With increased direct-to-customer sales, and changes to farmers' markets, some farmers have been asking about how to accept SNAP/EBT and WIC food payments (previously called “food stamps”).
What are SNAP/EBT and WIC?
It’s important to know that SNAP and WIC are slightly different programs with different processes. Both programs are particularly important right now, with record unemployment applications due to layoffs and furloughs caused by disruptions due to Covid-19.
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is the larger of the two programs, and provides funds for low-income individuals to purchase food using an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card.
WIC is short for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. A smaller number of people are eligible for WIC benefits, and different states use different payment processes.
How can I accept SNAP/EBT or WIC payments at my farm stand or farmers market?
To accept federal SNAP/EBT food benefits as payment as a food vendor, start by applying online.
Once you are approved as a “Direct Marketing Farmer” or “Farmers Market,” you will have two options for accepting payments: purchasing a specialized piece of equipment that can swipe EBT cards, or running an approved payment app on a smart-device (SNAP/EBT Equipment Resources).
Grants are available from the Maryland Department of Human Services for the cost of purchasing the equipment required to process EBT transactions. These grants can be used to purchase either the EBT swipe machine, or the smart device and app (Novo Dia Group’s TotilPayGo, formerly known as Mobile Market+).
The Farmers Market Coalition has an excellent article about selecting EBT processing equipment.
To accept WIC payments as a farmers market vendor, apply to the Maryland Farmers Market Nutrition Program. If you have questions about the process, Weida Stoecker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Maryland Department of Agriculture contact for the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.
What about online sales?
The situation around online SNAP/EBT sales is changing rapidly.
Until recently, SNAP/EBT payments could only be made in person, via the debit card or check transactions described above.
The 2014 Farm Bill mandated the creation of a pilot program to test out allowing “retail food stores” to accept SNAP payments for online purchases of eligible foods. In 2016, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service put out a request for applications for retail food stores to participate in the pilot. Seven grocery store chains were approved to be part of the pilot program in specific states, including Maryland.
At the beginning of 2020, the pilot program was still getting ready to be launched. Due to the current Covid-19 situation, the USDA and many pilot states are working to expedite allowing online purchasing. The currently active pilot programs are listed on the USDA-FNS website. As of April 22, 2020, Maryland was not listed as having its pilot program active yet.
The USDA-FNS website also describes the product stocking and online infrastructure requirements for a food retailer to be eligible to accept SNAP online, and the process for applying. However, currently only the initial seven grocery store chains have been approved.
For now, the best option for farmers who want to accept SNAP payments for their food products is still to apply to be a farm vendor and accept payments in person as described above under “How can I accept SNAP/EBT or WIC payments at my farm stand or farmers market?”