Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “Food Stamps”) is administered and managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
Households must meet certain eligibility requirements, including resource and income tests. The easiest way to determine if a household will likely qualify for benefits is to use one of these pre-screening tools: a handout (in either English or Spanish) developed by Maryland Hunger Solutions for Maryland or the USDA online pre-screening tool.
A national program, SNAP is funded through the USDA and administered at the state level. In Maryland, SNAP is called the Food Supplement Program (FSP), and is managed by the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR). Participants access their benefits through an Electronic Benefits Card (EBT), which works like a debit card when purchasing food. In Maryland this card is called the Independence Card.
Participants can sign up through Maryland’s online Services Access and Information Link (SAIL) or their local Department of Social Services office (DSS). If an online application is submitted, then a follow-up interview with a Case Manager will be scheduled either in person or via telephone.
The switch from paper vouchers to the EBT technology occurred in the 1980s, and resulted in a new hurdle for farmers markets to accept SNAP. In order to accept the Independence Card, a vendor must have a card reader that it can be swiped through – similar to a bank debit card. Farmers markets – or individual farmers – must obtain this equipment to be able to accept SNAP/FSP, which can cost over $1,000 per machine. This has proven difficult for many farmers markets that have few resources and managers who have little extra time to dedicate to the administrative management of maintaining a machine to accept SNAP.
Many farmers markets have found that the easiest and most efficient way to accept SNAP is to do so at the market level – with one shared machine and administration. Although a few farmers in Maryland have opted to get their own machines to have at their individual stands, the majority of farmers markets that accept SNAP have implemented this market-based scrip or token system.
The way that most token-based SNAP programs work at Maryland farmers market is:
- a SNAP participant goes to the market information booth to access the shared EBT machine
- market staff swipes the participant’s Independence Card in exchange for $1 tokens (i.e. if the participant wants to use $20 in SNAP, they will get 20 $1 wooden tokens) and provides a receipt to the customer
- the SNAP participant spends these tokens with farmers market vendors selling SNAP eligible foods
- at the end of the day, market staff collects the tokens from each farmer/vendor
- usually after market or later in the week, the market manager or administrator of the SNAP program counts, totals, and tallies the amount of sales in SNAP for each vendor and then writes checks to each vendor for that amount
- the tokens are then put back into circulation for the next market week
- a bank account that can accept SNAP funds from USDA and from which checks for farmers/vendors can be written
- authorization and registration with USDA (in order to access SNAP funds)
- an EBT machine that can accept the Independence Card
- someone to manage the weekly and seasonal administration of the program (count tokens, write checks, keep records)
More information on the following aspects of SNAP program can be found here:
- General SNAP information (USDA)
- Participant eligibility (DHR)
- Farmers Market process for setting up SNAP with USDA
- Guide on “Accepting Federal Nutrition Assistance Benefits at Farmers’ Markets in Maryland”