U.S. Senator Tina Smith Introduces Bill to Cut Red Tape, Help Families Access Nutritious Food, and Expand Markets for Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7.26.23] – This week, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) and U.S. Representative Hillary Scholten (D-MI 3) introduced bicameral legislation to make it easier for families to use nutrition assistance at farmers markets by helping farmers participate in federal nutrition programs.

Small and independent farmers are often unable to sell directly to customers using USDA food assistance programs at farmers markets and roadside stands. This is due to burdensome application processes to become vendors for those nutrition programs and the lack of harmonized payment processing technology and equipment. The Enabling Farmers to Benefit from Processing Nutrition Programs Act would address these issues and make it easier for farmers to participate as authorized vendors under various nutrition programs. By doing so, it also provides an opportunity to bolster the dignity of nutrition program customers.

“Every family should be able to get nutritious, affordable food.  Small farmers and ranchers are the lifeblood of Minnesota’s ag economy. We should be doing everything we can to help small farmers to be able to sell their products to those families, particularly in their local area,” said Sen. Smith. “By cutting red tape and providing necessary technology and equipment, this bill will make it easier for them to accept nutrition program benefits, thereby tapping into that market, while simultaneously helping folks using federal nutrition programs to access healthy, local food at farmers markets.”

“West Michigan is known for its incredible fresh produce, and today I introduced legislation to ensure even more of our neighbors have access to it at local farmers markets. The State of Michigan is leading the way in providing more access to farmers markets for SNAP users, and we want to make sure that expands across the country,” said Congresswoman Scholten. “Senator Smith and I are partnering to cut through bureaucratic red tape for the benefit of both farmers selling produce and families who benefit from federal food benefits. If passed, our bill would ensure even more Americans have healthy, fresh food in their homes and that more federal nutrition dollars are invested in our local economies. This is a win-win for our farmers and everyday families.”

The bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to:

  1. Streamline the application process for farmers and ranchers to participate as authorized vendors under the various nutrition programs.
  2. Streamline the equipment/technology systems needed by farmers to process the benefits under the various nutrition programs.
  3. Provide free wireless or mobile processing equipment and systems for farmers markets.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators John Fetterman (D-PA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). It has also been endorsed by the Farmers Market Coalition, National Young Farmers Coalition, the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, the Rural Coalition, the Michigan Farmers Market Association, FoodCorps, Farm Action Fund, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 

“This Act reduces key barriers, especially for our emerging farmers, and improves food access for all communities. Additionally, as more community members buy food directly from their farmers, it benefits the farmers. This is a balanced approach for food access and economic development,” said Kathy Zeman, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association. “Hat tip to Senator Smith and her team for hearing our concerns on the barriers our direct marketing food farmers and farmers’ markets encounter as we strive to reduce food insecurity in our local communities.”

“The Enabling Farmers to Benefit from Processing Nutrition Programs Act takes overdue steps to streamline processes for farmers to participate in federal nutrition programs,” said Hannah Quigley, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds Senator Smith and Congresswomen Scholten for championing reforms that reduce burdensome paperwork for farmers and provide adequate equipment for markets to easily accept federal nutrition benefits. These reforms will promote access to healthy foods while generating local economic impact.” 

“The Farmers Market Coalition is extremely pleased to see the introduction of the Act,” said Ben Feldman, Executive Director at the Farmers Market Coalition. “Farmers markets and the farmers who sell at them face many barriers to accepting SNAP and other Federal Nutrition Benefits but this Act makes necessary improvements to remove red tape and streamline the process. These changes will increase income for American farmers and improve access to healthy food for low-income shoppers.”

You can read more about this bill here.