Double SNAP: Biden's emergency benefits for kids buy twice as much at some farmers markets

Mackensy Lunsford
Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - A sweeping plan to feed children over the summer will help bridge a nutritional gap in a historic crisis. The aid will also trickle down to local farmers who saw some income sources evaporate last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced an American Rescue Plan-funded effort to feed 30 million children over the summer by expanding Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer benefits and extending the program into 2022. 

When school is out of session, traditional summer feeding programs typically reach fewer than 20% of children served during the school year. This summer, the USDA will send P-EBT benefits to children under a certain income threshold and extend the 15% increase in total benefits. 

Finally Farm at ASAP Farmers Market

The P-EBT benefits work in the same way as federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits. Formerly known as food stamps, both SNAP and P-EBT benefits come preloaded onto a card that can in most cases be swiped just like a credit card.

Double the benefits at tailgates

Since they work just like SNAP benefits, they're worth twice as much at some area farmers markets under the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Double SNAP program.

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At farmers markets, including ASAP's Saturday market at A-B Tech, SNAP recipients can use their EBT card to purchase market tokens from the information booth. If they swipe an EBT card for $5, they get $10 in market tokens they can exchange for produce, bread, meat, dairy products and plants or seeds that produce edible food.

North Asheville Tailgate Market

In a recent survey of markets and shoppers, ASAP found the program has brought a dramatic increase of SNAP-using customers to farmers markets. That's also meant an influx of needed income for local farmers and food businesses.

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“The ability to stretch food budgets and increase vendor sales is obvious, but we also found that the impact goes farther than that,” ASAP Program Director Molly Nicholie said after ASAP surveyed the results of the new program.

The farm-supporting nonprofit found that 80% of market vendors it surveyed reported increased sales as a direct result of the Double SNAP program.

It also found that 96% of surveyed Double SNAP customers reported changing their shopping habits in a variety of ways, including eating a healthier diet and, for some, shopping at a farmers market for the first time.

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Who is eligible?

Under the USDA's P-EBT program, children are eligible for benefits if they're also eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year or, if they're younger than 6, live in a household eligible for SNAP benefits. 

Families of eligible children typically receive $6.82 per child per weekday, or roughly $375 per child over the summer months, so the doubling of benefits at area farmers markets makes a big impact.  

“It has helped me immensely, not only to afford better, local food, but also to feel a part of the community,” one of ASAP's SNAP-using survey respondents said. “It is great being able to be connected with the people who go to the farmers markets as well as to be enriched by seeing the beautiful things created and grown by the people here. I have always felt seen and included by the program.”

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the expansion of P-EBT a game-changer in the reduction of food insecurity.

“By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal," he said in a release.  

Strawberry plant starts from Wildwood Herbal

According to USDA data, around 29 million adults and as many as 12 million children have faced food insecurity throughout the pandemic, an issue that also disproportionately impacts communities of color. More than 1 in 5 Black and Latino adults live in food insecure households, compared to 1 in 9 adults overall. 

Recent research by the Brookings Institute found the issuance of P-EBT benefits reduced food hardship in low-income children by 30% in the following week.  

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Food security has been a major focus of the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided more than $12 billion in new nutrition assistance overall. That included a 15% increase in SNAP benefits, or $1.1 billion per month in additional benefits for about 41 million participants through September.

An additional nearly $900 million was funneled into the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, including a temporary increase in fruit and vegetable vouchers to $35 per month.

Where can I use the Double SNAP program?

  • ASAP Farmers Market, 340 Victoria Road, Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon.
  • East Asheville Tailgate Market, 954 Tunnel Road, Friday, 3-6 p.m.
  • Enka-Candler Tailgate Market, 1465 Sand Hill Road, Thursday, 3:30-6:30 p.m. (Opens May 6.)
  • Hendersonville Farmers Market, 650 Maple Street, Saturday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (Opens May 8.)
  • Mills River Farmers Market, 94 School House Road, Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon. (Opens May 1.)
  • North Asheville Tailgate Market, University Heights Blvd. Parking lot P28, Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon.
  • Transylvania Farmers Market, 200 E. Main Street Brevard, Saturday, 8 a.m.-noon.
  • West Asheville Tailgate Market, 718 Haywood Road, Tuesday, 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Find more regional markets at https://asapconnections.org.

How does it work?

Bring your SNAP or P-EBT card to the market information table.

Swipe your card for the amount of money you want to spend.

Receive that amount of money in market tokens to use on eligible products at individual farmer stands.

No cash back, but tokens do not expire.

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Mackensy Lunsford has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years, and has been a staff writer for the Asheville Citizen Times since 2012. Lunsford is a former professional line cook and one-time restaurant owner.

Reach me:  mlunsford@citizentimes.com.

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