NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Farmers Market will begin accepting benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program this summer — a move officials say will improve food access while bolstering business for local vendors.
The Town Board on Thursday approved a resolution in a 4-0 vote allowing the use of the food assistance benefits at the market, which is set to return on July 9. Councilman John Della Ratta was not in attendance.
“This will enable more individuals who are receiving SNAP benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and items at the farmers market, and I think that’s a really great way to increase access,” said Supervisor Jaime Puccioni, who sponsored the resolution alongside Councilman Jason Moskowitz.
By accepting SNAP benefits, the Niskayuna Farmers Market follows in the footsteps of other area markets, including the Schenectady County Farmers Market, the Saratoga Farmers Market and the Schenectady Greenmarket, which have accepted the benefits for years.
Last year, the Niskayuna Farmers Market began participating in the federal Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which provides coupons to purchase fresh market produce to those enrolled in the Women, Infant and Children Program and eligible seniors.
Donna Evans, a member of the Niskayuna Farmers Market Committee, said market organizers are excited to begin accepting SNAP benefits, noting that the market is a community resource to which everyone deserves access.
“Accepting SNAP benefits is the right thing to do,” she said. “It will provide all of our customers with more equitable access to fresh, quality food.”
Food insecurity is a growing problem in Schenectady County, where a lack of grocery stores and lack of transportation makes access to fresh, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables hard to come by for some residents — an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and inflation.
The number of households receiving SNAP benefits in the county has grown to 12,109 as of April 2022, the highest at any point during the pandemic, according to the most recent state data.
That’s an 8% increase from April 2021, when 11,185 county households received the benefit.
In April 2020, shortly after the pandemic took root, 11,689 county households were receiving the benefit, an increase of 7.8% from April 2019, when 10,848 households received the benefit, according to state data.
Evans pointed to recent data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau that indicated 2.5% of households in Niskayuna receive SNAP benefits.
“There will also be a need in our community and the market can help meet that need by accepting SNAP benefits,” she said.
The increase in households receiving SNAP benefits coincides with soaring prices that have affected how consumers spend their money. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services, has grown 8.6% from May 2021 to May 2022, representing the largest one-year jump since the early 1980s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Food prices also have steadily increased, growing 11.9% between May 2022 and May 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, gasoline prices have been hovering just below $5 per gallon, a 50% increase from a year ago, even after the state partially suspended its gas tax through the end of the year.
To begin accepting SNAP benefits, the town will establish a bank account under the Community Programs Department that will allow program recipients to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer card to purchase $1 tokens that can be used to buy a variety of items from participating vendors, including fruits and vegetables, breads, daily products, meats, fish, poultry and other items.
Vendors then will be able to complete a reimbursement form and turn in tokens received in order to be reimbursed. Unused tokens can either be returned or kept for future use at the market.
Meanwhile, Evans said many of the market’s popular vendors are expected to return this year, and that special programming, including workshops hosted by master gardeners, fitness demonstrations and kids craft events led by local Girl Scouts, can be expected.
The Niskayuna Farmers Market is scheduled to run each Saturday from July 9 to Oct. 15 at Niskayuna Town Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.