National Editor Tom KarstOn the face of it, expanding food stamp benefits to farmers' markets seems like a winning idea. You are encouraging the purchase of local foods, and food stamp participants have another avenue to purchase whole, healthful fruits and vegetables.
From The Packer's coverage:
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the department plans to broaden the use of wireless technology in farmers’ markets currently not able to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).
“SNAP participation at farmers’ markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers — a win-win for agriculture and local communities,” Merrigan said in a news release.
The funding provided by the 2012 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act provides funds for states to provide wireless transaction equipment to farmers’ markets currently not part of SNAP.
Of the more than 7,000 farmers’ markets in the U.S., the agency said about 1,500 use wireless transaction technology.
Since 2008, the agency said SNAP expenditures at farmers’ markets have grown by 400%.
TK: How does the wireless EBT system typically work? This coverage from Virginia describes a common setup.
The Abingdon Farmers Market was a pioneer in the state in setting up the kind of SNAP payment system commonly used now. It allows SNAP benefit recipients to swipe their benefits card at a central market terminal to deduct the amount they expect to spend that day. They receive tokens equal to that amount, which they use to pay the vendors.
The vendors are then reimbursed by the market for the tokens collected.
TK: That is all well and good. But after reading about the latest example of food stamp fraud on the USDA's Office of Inspector General website, I have to wonder if expanding acceptance of electronic benefit transfer cards to dozens more farmers markets is another invitation for abuse.