SEMAP has been deeply concerned about a recent decision made by the USDA that has a profound impact on our most vulnerable population. An incentive program that supports access to fresh local food for SNAP* clients changed contractors with a domino effect that puts Massachusetts’ highly successful Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at risk, leaving our farmers and farmers markets without a way to process electronic transactions for these incentive programs. For some farmers, it will eliminate their ability to process credit and debit transactions as well.
When a bureaucratic decision has such a devastating local effect it is staggering – especially when the notification comes, for the majority of our local organizations, through a Washington Post article. It exposes the vulnerability of our food system to technological and administrative decisions at the Federal level and shows the need for local resiliency and solutions based close to the heart of our communities.
In this case, a short-term solution has been found which will allow the program to run until August 31st and we are all extremely grateful to the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs for stepping in to support the hardware and software until August 31st. We hope a long-term solution can be found that will support this mechanism for national access to the SNAP program at farms and farmers markets. Unfortunately, Massachusetts’ extremely successful Healthy Incentives Program will not have support under any of the current replacements options because of the highly specialized software created to support the incentives.
We have written letters to our Congressmen and to Secretary Sonny Perdue at the USDA to express support for the incentive programs and express concern about what the loss of this access will mean to the community. SEMAP and all of the organizations caring about access to local food in Southcoast communities are working with our local food access and farmer support organizations to make this happen. SEMAP appreciates all the hard work that Coastal Foodshed, the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, and Mass Farmers Markets are doing to find a solution and support our local food community.
An immediate action step that will help: last week the legislature approved a FY19 budget that includes $4 million for HIP. Please call (617-725-4005) or email Governor Baker and ask him to sign the $4 million for HIP included in the legislature’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. We will be sharing more information on actions steps as they become available.