January 22

Fresh push for using EBT cards at Maine's farmers’ markets

The electronic payments can help low-income Mainers buy fresh, locally grown produce, advocates say.

By Mary Pols mpols@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Phooto courtesy of Cultivating Community: Mohamed Abukar, a Somali immigrant who lives in Lewiston, was one of the first growers sponsored by Cultivating Community to accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps.

The maximum that a four-person family can receive each month fell by $36, from $668 to $632. In Maine, the average monthly benefit for a family of four is $351.

Part of the challenge for farmers’ markets will be preparing for more cuts, which are inevitable.

The cuts in November were caused by the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which had increased the benefits.

Congress is expected to make about $9 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years when it passes a new farm bill. That represents a compromise of sorts: The Democratic-led Senate had approved $4 billion in cuts while the Republican-led House had passed $40 billion in cuts.

Another issue for farmers’ markets is raising awareness. Some SNAP recipients still don’t know about the option to use their cards at farmers’ markets.

Gold hopes that what comes out of the convention will help give shape to a more strategic approach to expanding the EBT program, although “in some markets it may not make sense to go through the work of making that happen.”

That $4 million in grants through marketlink.org will be distributed nationwide, and can’t possibly cover every farmers’ market vendor who needs a wireless terminal.

“If you are only doing $500 in SNAP sales at your farmers’ market, is it worth all that work? It may not be,” Gold said. “In your first year, that may be OK, but it has to be able to pay off.”

The convention will be held from 7:45 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Maple Hill Inn and Conference Center in Hallowell. More information is online at www.mainefarmersmarkets.org.

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