USDA announces 2012 support for SNAP in farmers markets, issues memorandum on state allocations

      Posted On: May 9, 2012

In a brief press call on May 9th, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced a total of $4 million in awards to help States expand availability of wireless technology in farmers markets not currently participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  According to calculations made by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, there are 5,181 farmers markets in the United States which are not currently authorized to accept SNAP benefits, and this funding would, as Deputy Secretary Merrigan said, “make sure that farmers markets are open to everyone no matter what their income level,” by addressing some of the technological barriers for those markets seeking to serve these customers.

The $4 million is being distributed to states using an allocation formula based on the number of markets not accepting SNAP at present.  In a memorandum to Regional SNAP and Field Operations Offices, the Food and Nutrition Service explains that allowable costs for the funds (covered at 100%) include the purchase or lease of wireless POS equipment and monthly wireless access fees associated with using that equipment.  “States may choose to provide wireless POS equipment that also accepts commercial credit and debit cards, without being required to cost-allocate the cost of equipment or its flat monthly service fees,” provided that markets themselves bear the cost of debit or credit transaction fees unrelated to SNAP wireless access.

The memo also explains that each farmers market location covered by this allocation must obtain its own SNAP authorization. “Farmers markets that have operated under an umbrella authorization but now apply to obtain their own individual SNAP authorizations will be considered new farmers markets, and eligible to receive POS equipment with these funds.”  In addition, States will not be able to use their 2012 allocation for the distribution of POS SNAP technology to individual farms.

As of February 2012, more than 46 million Americans were eligible for and participated in SNAP, and the Farmers Market Coalition applauds the leadership of the USDA and its Food and Nutrition Service for  helping ensure that as the number of farmers markets grows, so too does their accessibility to all income levels. “Farmers markets cultivate healthy relationships to both food and community,” said Stacy Miller of the Farmers Market Coalition. “It’s about time we ensured that more of the more than $70 million spent to ensure that the poorest among us have enough to eat is also supporting limited resource and beginning farmers, especially those selling fresh, unprocessed vegetables and fruits.  It’s an inexpensive win-win-win for farmers, consumers, and local economies.”

In fiscal year 2011, farmers captured less than .02% of all SNAP redemptions through direct sales. In her briefing with the press, Deputy Secretary Merrigan referred to the large potential impact of this “small but meaningful pot of money” to help level the playing field between direct-marketing farmers and traditional brick and mortar retailers while increasing access to fresh, nutritious foods.

Farmers markets and market networks interested in taking advantage of these funds are advised to contact their state SNAP agency as soon as possible to learn more about to participate in this opportunity during the 2012 season.  All funds are to be obligated by the States before September 30th, 2012.

The Food and Nutrition Service expects to release a Federal Register notice this spring to solicit public input on strategies for effectively distributing these funds over the long-term, and maximizing connections between direct-marketing farmers and low-income consumers.

The May 2nd memorandum, allocation chart and formula, and FAQ are available on the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Web site at: