California Lawmaker Pushes for Food Stamp Bill to Include Farmers Markets

California State Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) is hosting a news conference on Wednesday, trying to urge the governor to sign a bill that would allow low-income residents on food stamps to increase their buying power to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and farmers’ markets.

The conference is scheduled on the same day that the pending federal government shutdown could threaten the food stamp program. On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Senate approved a spending bill to temporarily keep the government open. The measure heads to the House for an afternoon vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown must sign the bill, or veto it by Oct. 11.

On Sept. 4, the state Legislature passed legislation 56-16 that Ting wrote to help California receive federal funding from the 2014 farm bill in order to expand healthy food access at farmers’ markets for low-income Californians receiving food stamps, his office said on its website. The Senate vote the day before passed 30-8.

“We must improve access to nutritious food. The healthiest choice should be the easiest choice,” Ting said in a statement.

AB 1321 directs the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture to obtain federal funding to provide incentives for food stamp recipients to shop at farmers’ markets. The federal farm bill of 2014 set aside $100 million to encourage the purchase and consumption of fresh grown produce through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program. According to the US Department of Agriculture, there are more than 3,000 farmers markets that accept food stamps.

Ting noted that other states, such as Washington and Massachusetts, have taken a leadership role in obtaining these funds for their residents. California should follow suit, Ting said.

“We should be getting more of these funds,” Ting said. “California is positioned to benefit from this program more than any other state because of our network of farmers markets and poverty challenges.”

Ting’s bill was inspired by an approach pioneered by San Francisco Bay Area non-profit organizations called Market Match. Administered by the Berkeley-based Ecology Center, Market Match operates at over 150 farmers’ markets across California. It doubles the purchasing power of families receiving food stamps shopping at farmers’ markets. This incentive has increased food stamp purchases at farmers’ markets up to 700 percent.

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