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DSS Encouraged by USDA Comments on the use of Food Stamps at Farmer’s Markets

Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services (DSS) Secretary Kristy Nichols was encouraged by comments made today by United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or Food Stamps, to purchase fresh, local produce at area farmer’s markets. 

“In May, DSS joined state officials representing the Departments of Health and Hospitals and Agriculture and Forestry and Representative Patrick Williams in submitting a letter to Secretary Vilsack that urged sweeping changes to the SNAP program,” said Nichols.  “Secretary Vilsack’s comments today were very encouraging and give me hope that we will be able to make the most of the federal supplemental nutrition resources in our state to combat poverty and obesity by promoting good nutrition, healthy food choices with increased access to fresh local fruits and vegetables.”

Vilsack’s comments came in response to a question from an audience member during a Rural Health Community Forum today in St. John Parish. The forum was part of the U.S. Cabinet Secretaries’ Rural Tour addressing a variety of issues important to rural Americans.

In response to the question, Vilsack discussed efforts by the USDA to develop grant programs to allow farmers and local vendors to purchase equipment that would enable them to accept electronic benefit transfer cards used by food stamp recipients.

For low-income families, SNAP is a vital source of funds for food purchases. In June 2009, 298,374 households (718,361 Louisianians) received more than $91 million in SNAP benefits.

In the letter, state officials advocated introducing incentives for the purchase of healthy food products and the expansion of SNAP pilot programs that "double" benefits spent on fruits and vegetables purchased at local farmers' markets.

They also called on the USDA to combat "food deserts," rural areas where low-income residents have little to no access to fresh produce, by encouraging farmers markets to offer SNAP recipients incentives for purchasing healthy food with electronic benefit transfer cards.
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