FMC Thanks Obama for Supporting Wireless EBT at Farmers Markets

On February 14th, 2011, President Obama released his proposed budget for FY 2012. Despite more than $3.2 billion in proposed discretionary cuts to the overall USDA Budget, the President showed some Valentine’s Day love for farmers markets by including $4 million in his proposed budget for USDA Food and Nutrition Service for providing wireless POS devices to farmers markets.

The Farmers Market Coalition issued a letter of thanks to the President, Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, and administrators in the Food and Nutrition Service.  The text of the letter is below, and available in PDF here.

February 24, 2011

Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

As you know, farmers markets have grown in number and popularity in recent years, and are increasingly serving as community cornerstones all over the United States.  Uniquely, they have the power to bridge urban and rural divides, strengthening the fabric of our country.  We’re writing today to thank you for your demonstrated commitment to helping farmers markets thrive while addressing the nutritional needs of Americans at every income level.

Your administration’s 2012 budget requests $4 million for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to “provide point of sale terminals to all farmers’ markets nationally that cannot currently redeem SNAP benefits.” This same line item was included in your 2011 request, though unfortunately not appropriated due to the Continuing Resolution.  We are grateful for your persistence in creating parity between all SNAP retailers and making farmers markets more accessible to the more than 43 million people participating in SNAP.  As the 2011 budget request stated, ensuring farmers markets have point of sales devices will substantially increase the redemption of SNAP benefits for locally grown fruits and vegetables at these outlets.  In 2009, only .008% of all SNAP sales (in dollars) occurred at the fewer than 1,000 farmers markets currently accepting benefits.  We know that we as a nation can do better. We agree with your statement that “nutrition education and human resource capacity continue to be a key part of the SNAP to help low income households improve their nutrition levels.”

The Farmers Market Promotion Program, featured just last week on the Lets’ Move blog, was directed in the last Farm Bill to allocate 10% of grant funds to new SNAP/EBT projects at farmers markets.  While this is making appreciable community-level impact, the program’s $5 million total budget in 2010 was still only able to equip 27 farmers markets with EBT technology in that round of grants.  At this rate, we simply will not reach the USDA’s strategic milestone of 2,000 farmers markets accepting SNAP by 2015.  This is why your $4 million budget request for wireless POS devices in the Food and Nutrition Service budget is so important.

In support of this effort, the Farmers Market Coalition has recently co-authored a comprehensive report called ‘Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers’ to develop policy and program implementation recommendations for expanding and sustaining EBT usage at farmers markets in the United States. As you will see in this report, it’s clear that the successful implementation of SNAP at farmers markets requires far more than the provision of wireless point of sale devices.  Technical assistance for new markets to implement programs and funding for existing markets to do the required outreach, recordkeeping, and evaluation are needed most.  This is the missing link that could dramatically increase the rate of SNAP redemption at farmers markets.

This proposed provision is one small step in the federal budget, but a giant leap for the long-term ability of farmers markets to dramatically improve health in the neighborhoods that need it most.  Thank you for supporting the growth and long-term sustainability of farmers markets for the benefit of farmers, consumers, and communities.

We look forward to working with your administration in the ongoing plan for implementation of this important provision in order to maximize the reach of federal investment.

Thank you for all that you and the First Lady do to support farmers markets in the United States!

Sincerely,

Stacy Miller, Executive Director

and the Farmers Market Coalition Policy Committee:

Sharon Yeago, President

Bernadine Prince, FreshFarm Markets, Washington, DC

Michael Hurwitz, NYC Greenmarket, New York City, NY

Jim Bingen, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Leslie Schaller, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Athens, OH

cc:       Joseph Biden, Vice President of the United States

Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture

Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary, USDA Food & Nutrition Service

Julie Paradis, Administrator, USDA Food & Nutrition Service, SNAP

Jessica Shahin, Associate Administrator, USDA Food & Nutrition Service, SNAP