On Saturday, May 4, food stamp recipients received a bonus when they swiped their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards in exchange for tokens to use at the season-opening Missoula Farmers Market: They were given twice as much to spend, up to $20.
"They were so grateful," says Evita Nagle, manager of the market. "Some of these families or college students—whomever they are—they're low-income, they're struggling, so for someone to give them an extra $20 worth of groceries is huge."
The bonus was offered as part of a new program called Double SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP or, more commonly, food stamps, provides assistance to 125,049 Montanans, including 15,441 in Missoula County. In addition to being available at the Missoula Farmers Market, Double SNAP was also unveiled Saturday at the Clark Fork Market. On June 1, the Missoula Community Food Co-op will begin offering Double SNAP. For all three entities, the program's about making local and organic foods accessible to those in need of food assistance, as well as increasing demand for locally made goods.
"Oftentimes what we see with people who are living with limited resources is that there's this affordability gap to local or fresh or organic produce," says Jessica Allred, director of development and advocacy for the Missoula Food Bank. "So what the SNAP double-up dollars at the farmers market does is really makes it more accessible to people who are on the SNAP program, who are living on limited means, and opens up this amazing resource of local, fresh produce to a larger population."
Franco Salazar, manager of the Clark Fork Market, believes Double SNAP will help entice those on a shoestring food budget to see the market as a more viable option for accessing healthier foods.
"I know there's somewhat of a stigma with some of the products at the market that it's expensive—local is expensive—so we just wanted to kind of break that wall down and make it affordable," Salazar says. And as more people spend their SNAP benefits at the market, he says, "there's extra money going directly to the farmers from the program."
To raise funds for Double SNAP, each entity is taking a different tack. Businesses and charitable organizations have donated to make the Clark Fork Market's program possible. Funds for the Missoula Farmers Market have come from grants. The co-op has turned to crowdfunding online.
According to Allred, the assistance provides a much-needed antidote to a recent drop in food-assistance benefits across the country. Last November, a temporary boost in SNAP funding expired and nearly every recipient saw their benefits decline. In addition, the 2014 Farm Bill will cut $8.7 billion in funding for SNAP over the next 10 years.