The system that the Vancouver Farmers Market uses to process food stamp transactions is going away at the end of this month.
Jordan Boldt, executive director of the market, said he was notified Tuesday by the Novo Dia Group, the Austin-based company that’s been processing EBT, or Electronic Benefits Transfer, transactions for the market since last year, will cease its services July 31.
There had been rumors beforehand, though, that this was going to happen. The move impacts about 1,700 farmers markets around the country and was primarily prompted by a decision of the new administrator of the SNAP Equipment Program to work with payment-processor First Data instead of Novo Dia, The Washington Post reported earlier this week.
Boldt said there should be no service interruption for low-income people using SNAP, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps, to buy fresh produce at the Vancouver market.
“If we do everything right, the impact to our customers will be nonexistent,” he said. “We’ll have a solution to this by the end of this month.”
On Friday, the farmers market met with a local bank to set up a different EBT processing system to ensure there’s no service interruption. Boldt described this as older technology and an intermediate solution until the market secures a long-term replacement for Novo Dia’s system.
Kelly Stowe, spokeswoman for the Economic Services Administration of the state Department of Social and Health Services, said the administration has reached out to the Farmers Market Coalition and Washington State Farmers Market Association for help identifying markets that need support during the transition.
The Farmers Market Coalition had given Vancouver a grant that covered the equipment and ongoing fees associated with Novo Dia’s mobile-based system. Because the market was one year into a three-year grant, it’s possible that the remaining grant money could go toward whatever new system is implemented, Boldt said.
The market itself — rather than individual vendors — had the license to use Novo Dia’s Mobile Market Plus software, which worked on an iPad. It’s similar to Square or PayPal, but those systems can’t accept EBT. The USDA has specific rules for who can process EBT transactions. Vancouver Farmers Market customers run their EBT card at the information booth, and in exchange, get wooden tokens that act as currency to spend on fruits and vegetables.
The market matches up to the first $5 of each transaction per weekend; with EBT transactions averaging about $20, a customer will leave the information booth with $25 to spend on produce. It’s one of many markets across the state that offer incentives to SNAP customers.
Last year, Vancouver’s market did $40,000 in EBT transactions and $9,300 in additional matching funds. This year is on track to be about the same.
“We’re just trying to get food into people’s stomachs,” Boldt said.