Blais Calls on Governor to Ensure SNAP and HIP Recipients Maintain Access to Local Farmers’ Markets

Sunderland, Mass. – Today, Natalie Blais, Democratic candidate for State Representative, First Franklin District, called on Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to enter into a multi-year contract to process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) benefits at farmers' markets.

In a letter to Governor Baker, Blais said, “I am writing to express my grave concerns about the current crisis Massachusetts and other states face in processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and HIP benefits at farmers' markets.”

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that “The Novo Dia Group, an Austin-based company that processes some 40 percent of SNAP transactions at farmers markets nationwide, said it will end its service by July 31, leaving about 1,700 of the more than 7,000 markets that offer SNAP.” The National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs has since announced that it will fund the system until the end of August.

“The closure of a company which processes these transactions for 1,700 farm retailers across the country, and is the only wireless option for processing HIP, shows the vulnerability we face if we rely on solely on federal programs rather than developing our own contracts with providers,” said Blais.

Last year, Massachusetts processed 184,000 SNAP purchases totaling $2.66 million at 243 sites – more than any other state.

“Massachusetts can continue to serve our vulnerable families and our farmers by entering into a multi-year contract with a provider that will commit to providing uninterrupted processing services for EBT transactions through smart phones and tablets,” said Blais.

The FY19 budget passed by the Legislature includes $4 million for HIP.

Blais argued that the “Contract must include the terminals necessary to process SNAP payments and HIP benefits, and the transaction fees should be covered free of change or be substantially subsidized by the state. This system must be in place before the 2019 growing season so that consumers and farmers who have come to rely on the program remain committed to participating in it.”

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July 25, 2018

Charlie Baker, Governor

Massachusetts State House

24 Beacon Street

Office of the Governor, Room 280

Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Baker:

Nationally, Massachusetts is a leader when it comes to innovative programs that connect fresh, healthy food with local communities, particularly those most in need. A primary example is the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) which the Legislature has funded at $4 million in the FY19 budget. With your signature, residents across the Commonwealth will continue to have access to local, fresh produce while enhancing the economic viability of our farms.

I am writing to express my grave concerns about the current crisis Massachusetts and other states face in processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and HIP benefits at farmers' markets. The closure of a company which processes these transactions for 1,700 farm retailers across the country, and is the only wireless option for processing HIP, shows the vulnerability we face if we rely on solely on federal programs rather than developing our own contracts with providers.

Last year, Massachusetts processed 184,000 SNAP purchases totaling $2.66 million at 243 sites – more than any other state. This was accomplished using the system that is currently slated to stop processing payments at the end of August. We cannot allow families to lose access to these foods. Additionally, we cannot allow farmers to face significant losses as they are unable to sell the crops they planted based on projections that this program would operate all year. The economic ramifications throughout our rural economy will be significant.

This crisis jeopardizes years of hard work and investment on the part of the Commonwealth. We have built a national model that not only improves health outcomes for our residents but also supports our local economy. A solution has been identified to continue SNAP payment processing until the end of August, but the system may still be suspended at that time. As of today, no alternative has been developed for the remainder of this year, or for coming years.

Your administration showed great leadership in implementing and funding this program, and Massachusetts must continue to lead the nation. Our progress cannot be hindered by missteps at the federal level.

Massachusetts can continue to serve our vulnerable families and our farmers by entering into a multi-year contract with a provider that will commit to providing uninterrupted processing services for EBT transactions through smart phones and tablets. Such a contract must include the terminals necessary to process SNAP payments and HIP benefits, and the transaction fees should be covered free of change or be substantially subsidized by the state. This system must be in place before the 2019 growing season so that consumers and farmers who have come to rely on the program remain committed to participating in it.

I hope that you will show continued leadership on this issue and take the necessary steps to ensure that the Massachusetts residents who are most in need of access to local, fresh produce are served through a successful program that also enhances the economic viability of our local farms.

Sincerely,

Natalie Blais

Candidate, State Representative