Farmers Market raising funds for food stamp benefit

At the summer Homer Farmers Market, the tradition of selling locally raised farm goods has a high-tech component. Since many farmers don’t have credit-card machines, the market booth lets customers buy with credit- or debit-cards market tokens that work like cash at vendor booths.

That machine also lets SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — recipients use their Quest cards to buy tokens and get fresh, healthy food. Quest cards replace the former food stamps SNAP recipients use. They now have a card that works like a debit card to purchase food allowable under the federal program for lower-income Americans.

A fundraiser started last week will help SNAP recipients double their purchasing power. Using a You Caring online fundraising site, Farmers Market supporters seek to raise $3,000 to bring what organizer Kyra Wagner calls “food justice. That money will go to the Farmers Market and bring back a benefit that lasted from 2012 to 2014.

“If this simple act is something we can promote people doing, it can improve the life of people, especially with such a little effort for those of us who can choose what we want,” she said.

The Quest match program started in 2011 when the Farmers Market became the first market in the state to accept SNAP Quest cards. When SNAP recipients buy market tokens, for $10 spent on their card they got another $20 in tokens, doubling their purchasing power.

Wagner said that created an incentive for SNAP recipients to shop at the Farmers Market.

The program to set up using Quest cards at farmers markets started in 2011 using a federal Centers for Disease Control grant for obesity prevention, said Diane Peck, a public health nutritionist with Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control. The Homer Farmers Market and Spenard Farmers Market were the first Alaska markets to accept Quest cards, with 11 markets statewide now offering the benefit. The match program started as a one-day a month program and expanded to every market day.

After the CDC grant ran out, the state funded the match program. In 2014 that was $16,863, Peck said, but in 2015 the match program got cut because of statewide budget cuts. That’s less than the $17,000 billed in relocation expenses by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, the biggest spender according to the 2014 Alaska Legislature Salary and Business Expense Report.

Peck praised the Homer Farmers Market for setting up the Quest program.

“Homer did a fantastic job and still does,” she said. “It’s very difficult to implement this program without the dedicated staff like Homer has.”

A graph on the fundraising website shows the matching incentive worked. In 2012 SNAP recipients spent nearly $3,500, about half a Quest match. By 2014 that had increased to almost $7,000, again with half a Quest match. The match went away in 2015, and the amount spent by Quest users dropped to $3,000 and then $2,000 in 2016. SNAP recipients could still use their Quest cards, but without the match, probably shopped elsewhere to extend their food purchasing dollars.

“We have seen the numbers drop so dramatically we decided we had to do something to kick this back up,” Wagner said.

Already, donors have kicked in $1,700 of the $3,000 goal. To donate, visit https://www.youcaring.com/matchingfundsforanyoneusingsnapfoodstampsatthehfm-742433

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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