Emerson, the community food systems manager for Utahns Against Hunger, SNAP redemptions at farmers markets have increased 35 percent since 2012 nationally and 140 percent in Utah.
“Obviously low-income food insecure residents gain access to fresh healthy food, farmers gain more customers and they make more money, more of the food dollars circulate in the local economy,” Emerson said.
To use SNAP benefits at most farmers markets, people go to the information tent and swipe their electronic benefit transfer card or EBT. In exchange, the people get tokens to spend which are accepted by most vendors. At the end of the day, the vendors redeem the tokens for real currency.
The hardware and software used in the transactions are not made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Instead, they give a contract to an organization who decides what tech companies can provide the software. One of the largest companies called Novo Dia supplies over 1,700 farmers markets with an app called Mobile Market Plus.
Emerson said the new contract was awarded to an organization called Financial Transaction Management who uses different EBT service providers, leaving farmers markets across the nation scrambling to gather money and apply for grants for a new service provider.
“In Utah, that’s only about 7 markets that rely on that,” Emerson said. “But its markets from Salt Lake City, the biggest market in the state, to markets in Summit County, and even down in Moab will be impacted. Utah doesn’t have as many farmers' markets as some of the states but we’ve had substantial growth and we estimate about 25-30 farmer’s markets in the state that now accept SNAP, so seven of those will be impacted.”
The large farmer's markets in Utah are working to purchase the new hardware and software, but the smaller markets, who often rely on volunteers, don’t have $1,000 lying around. Emerson said Utahns Against Hunger, the Utah Health Department and Urban Food Connections are working with smaller markets to raise funds to purchase the equipment before the end of the month.
“Most likely what will happen is SNAP customers will not notice a change,” Emerson said. “That’s cautiously optimistic that that will be the case. That’s because we’re scrambling on the back end trying to raise funds and trying to get these markets set up with new equipment.”
Emerson said states with more, larger markets will most likely feel the impacts of the changed contract.