Thanks to quick action by the Oregon Food Bank and the Farmers Market Fund, food-stamp recipients are able to continue to shop at local farmers markets, at least through this season. What happens between this season and next may depend on Congress, which should step in if the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t act to put the program on a stable footing.
The USDA encourages beneficiaries of SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as Food Stamps — to buy fresh food at growers markets because it is healthier, and it has the added benefit of helping to support community agriculture. But earlier this year, the agency decided to end its contract with the company that provides benefits processing equipment to more than 1,700 farmers markets across the country, including 20 in Oregon.
At issue is the point-of-sale card reading software that market vendors must use to transfer money from the benefit cards of SNAP recipients into their accounts. Novo Dia Group, the company that provides the devices, announced it would be forced to shut down after the USDA awarded a new contract to a different company.
The state of New York stepped in to keep NDG afloat through the 2018 season, but markets and vendors will need to transition to whatever system takes the place of the NDG app.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has requested an investigation to determine why the USDA allowed the interruption to happen. Congress should do whatever is necessary to ensure the service is available next year.