A Nonprofit Group (and Not the Government) Saves SNAP at Farmers Markets—For Now
By Kalena Thomhave | Jul 19, 2018
Food justice advocates breathed a sigh of relief Thursday as a pending disruption in farmers markets accepting SNAP benefits was narrowly averted for the time being. Has the Trump administration stepped in and provided a solution to the markets nationwide that were threatened? Of course not! A nonprofit group has cleaned up after the government’s missteps.
Let me try to briefly tell a very complicated story of why this was necessary (which I recently reported in a longer feature). As originally reported by The Washington Post, the federal government chose a new contractor for the program that funds equipment for farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits. That new contractor did not choose to work with the software vendor, Novo Dia, that currently processes SNAP benefits for about 40 percent of SNAP transactions at markets across the country. Because of this, Novo Dia announced it couldn’t cover the costs of their software and was going out of business. Novo Dia’s service to markets would end July 31. Without that vendor’s technology, nearly 2,000 markets would not be able to accept SNAP benefits, affecting SNAP recipients’ ability to buy food and affecting small farmers’ revenue.
But on Thursday, the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs announced that it will fund Novo Dia for an additional 30 days so that there will be no disruption in service for markets who use the company’s app to process SNAP benefits. That service extension will run through at least until the end of August.
Not only will this mean that markets will be able to continue accepting benefits, but it also buys time for markets and advocates to ensure that service isn’t disrupted at all. The move “[gives] us time to provide a long term, workable solution to keeping our markets and farmers active in the SNAP program,” said Diane Eggert of the Farmers Market Federation of New York in a statement. Instead of being forced to find a solution in the next two weeks, farmers and markets have more time to switch equipment (which they likely will still have to fund themselves).
The extension of Novo Dia’s service is great news for farmers markets and SNAP recipients: It’s hard to underscore how perilous the situation would have been for low-income people who shop at markets, as well as for farmers who rely on revenue from SNAP benefits, if SNAP could no longer be accepted at many markets.
But in celebrating, let’s not let the Department of Agriculture off the hook. As I wrote, the government knowingly ended the program last fall and was slow to restart it. They changed the stipulations for the federal contracting bid so that nonprofits were not able to apply, ensuring that it would be a new contractor that would take over the program, who would essentially be starting from scratch. And the department did not work with the new contractor to build a timeline to guarantee service would not be disrupted—that new contractor just started accepting applications this week. Finally, the government stipulated that the new contractor could not accept applications from farmers and markets using equipment under a previous contract, even if that equipment was, say, about to shutdown.
And it wasn’t even the government, which is nominally in charge of this program, who promised they were “exploring all available options in an attempt to avoid a service disruption,“ that solved this problem. Instead, that was left to the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs.