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.