Newly announced eligibility rules for a $4 million USDA grant will increase the availability of wireless payment machines for farmers’ markets and direct-market farmers, a boost for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants and farmers and ranchers alike.
Last year, USDA announced $4 million in funding to increase the availability of wireless point-of-sale terminals to farmers’ markets that were not accepting SNAP benefits at the time. The department recently expanded the eligibility for these grants to include direct-marketing outlets, like farm stands or pick-your-own operations. The funds can be used to rent/lease or purchase point-of-sale equipment and pay for monthly wireless access. Farmers will be responsible for all other fees, including transaction fees.
The more farmers’ markets and direct-market farmers and ranchers that are able to accept SNAP (or food stamp) dollars, the greater access low-income consumers will have to fresh, healthy, locally grown food, according to Wholesome Wave, an organization that strives to improve the accessibility and affordability of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
In addition, more farmers’ market and farm-retail shoppers mean an expanded customer base for farmers and ranchers, as well as an increased share of the SNAP dollar going back to local farmers and into local communities, noted Kevin Cannon, USDA undersecretary, in announcing the expanded grant eligibility in April.
Many farmers’ markets are managed by non-profit organizations and use tokens as currency. Customers at these markets who want to use their SNAP, credit or debit card have to go to the market stand and purchase tokens for shopping. Customers pay with the tokens, which individual farmers turn in to the market manager for reimbursement. Actual payment to the farmer may take several days or even up to a week.
More than seven years ago, Iowa, with the help of the Iowa Farm Bureau, launched the Iowa EBT Wireless Project, which provided 167 Iowa farmers with a free wireless device so they could accept SNAP, credit and debit cards. The farmers keep the device all season and use it wherever they sell their goods.
“This gives SNAP participants even more access to farm-fresh products as many of the growers who sell at farmers’ markets also have pick-your-own operations or sell at roadside stands,” explained Jan Walters, former Iowa SNAP EBT director. Walters, who now runs her own consulting service, established the state’s wireless program in 2005. For the first three years of the program, Iowa Farm Bureau provided reimbursement for part of the transaction fees for each of the 167 farmers involved in the program.
Still going strong today, the Iowa program’s success bodes well for USDA’s efforts. In 2011, SNAP, credit and debit sales on Iowa’s wireless devices were over $1 million.
With the expansion of the USDA program, individual farmers who sell at farmers market may now be eligible for a free device. There are a few rules, such as:
–Farmer must sell at a farmers’ market that is not currently SNAP certified
–The farmer must not be currently SNAP certified
–There may not be any SNAP certified farmers at the market
In addition, USDA clarified that:
–If five farmers apply within the same month and all other criteria is met, then all five farmers could get a free device
–A farmer who wants to become SNAP certified and sells at two markets per week could qualify for a free device if there are no other SNAP-certified farmers selling at one of the markets. Plus, the farmer could use the wireless device at both markets.
–If a farmer only sells on the farm, he/she would not be eligible for a free device.
To be SNAP eligible, a farmer must grow and sell SNAP-eligible food items, which include vegetables, fruit, meat, baked goods, honey, jam/jelly, dairy products, seeds and plants that produce food (tomato, pepper plants, etc.).
More than 3,150 farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers accepted SNAP in 2012, a considerable jump from 750 in 2008. This four-fold increase in markets was accompanied with six times the SNAP redemption at these outlets, USDA reports.
To apply for the funds for a wireless device, farmers should contact their state SNAP agency. For more information, see USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service SNAP site.