SNAP may be out at farm­ers mar­kets

Ven­dor for most sites will halt ser­vice July 31; al­ter­na­tive be­ing sought

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Gal Tziper­man Lotan

Shop­pers may no longer be able to use gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance to buy food at 18 Mary­land farm­ers mar­kets — in­clud­ing the Bal­ti­more Farm­ers’ Mar­ket & Bazaar — as of the end of this month.

Novo Dia Group, the ven­dor that ser­vices soft­ware that some mar­kets use to charge the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, will cease sup­port­ing it as of July 31. Novo Dia plans to shut down its Mo­bile Mar­ket+ Por­tal on July 31, and the fu­ture of the com­pany is still up in the air, Pres­i­dent Josh Wiles said Fri­day.

That means 1,700 farm­ers mar­kets na­tion­wide — in­clud­ing those 18 in Mary­land — would need to find a new way to swipe SNAP cards or stop ac­cept­ing busi­ness from peo­ple who use them.

“We are con­tin­u­ing to work with folks to try and find a so­lu­tion to avoid any ser­vice in­ter­rup­tion to our cus­tomers,” Wiles said. “That’s what our fo­cus is on, to try and come up with a so­lu­tion and do it be­fore were forced to sus­pend op­er­a­tions.”

Soft­ware to process SNAP pay­ments has heavy se­cu­rity re­quire­ments to try to pre­vent fraud, which are ex­pen­sive to main­tain. The trans­ac­tions are typ­i­cally for small amounts of money. And Wiles said a way to scale his busi­ness up was look­ing un­likely af­ter a fed­eral de­ci­sion to work with an­other com­pany on larger projects.

Mean­while, lo­cal farm­ers mar­kets are grap­pling with the news.

“We are try­ing our hard­est not to alarm SNAP re­cip­i­ents yet be­cause we’re hop­ing that there will be a so­lu­tion be­fore the 31st,” said Amy Crone, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mary­land Farm­ers Mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion. “Par­tic­u­larly at the height of the sea­son, when all this won­der­ful pro­duce is com­ing in, it would be a shame if this would come to pass be­cause of de­ci­sions that were made by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

Eigh­teen of 24 farm­ers mar­kets in Mary­land that take SNAP ben­e­fits use Novo Dia Group’s sys­tem, Crone said. The other six, in­clud­ing the Waverly mar­ket on 32nd Street, use dif­fer­ent sys­tems and will not be af­fected.

Us­ing SNAP ben­e­fits at farm­ers mar­kets is a boon for re­cip­i­ents, who can ac­cess more pro­duce that is hard to come by in ar­eas with few gro­cery stores known as food deserts, said Michael J. Wil­son, di­rec­tor of the Bal­ti­more-based or­ga­ni­za­tion Mary­land Hunger So­lu­tions.

It also means some ex­tra in­come for lo­cal farm­ers, Wil­son said.

“It’s a par­tial an­swer for the food deserts prob­lem,” Wil­son said.

To­tal SNAP spend­ing in Mary­land neared $1 bil­lion in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the United States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, and has reached $462 mil­lion in 2018.

“We’re talk­ing lots and lots of money. This is not peanuts,” Wil­son said. “To the ex­tent that we can tar­get those dol­lars, not just at gro­cery stores but at farm­ers mar­kets, that’s great for the lo­cal econ­omy.”

Money spent at farm­ers mar­kets has ac­counted for a small slice of that spend­ing, though it has risen from $15,113 in 2010 to $90,050 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Farm­ers Mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion.

Re­cip­i­ents can also tap into a pro­gram called Mary­land Mar­ket Money, run by the Mary­land Farm­ers Mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion, to get to­kens they can spend like cash on farm­ers mar­ket pro­duce and stretch their dol­lar fur­ther, Wil­son said. He ad­vo­cated for in­creased state spend­ing of the pro­gram so re­cip­i­ents do not have to rely as much on fed­eral dol­lars.

At Cat's Paw Or­ganic Farm in Union Bridge, Ru­dolf Medi­cus has been pick­ing toma­toes, cu­cum­bers, squash and sum­mer greens. He’s also pre­par­ing for fall’s har­vest of dark green veg­eta­bles — kale, broc­coli and arugula, much of which he will haul to farm­ers mar­kets.

“It seems a shame where in the very city that there’s such a food desert the pro­gram can be in­ter­rupted by such a nui­sance,” Medi­cus said.

Medi­cus said he doesn’t come across SNAP cards of­ten, but said he does have cus­tomers pay with ben­e­fits from the Spe­cial Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion Pro­gram for Women, In­fants, and Chil­dren, com­monly known as WIC, or the fed­eral Se­nior Farm­ers' Mar­ket Nu­tri­tion Pro­gram. Se­niors come to him with $5 pa­per vouchers he later has to cash in. But they are go­ing dig­i­tal, and Medi­cus said he wor­ries that will cause dis­rup­tions at those pro­grams, too.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.