President’s 2019 FY Budget Proposal: Bad News for Farmers Markets

by Ben Feldman, FMC Policy Specialist | ben@farmersmarketcoalition.org

Released Monday, the President’s budget proposal contains little good news for farmers markets. In addition to massive cuts to SNAP, the proposal zeroes funding for the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, and Farmers Market Promotion Program. Taken together, the proposed budget would significantly undermine the progress made by farmers markets to help American farmers prosper.

In 2016 (FY), the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program accounted for over $18 million spent directly with American farmers at local farmers markets nationwide. Greenmarkets, a New York City based non-profit market operator estimates that the elimination of the WIC FMNP program would force the closure of 13 of their farmers markets. As WIC moves to an electronic system, the FMNP program provides participants their only opportunity to shop at farmers markets and support local farmers.

The Farmers Market Promotion Program is a vital source of grants to farmers markets for promotion and innovation that has proven to be effective. FMC research shows that on average, markets that receive a grant through the Farmers Market Promotion Program see an increase in vendor sales by 27%, and 94% of grantees report an increase in new customers. During our recent Farmer Fly In, Rancher Amy Greer reported that after one of the markets she sells at received an FMPP grant her sales increased by 34%.

The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program has been a hugely successful program in supporting healthy eating among low-income shoppers and increasing revenue for farmers. With strong bipartisan support in Congress, it is a surprise that this budget contains no funding for the program.

Small bright spots are to be found though. Speciality Crop Block Grants would see slightly more funding, funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program would continue at previous funding levels, and the explanatory notes on the budget state that USDA FNS “expects to continue activities that promote SNAP operations at farmers markets, and support the goals and mission of SNAP. “ This has previously included funding the FMC wireless equipment program and other efforts related to SNAP at farmers markets. While it’s encouraging to see support for these efforts, it’s worth noting that any efforts to increase SNAP at farmers markets would be undermined by the massive cuts proposed to SNAP.

Perhaps the best news in the budget comes not from what’s in it, but from the fact that the proposal is just that–a proposal. Congress sets federal spending, not the president. As was the case last year, legislators from both sides of the aisle reacted strongly to the president’s proposal, indicating that it is unlikely to be implemented as proposed.