Funding Your EBT Program
There are plenty of ways to fund your SNAP/EBT Program, whether its through grants, vendor support or even sponsorship. The list below may help spur ideas on what will work best for your market.
1. Vendor Fees
Many farmers markets collect vendor fees as a means of supporting SNAP programs. Some programs charge a flat weekly, monthly, or seasonal fee, while others determine fees as a percentage of vendors’ token sales. In this revenue option, a percentage is deducted from the vendor’s token reimbursement check. Determine a fee structure that is fair to farmers and to the farmers market administering the program that, ultimately, should increase farmers’ sales. Establishing a regular schedule of fee collection is a proven way to ensure a regular revenue stream to compliment other funding measures.
2. Shopper Support
Shopper support via a token “rental fee” or donation: Markets can ask shoppers to pay a “rental fee for service” to use the tokens received from using their credit or debit cards. This approach cannot be used with EBT cards. The standard “rental fee” to use debit/credit tokens is $1.00 or $2.00, but markets MUST be clear with posted signage at point of sale that the charge is for the use or “rental” of the tokens. Remind shoppers that this fee directly supports the market’s ability to provide this service to them. As an alternative to the “token system fee,” markets can also ask for voluntary donations for customers to “help make sure all members of the community can shop here, regardless of their income.”
3. Shopper Surcharge or Checkout Fee for Using Credit Cards
A 2012 class action lawsuit against Visa and MasterCard resulted in a settlement that allows merchants in some states to charge their customers a fee for using credit cards. This allows businesses to offset the expense of credit card processing fees; however, there are many rules and considerations to understand before deciding whether this option will work at your market. Please go to http://www.cardfellow.com and search on their blog to see if this allowance applies to you.
4. In-kind Donations / Partnerships
While financial support is critical to the success of SNAP programs, non-monetary donations of time and services can reduce costs while fulfilling important market needs. Corporate volunteer teams can help with direct outreach for the program by distributing flyers and other promotional materials. University students are often willing to provide free graphic design work or assist with program evaluation. Local printing or media outlets may be willing to give the market free printing or distribution services. Reach out to local organizations and business to discover how they may be willing to contribute to your program outside of financial support.
5. Market Apparel & Branded Items
Many farmers market shoppers take pride in their local markets and relish the opportunity for branded merchandise such as tote-bags, shirts, or mugs. Be aware that selling merchandise at market does require management of cash and inventory on-site. Revenue streams from branded product sales are ideally suited to support general operating expenses, so if you intend to allocate profits specifically to a SNAP/EBT program, make sure that the use is very clear when products are marketed to customers when items are marketed. Ensure that any merchandise is sold at a profitable cost once materials, marketing, and staff time is accounted for.
6. Annual Appeals
Reaching out to market shoppers at the end of the year is a great way to share successful stories and statistics from the season while making a request for individual donations. Plan to make your appeal during the giving season (or at another significant time for your organization) and coordinate your donation ask across traditional and digital communications platforms to reach the largest audience. Additionally, consider maintaining a donation jar throughout the year at the market for small but consistent revenue stream. Check out FMC’s webinar “Beyond the Brand: Marketing your Mission for Improved Community Support” for some additional ideas about fundraising.
7. Friends of the Market
Based on the subscription model of public radio stations, Friends of the Market programs allow market shoppers to support farmers markets through a monthly or annual membership fee. Members often receive pre-determined benefits for their donation—perhaps apparel from the market or admission to a celebratory end-of-season event—and can be encouraged to contribute to the market in other ways, such as volunteering.
Sponsorships can be a significant source of funding for SNAP EBT programs and a way to establish important relationships with both local business and national corporations alike. Farmers market customers are a valuable demographic and many organizations are eager to promote their brand to this audience. Develop a sponsorship package to offer several tiers of opportunities to potential sponsors, such as branded merchandise, logo placement on market materials, or social media mentions and promotions.
9. Fundraising Events
Events related to food and farming are a fun way to raise funds for market operations and spread your mission. Farm-to-table dinners at restaurants which source locally, walks or runs, farm tours, silent or active auctions (including donations from local chefs or food producers), food- or health-related film screenings, or at-market festivals are great starting points for engaging, successful events.
Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and similar crowdfunding platforms are increasingly being utilized by farmers market operators to involve community members directly in funding SNAP EBT programs. Crowdfunding can be an effective way to reach a defined funding goal and an innovative means of reaching a broad network of shoppers. Offer creative and desirable perks in order to maximize contributions and make sure to tie any crowdfunding efforts into your social media presence.
11. Federal Grants and State Support
Securing a fiscal sponsor or non-profit status is instrumental to applying for grants, which can form the bedrock of your funding strategy. There are a number of foundations focused on expanding food access and affordability who regularly fund SNAP and incentive programs. The Healthy Food Access Portal maintains a comprehensive list of current funding opportunities; be sure to look to local as well as national and regional foundations to ensure a broad base of grant support.
In FY14, the USDA FNS awarded the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) a contract to assist in improving and expanding SNAP at farmers markets nationwide. To fulfill one of the tasks included in the contract, FMC provided $1.5 million in free SNAP EBT equipment and services to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers through the Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program. Please note the 2017 application closed on November 21, and USDA FNS anticipates reopening the program in 2018 at a date to be determined. Farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers interested in obtaining equipment through this Program once it reopens in 2018 should email FarmersMarket@fns.usda.gov to be placed onto a waitlist.
On May 5, 2015, the USDA FNS announced the availability of grants to enable more farmers markets to serve low-income families. The Farmers Market SNAP Support Grants ranged from $15,000 to $250,000 and were designed to increase SNAP client accessibility and participation at farmers markets, and supported the establishment, expansion, and promotion of SNAP EBT services at farmers markets. Eligible applicants included farmers market organizations and associations, non–profit entities, state, local and tribal nations and other organizations engaged in farmers market management.
- Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP)
This program, administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) since 2006, offers grants up to $100,000. A significant proportion of grantees have used FMPP funds to implement, expand, or promote SNAP EBT at farmers markets in order to meet the program goal of increasing domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products. Learn more about FMPP eligibility, upcoming funding opportunities and application development resources at www.ams.usda.gov/fmpp.
- Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI)
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) Program provides grants on a competitive basis to projects that help low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables through cash incentives that increase their purchasing power at locations like farmers markets. Increasing low-income communities’ abilities to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables not only helps to improve the health of families, but also expands economic opportunities for farmers. You can read more about this program at https://farmersmarketcoalition.org/advocacy/fini/, or learn more about the outcomes of the first year of FINI funded programs at farmers market in FMC’s report: Year One of the USDA FINI Program: Incentivizing the Purchase of Fruits and Vegetables Among SNAP Customers at the Farmers Market.
- Other Resources
Additionally, some states have allocated their own resources to help markets gain access to SNAP EBT equipment, cover service and transaction fees, and provide outreach. To see if your state is offering support for SNAP EBT at markets, take a look at FMC’s State by State Resource List. If you have updates to add to this list, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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