Pa. wants more farmers markets to accept food stamps

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Customers walk around stands at a farmers market.
Customers walk around the stands at the Robinson Farmers Market in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, June 22, 2020. (Sarah Donaldson photo)

State officials want more farmers markets and direct marketing farmers to sign up to accept food stamps from Pennsylvanians.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Department of Human Services held a joint press conference March 18 to urge market operators to apply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

Then, they can request to receive free wireless electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, processing equipment from the state’s human services department.

The Department of Human Services received a grant from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to provide farmers markets and on-farm markets with the equipment to allow the markets to accept SNAP benefits from residents.

“It’s a common sense way to expand consumer bases and grow our local economies,” said Teresa Miller, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, during the virtual press conference.

Of the 1,000 or so farmers markets and on-farm markets in the state, only 48 are registered with the USDA to accept SNAP benefits. There’s no difference in accepting an EBT card over a regular debit or credit card for market operators, Miller said.

Missed opportunities

Brain Moyer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Farmers Market Association, said he heard anecdotal stories from farmers market managers that their SNAP redemptions doubled during the 2020 season.

“There are over 330 farmers markets and over 600 on-farm markets or farm stands,” Moyer said. “There’s an immense opportunity for all these businesses to be able to serve their communities throughout Pennsylvania.”

Moyer said the way the system used to work for farmers markets to accept SNAP or EBT was somewhat cumbersome. Someone working for the market would have to swipe a person’s EBT card for however much they wanted to spend at the market, and they would get tokens for the value. The vendors at the market would later get reimbursed by the market for the tokens spent with them.

The new wireless equipment makes everything much easier and accessible for everyone involved, Moyer said. The grant also covers set-up costs for the equipment and one year of SNAP transaction fees, Miller said.

As of January, more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are receiving SNAP benefits.

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How to apply

To accept SNAP benefits, call the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service at 877-823-4369 or apply online at fns.usda.gov/snap/farmer-producer.

Approved vendors can then contact Pennsylvania’s EBT provider Conduent at 888-736-6328 to request free wireless EBT processing equipment.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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