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Hutchinson: Farmers Markets Have Much to Offer for Food Stamps (AUDIO)

Springfield, IL State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D Olympia Fields) passed legislation out of the Senate Human Services committee this week that would allow Link participants to redeem their SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, at nontraditional fresh food markets.

Currently, farmers markets that perform more than $100 in sales in SNAP benefits are provided with free terminals for EBT transactions, but those devices must be in locations with electricity and a phone line in order to operate. House Bill 4756 creates the Farmers Market Technology Improvement Program in which nontraditional fresh food market distributors, such as farmers' markets, Green Carts, market boxes, farm stands and mobile farm stands, produce stands, and other open-air markets, will have access to wireless point-of-sale terminals. This measure will allow further access to fresh products offered by outdoor and traveling farmer’s markets that do not have access to electricity or phone lines.

"Families across the state who rely on the Link program do not always have easy access to a grocery store in a close proximity to their homes," Hutchinson said. "For most of these families, they have to rely on a convenience store to purchase food. But some may have access to a nontraditional market and we want to make those healthier options available to every citizen."

Funding for the terminals will be through Farmers Market Technology Improvement Fund, also created through House Bill 4756, solicited by the Department of Human Services and Department of Agriculture. Funds will be allocated to purchase and distribute terminals, fees associated with Link transactions and outreach programs to Link participants.

"Giving disadvantaged citizens the access to nutritious products to improve their diet will only help save more money later down the road," said Randy Wells, Director of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Human Services. "Many medical conditions can be avoided by a sustainable, healthy diet. In the end, we will be saving the people of Illinois more money by implementing this program."

"There are almost 300 farmers markets in Illinois that do over $100 million in business a year selling fresh produce," Hutchinson said. "With this measure, we will not only be allowing people depending on Link the opportunity to enjoy fresh produce, and in some cases fresh meat, but we will give our farmers the opportunity to grow business. By taking advantage of technological advances such as wireless internet, we are able to build healthier communities and a stronger economy."

According to Hunger Illinois, formerly the Food Bank Association of Illinois, over 1.3 million residents, 607,000 households, in Illinois participated in the food stamp program in 2008. Also, 9.5% of Illinois’ population suffers from food insecurity or the lack of consistent access to nutritious food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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