Food Assistance Programs

Food Assistance Programs: The USDA currently funds three food assistance programs to assist low-income individuals and families in making purchases at farmers’ markets. The programs are the Supplemental

Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program; the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP); and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). The distribution of the funds is state dependent, and currently SNAP is the only farmers’ market food assistance program available in Colorado.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income audiences access to nutritious foods, through the allotment of electronic benefits, for food purchases at authorized venues. SNAP participants receive an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, usable like a debit card, for access to SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits can be used for purchasing food for the household to eat, including: grain products, fruit, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products. SNAP benefits can also be used to purchase seeds and plants in order to produce food for the household. Besides non-food items or products not for human consumption, SNAP benefits cannot be used for any alcohol products, vitamins or supplements, hot foods at point-of-sale, or foods to be eaten in the store.

Preliminary data as of October 2010 reports national SNAP participation is at an all-time high, serving nearly 42 million people in July 2010. Colorado reported nearly 420,000 participants in July 2010, which was a 20 percent increase from the previous year. Farmers’ markets can benefit from selling to low-income individuals and families by accepting EBT cards, and SNAP participants can benefit from local access to healthful food products and plants at farmers’ markets.

In order to accept EBT at farmers’ markets or individual vendors, a point-of-sale (POS) terminal needs to be accessible. This could either be an EBT-only machine that can be obtained for free by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), or a commercial POS machine that will also accept debit and credit cards in addition to EBT. Limiting factors for use of either POS machine is the need for additional time and resources to implement the program, in addition the EBT-only machine requires electricity and a phone line connection. Interested farmers’ markets need to obtain a license through FNS as a SNAP retailer. Individual vendors at FNS licensed farmers’ markets do not need to obtain separate licenses. For more information on how farmers’ markets can accept EBT, or to apply for a FNS license, click on: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.

In 2006, the Colorado Farmers’ Market Association (CFMA) received a grant to install EBT machines and train vendors on their use at 21 markets across the state. It is recommended that farmers’ markets provide training for vendors in SNAP participation, to clarify vendor reimbursement methods and specific guidelines for SNAP benefits use which include: SNAP must only be used on eligible food items, no change or cash back can be given for SNAP purchases, and SNAP purchases are tax exempt. Farmers’ markets can choose to set up SNAP purchasing by either making scrip or tokens available to participants, or implementing a vendor receipt system. For specific information and examples to successfully provide SNAP participants access at a farmers’ market, and please review the USDA publication, “SNAP at Farmers’ Markets: A How-To Handbook”.

For additional information on additional farmers’ market food assistance programs available in certain areas of the US, see the following fact sheets :