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Some food stamp recipients may soon lose benefits at dozens of farmers markets

Posted at 6:40 PM, Jul 17, 2018

Changes could be coming to how farmers markets process food stamps. Technical difficulties could mean dozens fo markets across the state have to stop accepting and matching SNAP benefits, hurting both the beneficiaries and the farmers' revenue.

"This would be devastating for the farmers market community," Maryland Farmers Market Association founder Amy Crone said. "In terms of food access, it would just be devastating for all of the SNAP participants who are able to get fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers."

A company that processes SNAP transactions with a mobile app at farmers markets across the country is going out of business at the end of the month. Novo Dia Group's Mobile Market+ app is the only one of its kind fo accept SNAP on a mobile device so this break in service come July 31st impacts 1,700 markets nationwide, 40 in Maryland and 5 in Baltimore (Baltimore Farmers Market & Bazaar at JFX, Johns Hopkins Market, Pigtown Community Market, State Center Market and University Farmers Market). Crone says it will impact about 2,000 households in the city, leaving markets and beneficiaries scrambling. 

"Hopefully it’s a short interruption in service," Ryan Tuckey, of Tuckey's Fruit and Vegetable Farm, said. 

On top of not being able to shop at the markets, it also means beneficiaries' money won't go as far. Right now, people in the SNAP program get double the benefits when they shop at farmers markets through the Maryland Market Money program. 

"If someone decides to spend $5 in their SNAP at the market, they’ll get $5 in SNAP tokens and then they will get an additional $5 in Maryland Market Money tokens. They then go and spend those with all of the vendors who can then turn them into us for reimbursement," Crone said. 

"That was benefiting a lot people that’s only getting $10-15. Some people only get $8-10 a month," a woman shopping with her SNAP benefits said. "It will be missed. The program will be missed."

This not only hurts people in the SNAP program, but also the local businesses they give their benefits to.

"It would be lost revenue upwards of $330,000 for the remainder of the season," Crone said. "I’ve heard from some farmers that the value that they receive from the SNAP benefits that they process, in addition to the Maryland Market Money program that matches those benefits, is enough to pay their payroll for a month."

For Tuckey's family farm, it wouldn't cost them a huge chunk of money but they would still feel it. 

"Those people, if they can’t use their SNAP benefits, some of them at least will not probably buy fresh food and vegetables from us," Tuckey said. 

The USDA is working on a permanent solution and in the meantime, Baltimore City officials are working on a temporary one so there is no interruption at any of the city's markets.

"We want to roll something out in August so we are really going to be looking to all of our partners to see what that solution is," the city's food policy director, Holly Freishtat, said. 

6 markets in Maryland won't be impacted, including 3 in Baltimore: Waverly, Druid Hill, and Govanstowne. That's because they use other technology to process the transaction. However, for other markets to switch to others available, Crone said it would take several weeks, cost additional start-up fees and many are based on 3G networks, which are "becoming obsolete." 

Crone says the association is there to help anyone with the transition and answer questions.