State to fund Market Bucks program for SNAP users
MARSHALL — Funding for a program which encourages low-income Minnesotans to buy fresh food from farmers markets is no longer in jeopardy, state Sen. Gary Dahms said Friday.
While funding for the Market Bucks program was cut from the Minnesota Senate agriculture budget, Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said Friday that $325,000 was included in the state government budget bill.
The Market Bucks program matches $10 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding with $10 in Market bucks, allowing SNAP-eligible Minnesotans to buy up to $20 of fresh produce from local famers markets. When funding for the program was dropped from the Senate ag budget, it touched off a wave of concerns from both farmers markets and advocacy groups fighting hunger in the state.
Dahms said one of the challenges with the Market Bucks program was that it was harder to implement in rural communities. “The key is there has to be an EBT reader,” at the participating farmers market, he said. “Very few rural farmers markets have an opportunity to get to an EBT reader,” and the majority of the program funding ends up being spent in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Dahms said.
However, Dahms said this year the state agriculture budget did include $850,000 in funding for the Farm to School program, which helps encourage Minnesota schools to buy food from local farmers.
Dahms said it was still a positive thing to have Market Bucks funding included in the state government budget.
“I think it’s good to have both programs,” he said. The purpose of both, he said, “is to give people access to good, fresh food.”
While not all farmers markets in the region take part in the Market Bucks program, the Marshall farmers market does, said Dan Wambeke. SNAP users can swipe their EBT card and spend $10, and get up to $10 in Market Bucks. The program helps encourage people to shop for fresh produce at the farmers market, he said.
“It’s a win-win for everyone. Vendors do better, and customers get more healthy food,” Wambeke said.