Accessing SNAP Grant Funds for Farmers MarketsLiz Comiskey February 15, 2013
Republished from Farmers’ Markets Today February 2013
by Jan Walters
Jan Walters’ Consulting Services, LLC, Farmers Market Coalition Board of Directors
In May 2012, USDA announced new SNAP grant funding through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 to increase SNAP access at farmers markets. The new grant funding of $4 million is intended for the purchase or rental of a wireless device and related SNAP fees for markets certified to accept SNAP as of November 18, 2011 or later. The purpose of the funds is to increase the availability of POS equipment in farmers markets “not currently participating” in SNAP.
USDA has authorized that the devices purchased or rented with federal funds could accept commercial debit/credit cards. This additional income stream could be beneficial for the markets and farmers, by allowing the market to accept SNAP EBT, MasterCard, Visa and Discover cards similar to traditional retail outlets. Federal and State funding cannot be utilized to pay for transaction fees for commercial debit and credit cards.
Markets that are going to accept commercial debit and credit cards will need to evaluate how to pay for those related fees. Here are several options to consider: increasing stall rental fees for farmers (who will benefit from the increased revenue), charging customers a usage fee when they purchase tokens, raising private grant funds or donations. For more information about these options, contact the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) www.farmersmarketcoalition.org.
The SNAP grant funding was originally set to expire September 30, 2012. However, USDA allowed states to carry-over unspent funds and use them by September 30, 2013. As of December 2012, approximately 50 percent of the funds were not obligated. There were several reasons why the funds were not spent in 2012: the time of year when the funds were announced, state SNAP agencies that normally do not work with farmers markets, lack of state staff and/or resources to recruit and notify farmers markets of the available funds, etc.
USDA reports that there are now 7,865 farmers markets in the U.S. Unfortunately, less than half of these markets are able to accept SNAP benefits. This lack of access means that many low-income families are not able to use their SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, locally-grown foods, even though all the food trends for 2013 show that buying local and eating fresh are still the top trends.
Questions about SNAP for your market?
As a market manager, you may want to apply for these unused funds so your market will be able to accept SNAP and commercial debit/credit cards. You most likely have several questions. Who do I call? When should I apply? The most common issues/concerns are:
1. What is the first step in becoming certified to accept SNAP benefits?
You need to complete the FNS (Food & Nutrition Services) Retailer online application or work with a Merchant Provider who will fill out the paperwork for you (Refer to #3 below). As most markets open in May or June, you should begin this process as soon as possible.
You will need the FNS number to complete the activation process for the wireless device. The link to the USDA retailer application is: www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.
2. How do I contact my state’s SNAP agency?
The link to SNAP agencies and toll free numbers is: www.fns.usda.gov/snap/contact_info/hotlines.htm. Ask to speak to the SNAP person who can help you apply for a wireless device for your market. If you experience difficulties reaching someone at the state level, try calling your state Department of Agriculture and ask who to call or email the national USDA SNAP Office at Rogelio.firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Should I go online to find a Merchant Provider (an organization who sells wireless POS and provides customer service) and buy a wireless POS now?
No. Speak to your SNAP agency first. State SNAP agencies will have a process identified. Many states will work with their SNAP EBT contractor and offer markets options on the type of devices available. Some states have a separate contract with a Merchant Provider. You could be required to use that provider.
4. Can a farmer apply to get a free wireless device?
The SNAP grants funds can only be used for a market. However, several states do have other programs to help individual farmers acquire a wireless POS device. States such as Iowa, Mississippi and Alabama have offered wireless devices to farmers in the past. Contact your state SNAP or AG agencies for a definite answer.
5. As a farmer, can I use my own device at the market even though I will have to pay all the fees myself?
Yes, with a caveat. Talk to your market manager to verify whether your market rules prohibit you from using your own device. If allowed, you will want to ensure there is adequate signage so customers know they can use their SNAP, debit or credit cards at your stand. There are farmers across the country who use their own devices at farmers markets, farm retail outlets or “pick your own” operations.
6. What fees are covered by the SNAP grant?
Here are the covered fees:
- Purchase price or rental fees of wireless device (Leases excluded)
- One time account setup/application fees
- Monthly wireless fees (necessary to operate SNAP on the device)
EBT transaction fees, cost of tokens, signage, promotional materials are examples of non-eligible items. Markets would have to pay these costs as they do today.
7. What is the definition of allowable wireless technology?
Wireless technology is quickly changing. Some states may make iPads or other similar technology available to markets in their state, and many states will offer VeriFone VX 610 or 8020 devices.
State SNAP agencies must ensure that all issued devices conform to the parameters of the grant and are in accordance to regulations regarding security. All wireless devices should be encrypted to protect customer card numbers and personal information.
As an Iowa farmer and market vendor, I use a wireless device at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market to accept SNAP
and commercial debit/credit cards. I understand how confusing all the federal and state rules can be for a market or a farmer. Government nutrition programs continue to move toward the electronic issuance of benefits. Farmers markets are a key part of the communities in which we live. With creative thinking and funding, every market in the U.S. should allow low-income families and the at-risk populations (elderly, children, pregnant women) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables with their nutrition benefits.
Jan Walters, of Jan Walters’ Consulting Services, offers a wide array of marketing and technical services to farmers, markets, state agencies or other organizations. As the Iowa EBT Director, she developed and implemented the Iowa EBT Wireless Project in 2005. As a farmer, Jan grows several acres of produce and fall seasonal items and sells them at farmers markets. She is certified to accept SNAP, WIC and Senior FMNP and CVV. She and her husband have a cow-calf operation in central Iowa.