Using food stamps or SNAP at farmers markets could be in jeopardy

State News

While the USDA figures out how to further extend the contract allowing for food stamps or SNAP to be used at farmers markets in New York state — the program is only secure until Aug. 31st.

Getting good food on the table is something Lori Daratt and her fellow farmers focus on with each customer they meet every Tuesday at the Downtown Farmers Market in Syracuse’s Clinton Square.

Daratt, a part-owner of Daratt Farms in Cato, says she takes this same one-on-one focus no matter how the customer is paying. She says allowing people to pay with food stamps and other benefits boosts their business — adding thousands of dollars of income to the farm.

“It brings people who weren’t familiar with the market down here and then it gives them the opportunity to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables that maybe they didn’t have the opportunity to buy,” Daratt said.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP can be used at hundreds of farmers markets across New York state. It’s been in effect at Syracuse’s Downtown Farmers Market for about 10 years, according to Chuck McFadden, the director of operations.

While the USDA figures out to further extend the contract allowing for the EBT mobile technology to function — the program is only secure until Aug. 31st.

McFadden says the extension was put in place as of Tuesday.

The contract allows people to use their SNAP funds to purchase tokens at the Downtown Farmers Market and then spend them with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers then turn in their tokens in order to later receive a check for that amount in revenue.

For every $5 of tokens purchased, up to $20, the person will receive $2 in farmers market coupons from the Food Bank of Central New York, according to McFadden.

McFadden says this is all a push to encourage healthy eating. 

The Food Bank of CNY is also offering two $2 coupons to people who come to a healthy cooking demo happening at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays at the Downtown Farmers Market — adding another $4 to a shopper’s budget.

If the EBT technology contract is not settled soon — McFadden says equipment expenses could fall on farmers — something he says is far too costly for them to worry about.

“I guess we would have to weigh the cost to the benefit of it to us, but we really wouldn’t want to lost those customers either,” said Lori Daratt, of Daratt Farms.

The following is from a recent statement from the USDA: “Since being notified of the provider’s decision to discontinue service, USDA has been exploring all available options in an attempt to avoid a service disruption. Our number one goal is to mitigate the impact on our program participants as well as farmers and producers.”

McFadden says several local lawmakers have joined the effort to fight to keep SNAP benefits accepted at farmers markets.

To learn more about the program or to find a participating farmers market near you, click here.

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