Editor’s Desk: FERN’s SNAP story prompts political outcry

At FERN, we talk about the impact of our journalism in various ways. On one level we can raise awareness and discussion about issues that deserve broader public attention. We can influence other media who follow us as a tip sheet, amplifying our stories. And finally we can reach influencers and policy makers who can use our reporting to seek change.

That happened recently when Jane Black and Leah Douglas, in a FERN collaboration with The Washington Post, broke news on how an electronic payment system for SNAP benefits at farmers markets was floundering. A key vendor in this chain overseen by the USDA was about to exit the business, leaving 1,700 farmers markets with no way to process electronic SNAP benefits and many low-income recipients without access to fresh, local food.

After our story ran, a non-profit funder stepped into the gap, helping the provider continue in business until the end of August. Politicians also demanded that the USDA come up with a new solution to avoid service interruptions. Fourteen Democratic senators wrote a letter to the USDA, asking the department to “explore every possible option to ensure there is no disruption in EBT [Electronic Benefits Transfer] service at farmers markets during this critical market time.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote a scathing letter to the USDA, and several U.S. representatives also weighed in. But this is not a partisan issue; many conservatives support the program as a market-based approach that helps both farmers and low-income consumers.

We’re not just looking at the USDA. In a second story FERN published last week with HuffPost, Lindsey Konkel explored the controversy over the packaging material BPA – specifically how FDA assessments are based on criteria that are 40 years old and ignore cutting-edge academic research. This allows the government to conclude BPA is “safe” while academic toxicologists are raising warning flags about the impact of the substance on human health. As one scientist told Konkel, “If you exclude 99 percent of the data, that’s arguably poor decision-making.”

Finally, we posted a terrific FERN story by Elizabeth Royte, on how a small town in the Midwest is confronting its tainted drinking water, polluted by agricultural runoff. Originally appearing in Harper’s, it’s now posted in full at our site.

We hope you read – and share – these stories and please consider a donation to allow us to do this work in the future.

Image: Jasmine Joseph-Morris and Kinda Latese Clifford talk with at Fresh Farm Markets employee Jessica Hulse Dillon about added public assistance offers they can get at the H St. farmers market in Washington D.C. in 2014. Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post.