Farmers markets and the food stamp worry

Business is booming at Berkeley, California’s farmer’s markets… so much so, that organizers are getting concerned.

Some worry that a recent huge increase in food stamps - used to purchase fresh food - may eventually eat away at the overall funding for nutrition incentive programs used by the markets.

…In turn, leaving scores of recently unemployed residents without extra grocery subsidies.

Carlie Brinkman helps run this farmer’s market… and says there has been a 100 percent increase in the use of CalFresh - which is how grocery subsidies are administered in California.

"People's food security is plummeting, so folks are reaching out for lifelines. And that includes CalFresh. It's called SNAP on a federal level, the supplemental nutrition assistance program, and that's a safety net to make sure that families can continue to eat even when they lose their jobs, when they don't have enough money to purchase healthy foods for their families.”

According to an analysis of state data - CalFresh saw more than 278,000 new applicants in the six weeks after the state's stay-at-home order, compared to just 60,000 in the six weeks prior.

Brinkman says CalFresh recipients are tapping into an incentive project known as Market Match… which provides extra tokens for people to buy farmers market produce.

"But what we do know from the couple months of data that we have is that we are distributing Market Match incentives and matching those CalFresh benefits at a much higher rate than we had expected and it's not really sustainable based on the funding we have. A lot depends on how long COVID-19 is the new normal and whether or not we can secure additional funding to bridge that gap.”

The problem is not just in California… but nationwide.

Some federal lawmakers, like Michigan Representative Dan Kildee, are asking for up to $51 million in emergency federal funding - in the next coronavirus aid bill - for incentive projects like Market Match and his state’s Double Up Food Bucks program - while lowering the matching requirement for local organizations.

"We feel like if we don't act, that is going to reduce the number of people who have access to this program, not just because we won't have the increase (in funds), but because the pressure on those local organizations - whether it's a state or local government or a local philanthropic organization - the pressure on them to deal with the immediate crisis that we're all facing, will by necessity move money away from these programs. We want to avoid that.”

Federal relief would be welcome news for farmers, and customers - looking to get fresh, nutritious food as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.

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