Disaster Recovery for Market Communities

      Posted On: August 28, 2017

by. Dar Wolnik, FMC Senior Researcher, New Orleans LA

Everyone is aware of the horror that has been unfolding in South Texas over the weekend and will continue and spread to SW Louisiana over the next few days. Here at Farmers Market Coalition, we are reaching out to our market partners in the area to see if there is anything we can do to share what is happening on the ground there. We encourage everyone to check in with any of your contacts in and around the area if you have any. There may be a lag in the response, but they will be immediately grateful for the query and appreciative of your concern even if takes a while for them to get back to you.

The D-SNAP program assisted South Carolina recover from devastating flooding in 2015. Photo credit, USDA.

Rescue, Recovery, Rebuilding: The early needs will be temporary housing as close to home as possible and soon after, the focus will shift to gutting and assessing the damage. That period may last for months before rebuilding even starts so if your organization wants to help raise funds for farmers and markets and their staff, there is plenty of time to organize this over the coming weeks and months.

Just like our work in farmers markets, the most direct help is often painstaking to set up but builds better connections. I can say that many of the folks who reached out to our NOLa market team directly after the levee breaks of Hurricane Katrina became dear friends and we had a stronger relationship with many of our peer markets because of that contact. 

One way that food systems in and around the area of a natural disaster interact with the recovery is through disaster SNAP, known as D-SNAP. Through D-SNAP, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)  is able to quickly offer short-term food assistance benefits to families suffering in the wake of a disaster.

  • Eligible households receive one month of benefits, equivalent to the maximum amount of benefits normally issued to a SNAP household of their size. Benefits are issued via an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which can be used to purchase food at most grocery stores.
  • Through D-SNAP, affected households use a simplified application. D-SNAP benefits are issued to eligible applicants within 72 hours, speeding assistance to disaster victims and reducing the administrative burden on State agencies operating in post-disaster conditions.
  • Households not normally eligible for SNAP may qualify for D-SNAP as a result of their disaster related expenses, such as loss of income, damage to property, relocation expenses, and, in some cases, loss of food due to power outages.
  • When States operate a D-SNAP; ongoing SNAP clients can also receive disaster food assistance. Households with disaster losses whose SNAP benefits are less than the monthly maximum can request a supplement. The supplement brings their benefits up to the maximum for the household size. This provides equity between D-SNAP households and SNAP households receiving disaster assistance.
  • FNS approves D-SNAP operations in an affected area under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act when the area has received a Presidential disaster declaration of Individual Assistance (IA) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • State agencies request FNS approval to operate a D-SNAP within the disaster area. FNS approves program operations for a limited period of time (typically 7 days) during which the State agency may accept D-SNAP applications.

D-SNAP funds distributed during South Carolina floods. Photo credit, USDA.

For markets that accept SNAP already, there is nothing needed to do to allow D-SNAP benefits to be spent at markets. It is a good idea to check with your state to see what the disaster rules for using these benefits are, as FNS will often lift the ban against hot food during the D-SNAP months, and often these benefits will be extended past the original deadline for a number of months. It might also be a good idea to add a restaurant or caterer to sell plate meals – that is, if your rules allow it. If you are in a neighboring state, you should also expect to see more SNAP users from the affected state; make sure your staff understands that this may happen so they recognize that state’s EBT card.

What is important to understand about the D-SNAP population is that many of those who are not eligible for regular SNAP are eligible for these temporary benefits. What that means is that they are often unfamiliar with how to use SNAP and especially in how to use these benefits at farmers markets. Those with D-SNAP will also often be miles from home, with little idea of what is around them and little access to full kitchens. Therefore, some work to do outreach through PSAs on radio stations and sending press releases to local stations will be vital for that population to learn about the chance to buy healthy foods at a market. It might also be helpful to consider adding volunteers to walk D-SNAP users around and to reach out to other agencies that offer support to the displaced to set up at the markets. (After the BP oil disaster, we also asked New Orleans-based museums and children’s activities to supply passes to give those families an added mental health break from their stress.) 

For nearby markets, adding pop-up markets and extending hours may also be a good strategy during the long recovery that will be required by residents and municipalities in Texas and Louisiana.

Here is the site on disaster assistance:

https://www.disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/forms-of-assistance/5769/1/2

Here is a post I wrote after the 2016 floods about D-SNAP in Louisiana:

https://darlenewolnik.com/2016/08/18/louisiana-update-5-flood-victims-in-louisiana-encouraged-to-preregister-for-dsnap-benefits/

CNN post about the expected impacts of Harvey