April 19, 2017 06:34 PM
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A piece of funding left out of a Senate budget bill could put a growing Minnesota food assistance program in jeopardy.
It's called Market Bucks.
The program matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamp dollars, spent at farmers markets across the state - giving low income families more to spend on fresh food.
The program got a big boost last year when the matching dollars went up.
For every $10 spent at a farmers market, families got an additional $10 dollar match.
Hunger Solutions said that resulted in more than a half-million dollars being spent by low-income families on fresh, local food.
But the highly-productive program that made local foods more accessible to low-income families could be on the chopping block.
And the timing couldn't be worse.
"Now is the time that we would be ramping up, getting all of our markets signed up, getting our market bucks printed, getting ready to go," said Sophia Lenarz-Coy with Hunger Solutions.
While the $325,000 to fund the program still exists in the House, it does not in the Senate.
That leaves customers and markets in limbo.
"We want the funding to be secure, we think there is a great track record that shows this is a great investment," Lenarz-Coy said.
Hunger Solutions said 85 farmers markets around the state participated in the program last year. That's up from 49 markets in 2015. Those markets brought in 3,400 new customers.
"To get people access to great quality local foods, to get farmers more business and to really build community, to me, is an example of government doing really good for people," Lenarz-Coy added.
David Kotsonas runs the St. Paul Farmers Market.
Last year he ran the Rochester market - one of the largest in outstate Minnesota.
"In 2015, in just Market Bucks we did roughly $4,500," he said. "In 2016, we did just under $25,000," he said.
Kotsonas said the program would be missed if it were not there.
"I think we'll see a large decrease in the number of SNAP recipients using their EBT benefits at farmers markets across the state," he said.
Those involved in this program have their fingers crossed, especially since the program has had bipartisan support.
The Senate conference committee will meet on Friday. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the two lawmakers who co-chair the committee, but did not hear back.
Updated: April 19, 2017 06:34 PM
Created: April 19, 2017 05:29 PM
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