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Farmers Markets  May Lose SNAP Access

  • At the Norwich Farmer's Market, Geo Honigford of Hurricane Flats Farm in South Royalton, Vt., left, Market Manager Steve Hoffman, and Jinny Hardy Cleland of Four Springs Farm in Royalton, Vt., talk on May 5, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/17/2018 12:29:15 AM
Modified: 7/17/2018 12:29:19 AM

Lebanon — Some farmers market shoppers in the Upper Valley and beyond may find it difficult to use their benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, to make purchases after a service that processes such transactions ends its service at the end of the month.

Some Upper Valley markets are among the approximately 1,700 nationwide that are scrambling to find alternative ways to accept SNAP since learning last week that Novo Dia Group, an Austin, Texas-based company that processes some 40 percent of farmers markets’ SNAP transactions, will end its service by July 31.

Affected markets in the Upper Valley include those in Norwich, Lebanon and Newport, Nancy LaRowe, Vital Communities Local First Alliance and Valley Food & Farm coordinator, said in a phone interview.

“Everyone’s nervous,” LaRowe said.

Though Vital Communities doesn’t have a role in operating the markets, LaRowe said, the White River Junction-based nonprofit does help to promote them and the ability of some to accept SNAP, which is known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, through an electronic benefits transfer, or EBT.

“We were just going to launch a radio series of ads,” she said.

Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont Community Food Security Coordinator Jennie Porter said the news of this service ending hit hard, especially at this point in the middle of the growing season.

“It’s probably the worst possible timing,” she said. “... It’s just really awful.”

Fortunately for Vermont, however, most markets are not affected. Of the 40 that accept EBT across the state, she knew of just five that use Novo Dia’s Mobile Market Plus software.

“The news affects other states a lot harder than it affects Vermont,” she said.

Porter, whose work at NOFA includes supporting farmers markets, said she is working with others across the state as well as Vermont’s congressional delegation to try to find a solution for markets that are affected. Porter said the nonprofit is looking to help markets find money to pay for new machines and services.

“Our markets have not really built those costs into their budgets,” she said.

In New Hampshire, Brendan Cornwell, nutrition incentive network coordinator for the New Hampshire Food Bank, said in an email that he didn’t yet know how many New Hampshire markets were affected. Like Porter, he was similarly concerned that affected markets, particularly smaller ones, might have trouble coming up with the money to obtain commercial wireless terminals through their banks or merchants that would process credit, debit and SNAP. The upfront costs of between $550 and $700, along with monthly fees, might prove too much, he said.

“Once everyone reports in and I know how many terminals we are talking, I will have to run some budget numbers,” Cornwell said. “There will be a cost to the markets even if it is just the monthly fee.”

People who use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets in the Twin States can access matching programs at participating markets — Granite State Market Match in New Hampshire and Crop Cash in Vermont. Both programs match the first $10 participants spend in SNAP at the farmers market each week.

At grocery stores, recipients swipe their EBT cards just like a credit card, and information travels over secure data lines directly to state SNAP processing agencies. But in parking lots or fields without landlines, farmers markets must offer mobile transactions.

To provide mobile devices to farmers markets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set up the Free SNAP Wireless Equipment Program in 2012. Since then, more than 2,500 markets have received card readers, tablets or smartphones. Novo Dia and other companies provided software to process the federal benefits. With these platforms in place, SNAP benefits redeemed at farmers markets increased by 35 percent to $22.4 million in 2017 from $16.5 million in 2012, meaning more fresh produce for low-income residents.

SNAP transactions are not all that common at farmers markets in the Upper Valley’s core. Norwich processes between zero and four such transactions per week, said manager Steve Hoffman. Similarly, the Lebanon market processed three EBT transactions at last week’s market, said Krissy Flythe, Lebanon’s recreation coordinator. But Flythe said the market also processed 30 debit card transactions using the same system. Newport Farmers Market manager Richard Scheuer said he processes about three to five EBT transactions in Newport each week.

Material from the Washington Post and the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit journalism organization, was used in this report.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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