Bipartisan Senate Farm Bill Good for Farmers Markets

      Posted On: June 11, 2018

by Ben Feldman, FMC Policy Specialist |

On Friday, the Senate Agriculture Committee delivered a bipartisan farm bill that stands in sharp contrast to the draft that failed in the House, particularly as it relates to farmers markets. While the House Bill slashed funding for key farmers market programs, the Senate Bill provides robust support for farmers markets and local food programs. Here are some of the specifics:

  • The Senate draft proposes consolidating the Farmers Market (and Local Food) Promotion Program with the Value Added Producer grant to form the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) with $60 million in mandatory annual funding. This proposal would allow for streamlining and reducing bureaucratic redundancies, while providing an a large enough increase in funding to bring the program above the baseline funding threshold. LAMP is nearly the same as the proposal under the Local FARMS Act, which FMC endorsed.
  • One location rule for SNAP at farmers markets: The Senate Agriculture Committee followed the lead of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee in addressing a problematic USDA policy that has prevented farmers market operators from using SNAP processing equipment at more than one market.

While the policy is intended to ensure integrity of the program, and provide FNS with accurate data about SNAP redemptions at individual markets, the unintended consequence has been to increase costs and limit the growth of SNAP at farmers markets. The proposed Senate language goes further than the Appropriations Report language, both because it’s more specific, and because it retains the force of law. The proposed text states that farmers markets:

“shall be allowed to operate an individual electronic benefit transfer point of sale device at more than 1 location under the same supplemental nutrition assistance program authorization , if—

‘‘(i) the farmers’ market or direct marketing farmer provides to the Secretary information on location and hours of operation at each location; and

‘‘(ii)(I) the point of sale device used by the farmers’ market or direct marketing  farmer is capable of providing location information of the device through the electronic benefit transfer system; or

‘‘(II) if the Secretary determines that the technology is not available for a point of sale device to meet the requirement under subclause (I), the farmers’ market or direct marketing farmer provides to the Secretary any other information, as determined by the Secretary, necessary to ensure the integrity of transactions processed using the point of sale device.’’

The change to this rule is particularly good news and cause for celebration.

For years, FMC members have expressed concern about the rule, as it increases the cost of SNAP acceptance at farmers markets, and FMC has long advocated for a solution to this burden on markets. We want to offer a big thank you to our friends at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at the Vermont Law School and NOFA-VT for helping us advance this issue, and to the Senate Agriculture Committee for their attention to the matter.

FMC continues to offer our support to FNS towards implementing Congress’ directive while both preserving the integrity of the SNAP program and providing FNS with the appropriate data about market locations..

  • The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program fares well in the Senate draft, receiving a funding increase to $50 million per year of mandatory funding, getting the program to baseline funding, and like the House, names the program after former FMC board member, Gus Schumacher.

  • The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program receives funding commensurate with the 2014. Unfortunately, the Senate bill does not expand the program to include low income Military Veterans, something FMC continues to support.

You can read more about how other local food programs fared under the Senate bill on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s website.

What Comes Next?

This week, the Senate Agriculture Committee will debate, amend, and vote on the bill. The Senate bill looks poised to pass out of committee and receive a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the month. While the bill appears likely to pass on the full Senate floor, it’s unclear if a bill can be finalized before the September 30th deadline. The House still would need to pass a bill and the two chambers’ versions must be reconciled and then signed by the President. It remains unclear if the House can pass a bill given the ongoing GOP fight over immigration that has held the farm bill hostage.

Thank You!

Because of you – our members, supporters, and partners – we’ve achieved some important victories for farmers markets this year. Thanks to your emails, calls, and support of our advocacy efforts, we’re moving the needle in the right direction for farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers. But there’s still a lot of work to do. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to keep up the momentum, and if your Senator sits on the Ag Committee, don’t forget to thank them for looking out for farmers markets!

As always we will continue to keep you informed about farm bill developments, how it impacts our work, and how you can help us stand up for farmers markets.