Will farmers markets be hurt if Congress cuts food stamps to pay for school lunches?

Borden - picture of Bridge Card sign at WSFM

I have received several emails on the Michigan Farmers Market listserv urging us to contact our representative in the U.S. House of Representatives not to pass the U.S. Senate bill Hunger-Free Kids Act, S. 3307. People are concerned because the bill, as it stands, pays for its $4.5 billion price tag by cutting $2.2 billion from the SNAP (food stamps) program.

The bill needs to be finalized this week before the current funding for certain school nutrition programs expires on Sept. 30. The House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, HR 5504 includes more provisions for summer meals and eligibility, but does not allocate funding for the $8 billion increase.

According to the Michigan Farmers Market Food Assistance Partnership (MIFMA), $297,000 in food stamp benefits were redeemed at Michigan farmers markets last year. MIFMA has done a lot of work supporting Michigan farmers markets to be able to accept bridge cards/food stamps this season.

All four farmers markets in Washtenaw County accept bridge cards. To date, the Westside Farmers Market has accepted nearly $1,000 in government nutrition benefits. That is $1,000 going into the hands of our local farmers and providing fresh food to our citizens versus a small step toward fighting the 30 percent obesity rate in American children by working toward healthier lunches.

Both the Senate version and the House version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act will increase funding for school lunches by six cents, up to $2.44 per meal. It is also the first time there has been an increase in 30 years.

Is the six cents a meal for the children worth cutting food stamp benefits for the whole family? If I were in Congress, I would pay for the six cents by taxing the "edible food-like substances" that line the shelves of convenience stores. In fact, I would increase school lunches by as much as I could tax, because I have taught in an inner city charter school and seen the difference in the attention span of a student subsisting on marshmallows and Cheetos and one who had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. (Alternatively, we could scale back the subsidies that hide the real price of what food costs.)

As Stephen Colbert said recently, in his testimony to Congress about the plight of the migrant workers picking Americans fruits and vegetables, “The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating our fruits and vegetables.”

That is one solution, but perhaps our representatives have another one. If you care about this issue, contact your Representative.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

John Dingell launches Double Up Food Bucks in Washtenaw County

Borden - Dingell, Hesterman, Edwards at Ypsi market for DUFB

Photo courtesy of Richard McLeary

Congressman John Dingell, Oran Hesterman of the Fair Food Network and Amanda Edmonds of Growing Hope spoke Tuesday afternoon at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market to launch the Double Up Food Buck program in Washtenaw County.

As I wrote about in July, the Double Up Food Bucks program matches every food stamp dollar spent at a farmer’s market up to $20 per visit.
Congressman Dingell spoke in support of the program from his perspective, “as the sole remaining author of the three of us who introduced and moved forward with the food stamp bill back in the Eisenhower administration.” Our nation has been supplementing nutrition for low-income individuals and families for more than 50 years, and our representative was there at the beginning.

Currently, 12.9 percent of the U.S. population receives federal food assistance benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically and commonly known as the Food Stamp Program. Dingell outlined the scope of the issue for our state, reporting that, “Michigan now has more than 17 percent, 1.75 million of our people, … on food stamps.”

Borden - Washtenaw participating markets

Double Up Food Bucks launches this week in four markets in Washtenaw County and in Calhoun County (Battle Creek area) this weekend. From this week until the end of October, Double Up Food Bucks will be accepted at all Washtenaw farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits: the Ann Arbor Farmers Market (7 a.m.-3 p.m.Wednesdays and Saturdays), Westside Farmers Market (3-7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 30), Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays), and the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market (2-6 p.m.Tuesdays).

Rachel Chadderdon, program manager for Double Up Food Bucks, explains the decision to stop at the end of October. “We will take a break - while Michigan produce takes a break - and then once there is enough Michigan produce, probably in June or July next summer, we will start up with those three sites [Detroit, Washtenaw, and Calhoun] and as many other sites that we can find funding for around the state. We hope to be running this program for the next three summers.”
Funding for the program comes from major foundations such as the Kresge Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, with a one-to-one match from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations for each dollar of local foundation funds received. One such local source is the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF). AAACF Vice President Martha Bloom, a fellow audience member, shared that they have given the Double Up Food Bucks program “one grant, and there is a potential for more.”
Hesterman hopes the Double Up Food Bucks program will create data to “share with Congressman Dingell and others in Congress to show them that it is time for us to move from this kind of program being funded solely by foundation dollars…into federal legislation as the next generation of food assistance programs.”
As witnessed by cameras, videos, and wind-blown audience members, Congressman Dingell reiterated his promise to help the program when successful. In the octogenarian’s words, “If you guys can make this new proposal work, I’ll be glad to try to help you get it into law.”

Here is the article on annarbor.com

(on a somewhat unrelated note, here is the Growing Hope Flickr site, where you can see a picture of all of the market managers surrounding John Dingell - lucky duck.)