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Baltimore officials looking for permanent solution for SNAP users at farmers markets

Baltimore officials are looking for a permanent fix that would allow customers to continue using government assistance to purchase goods at local farmers markets.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program users were initially told that their cards would no longer be supported at the majority of Maryland farmers markets by the end of July. But a national nonprofit announced last week a stopgap measure that will provide operational funding to the Novo Dia Group — whose software enables farmers market vendors to process SNAP cards — for an additional month.

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said she was “grateful” to the Virginia-based National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs for kicking in the emergency money and ensuring local farmers markets’ products stay available to SNAP users through August.

“We continue to monitor the situation and are looking for short and long-term solutions for Baltimore so that SNAP continues to be redeemed at farmers markets and all customers can purchase high-quality fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and local food products,” she said at her Wednesday press conference.

The potential shutdown would impact 18 of 24 farmers markets in Maryland, including the popular Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar under Jones Falls Expressway. The other six, including the Waverly market on 32nd Street, use different processing systems and would not be affected.

The city’s food policy director Holly Freishtat said she’s been in discussions with the Maryland Farmers Market Association on whether local vendors should be looking to find a new way to swipe SNAP cards. The head of the organization estimated the shutdown would cost farmers and markets $330,000 in lost revenue.

But Freishtat said there are multiple questions to consider. They are debating whether its more prudent to create their own technology system to process the cards or wait for federal guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“There’s a variety of options right now,” she said. “Right now, we’re just trying to figure out if there’s going to be an extension through September, through October or through November. No matter what, we’ll have a solution for the next farmers market season.”

Pugh recently signed a letter, along with a coalition of other mayors, urging the USDA “to ensure that SNAP services remain available without disruption.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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