You can make SNAP Match at farmers markets real for Illinois families and farmers

Juana shared her story about how much the SNAP match at the Bloomington Farmers Market means to her family. We changed her name to protect her privacy.

Juana uses SNAP benefits at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market every week. Her market is one of a handful across the state that also offers a SNAP match program. When she swipes her benefit card for $25, the market provides another $25 to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables.

She purchases eggs, bread, cheese and some meat and uses the rest of her benefits to stock up on sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes, and greens. Her three kids tell her they can taste the difference between store-bought veggies and the ones they get from the Market. They beg her to take them to the Market on Saturdays.

For Juana, the SNAP match program has been a blessing, but it’s not one she intends to receive forever. She’s working to get her family to a place where they no longer need to rely on SNAP benefits and they can come to the Market with dollars instead of a benefit card.

Shoppers at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market pick up bok choy from Amy Randazzo at Grani’s Acres. A statewide SNAP match fund will help low income shoppers in every community afford more fresh fruits and vegetables and support family farmers by keeping SNAP dollars local.

The SNAP Match program isn’t just good for low-income families like Juana’s, but it’s also good for farmers.

Last year, with the match program, SNAP customers spent a little over $16,500 at the market, a 15 percent increase from last year.

“Those dollars mean a lot to our vendors,” Market Manager Catherine Dunlap said. “That means more federal SNAP dollars are going into the pockets of family farmers right here in the Bloomington area. It’s a great program from both a food security perspective, and an economic development perspective.”

Unfortunately not every farmers market has the means to offer a SNAP match program. Less than 1/3 of Illinois 375 farmers markets has the technology to accept SNAP benefit cards, and even less offer a SNAP Match program.

You can change that.

Last year, the Alliance, in coalition with groups across the state, helped pass the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund, which creates a statewide fund for farmers markets to offer a SNAP match for produce. The legislation passed unanimously with bipartisan support but funding was not appropriated. This year we’re back at the Capitol asking for $500,000 appropriation for the fund. If appropriated, Illinois could apply for a full federal match for an additional $500,000 investment in our state. This would bring the total fund to $1 million for family farms and food security.

A comprehensive SNAP match program for Illinois farmers markets has the potential to reach 2 million SNAP users, many of which are children. In Illinois, 1 in 5 children receive SNAP benefits. Furthermore, a statewide SNAP match fund takes meaningful strides toward combating conditions of obesity and diabetes that are especially prevalent in low-income communities. According to the 2017 Link-Up Illinois report, 64% of SNAP purchases made through a SNAP match program at farmers markets were spent on fruits and vegetables. Nutrition education programs and prevention programs, like SNAP Match programs at farmers markets, pay dividends down the line by saving the state money in rising healthcare costs. 

Statewide SNAP match programs already successful through similar legislation in California, Washington, Oregon, and Iowa. Illinois should join these states in a commitment to providing easy access to locally grown, nutritious fruits and vegetables to those who need them most. This bill has the potential to increase access to crucial aspects of a healthy diet, boost local economies by keeping SNAP dollars local, and help small farmers make a living as they increase sales through the SNAP match.

The Healthy Food Incentives Fund supports the ideal of a thriving, healthy community, and it will position Illinois as a leader in prioritizing wholesome food accessibility to its most vulnerable. 

Call your state legislator and urge them to make it a priority to fund the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund and join us for Local Food Lobby Day on April 10th.