Farmers’ Market Vendors Unsure of Future as Federal Changes Come to EBT Processing

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The nationally acclaimed Downtown Farmers' Market prides itself on being inclusive and has accepted EBT benefits for more than a decade.

Market organizers say the wireless processing system it uses works well, but the government has a different idea.

"There always is the uncertainty on whether the program will be able to continue," says Kelly Foss, director of the Downtown Farmer's Market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it plans to cut ties with the SNAP benefits processing company Nova Dia earlier this year. The announcement impacts several markets across the country. This is not the same company Iowa farmers' markets use, but some are concerned it could be next on the chopping block.

"The federal government is very selective on who gets to process those payments," says Foss. "It's a process that gets renewed often."

At the state level, there are more concerns. More than two dozen vendors at the Downtown Farmers' Market currently accept SNAP benefits. However, there is a waiting list of those who want to take part in the program but cannot.

"We're at the end of the July, and farmers who are wanting to get started haven't been able to get started yet," says Aubray Alvarez, executive director of Eat Greater Des Moines.

The state's wireless EBT program began the transition to a new company that provides free EBT processing equipment in April. A decision on a new company not been decided yet. Vendors can technically still apply and be approved to accept SNAP transactions, but Alvarez says without the free equipment it's not worth it.

"That's not really a good economic decision for them just because it's not a ton of transactions, it would pay for itself maybe over years, but that's not really a model that works well for a lot of local growers."