As the COVID-19 pandemic leads our nation into the deepest economic contraction since 1947, people are left wondering how to put food on the table while 50 million jobs were lost and the price of consumer goods continues to rise. With the loss of income and the uncertainty of the future, people are turning to food pantries to make ends meet, with local food banks serving record numbers of households, and reports across the nation of people waiting in their cars for hours to pick up their food distributions.
To make matters worse, the pandemic is exposing structural inequities within the food system, where corporately owned, centralized food supply chains are unable to deliver healthy food options to food insecure families during a time of crisis. Farmers of all kinds lost restaurant and wholesale accounts, and opportunities to sell directly to consumers came into question as communities grappled with the best ways to keep people safe, while ensuring access to food and protecting local economies. Suddenly, everyone in the food system, from field to fork, needed to adjust, respond and turn chaos into opportunity.
Fortunately, Montana’s farmers market season is going strong, providing a critical source of revenue for Montana farmers and connecting residents to fresh, local foods. At the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, we work to ensure that all Montanans have access to local food, coordinating the Double SNAP Dollars program and supporting the development of new markets across the state.
This summer, we are excited that families have the opportunity to shop at farmers markets with Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) food benefits. P-EBT is a one-time benefit available to families who lost access to free and reduced-price meals during COVID-related school closures last year. Families will receive $330 per eligible child on an EBT card that can be used to purchase food anywhere SNAP benefits are accepted — including many Montana farmers markets.
What’s more, P-EBT also qualifies for Double SNAP Dollars, allowing families to further leverage their dollars to help our local farmers. CFAC’s Double SNAP Dollars Program (DSD) matches SNAP and P-EBT benefits, dollar for dollar, up to $20 per day, at participating farmers markets across the state. Since inception in 2015, the DSD Program now serves nearly 6,000 Montanans and has recirculated over $450,000 to our local farmers, ranchers, and farmers markets. The best thing about the program is that there is no application. When a SNAP customer or P-EBT family visits a farmers market, all they need to do is visit the market booth, swipe their EBT card, and ask for the DSD match.
This program is slick because farmers markets are the backbone of the local food economy. In times of food insecurity, the nation’s 9,000 farmers markets provide producers and consumers a direct market channel to ensure that people get fed. When paired with SNAP and P-EBT, farmer’s markets can function as an even greater economic stimulus for local food producers.
In Montana alone, the 10% of our population that participates in SNAP receives around $12 million per month in food benefits, and this number is growing with P-EBT. Matched by Double SNAP Dollars, these programs can infuse the local food economy with millions of dollars through the 72 farmers markets across the state. To find a market near you that accepts EBT, visit www.doubledollarsmt.org. To learn more about P-EBT, visit www.montanameals.org.