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MN Lawmakers Urged to Spare 'Market Bucks' Funding


Monday, June 7, 2021   

An earlier version of this story said the Market Bucks subsidy is $375,000. It's now being reported at $325,000.

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - A popular program that gives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients better access to healthier foods at Minnesota farmers markets has been tied up in budget talks at the state Capitol. Supporters say it not only helps consumers in need, but also boosts local economies.

Market Bucks works by giving SNAP customers a dollar-for-dollar match when they make purchases at a participating farmers market. That match comes with a $10.

So if they spend $20, they can get an extra $10 to buy other food items. Birdie Pederson, the treasurer and the person who oversees the Little Falls farmers market, described it as a "win-win" scenario.

"For the people eligible to use Market Bucks, it advances their opportunity to purchase their food locally," said Pederson. "At the same time, to our local farmers, our local vendors, it gives us a greater profit."

An annual report from the group Hunger Solutions says through SNAP and Market Bucks purchases last year, more than $600,000 in economic activity was created for communities across the state.

The program is funded through a $325,000 state subsidy, but Senate Republicans resist renewing it, citing concerns over customers misusing the funds. But program operators say there's no evidence of that.

Kathy Zeman - executive director of the Minnesota Farmers Market Association - argued the program is widely popular, noting that the available funding gets used up each cycle. And she said there are even more opportunities to connect customers with local producers.

"Now that our direct-marketing farmers can also accept SNAP," said Zeman, "there's going to be a bigger need to get Market Bucks in their hands."

Market Bucks, which is co-administered by Hunger Solutions, are accepted at 99 participating markets around the state.

Lawmakers are racing to meet a July 1 budget deadline to avoid a government shutdown. Legislative leaders and the governor have agreed to a framework, but still need to sort out many details.

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