September 01, 2016

Gillibrand Urges USDA To Create EBT System For Farmer's Market Nutrition Programs With Looming Transition Deadline

All states are required to fully transfer federal benefit programs to an EBT system by October 2020 / After 2020 deadline passes, FMNPs current paper vouchers would become outdated; without an EBT system in place low-income women, children, and older Americans would have limited access to fresh produce and farmers will lose local business / In 2015, FMNP programs saw $5 million in combined redemptions; this year redemptions are expected to exceed $5.5 million

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the Agency to assist states in creating and implementing an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system for Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP). By law, all federal nutrition programs are being transitioned to an EBT system by October 2020, but there is no plan for FMNPs. FMNPs allow beneficiaries, who include low-income woman, infants, and young children participating in the WIC program and Seniors, to redeem benefits at farmers markets, using paper vouchers valued at $4 each. 

In the Senator’s letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack, she highlights that it is unlikely that banks will continue to support a paper system for FMNPs after the majority of federal nutrition programs transition to an electronic system in 2020.  Without assistance from USDA, many FMNPs will no longer have a system for farmer’s to accept benefits, causing many to lose local business. This will in turn limit the access of many low-income women, children, and older Americans to fresh fruits and vegetables.  

“Farmers Market Nutrition Programs help children and seniors stay healthy, support our farmers and help our neighbors. FMNPs need an appropriate application for the redemption and processing of benefits to ensure their continued success,” said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “Without an EBT option for the WIC and senior programs, many vulnerable women, children, and older Americans will be denied access to fresh, locally grown produce and farmers will be denied sales generated through FMNPs. The USDA should use this limited time to assist states in the creation and implementation of a consolidated electronic benefit transfer system.” 

Last year, New York’s FMNP programs saw $5 million in combined redemptions for both the WIC and Senior programs. FMNP programs served more than 1.7 million low-income women, infants, and young children, and 818,000 low-income seniors across the nation. Redemptions came in the form of approximately 1,375,000 checks valued at $4 each and relied on the support of local banks. This year redemptions are expected to exceed $5.5 million.

The full text of the Senator’s letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is included below:

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC  20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I write to request that your office assist States in the creation and implementation of an electronic benefit transfer system (EBT) for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP) and the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). 

Currently, participants in both the WIC FMNP and the SFMNP redeem their benefits through the WIC checking system or by using a paper system. As you know, the deadline for states to transition all benefit programs to EBT is October 2020.  This deadline poses a dilemma for many FMNPs who will be left without a system for farmer’s to accept benefits, which will in turn leave many recipients without access to the fresh fruits and vegetables they depend upon. 

Last year, New York’s FMNP programs saw $5 million in combined redemptions for both the Senior and WIC programs, and this year redemptions are expected to exceed $5.5 million. These redemptions come in the form of some 1,375,000 checks valued at $4 each and rely on the support of local banks.  It is unlikely that these banks will continue to support a paper system for Senior and WIC FMNPs once the majority of federal nutrition programs transition to an EBT system. Moreover, many States do not have the resources available to develop an electronic system for FMNPs on their own, nor does there need to be 50 EBT systems.  

Your office has taken some commendable initial steps to bring EBT to farmers markets by making the MarketLink program the centerpiece of electronic benefit delivery systems in many states, including New York. Further development of this program to include all other federal nutrition programs, such as E-WIC and an electronic FMNP component, will provide our farmers and benefit recipients with a complete solution. An expanded MarketLink platform will maximize a small farmer’s opportunity while minimizing their risk with regards to operating costs. 

I ask that you provide me with an update of how the Department plans to assist states as we approach the deadline for transition to an EBT system for all nutrition programs. Providing both resources and technical assistance in the development of an appropriate application for the redemption and processing of WIC FMNP and SFMNP benefits is essential to supporting the continued success of FMNPs. Without an EBT option for the WIC and senior programs, many vulnerable women, children, and older Americans will be denied access to fresh, locally grown produce and farmers will be denied sales generated through FMNPs.  

Thank you for your efforts to support farmers and FMNPs, and to ensure that participants of both the WIC and senior programs can continue to access the fresh fruits and vegetables they need. I look forward to your timely response and attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Kirsten Gillibrand
United States Senator