Deborah Reynolds knows how to get the most out of her food stamps. And in these tough times, advocates for the poor are hoping more people learn to follow her lead.
Every day in the District of Columbia, nearly one out of eight households struggles with hunger, with uncertain or limited access to, or ability to buy, nutritionally adequate and safe food, according to DC Hunger Solutions. The nonprofit organization, founded in 2002, has a mission of eliminating hunger in the District and improving the nutrition, health, economic security, and well-being of low-income District residents.
Currently, the organization is trying to get out the word that there are food resources available, even for those who are currently homeless and don’t have a permanent address. The group estimates that more than 20,000 city residents – including many low-income workers, seniors, and legal immigrants – are not receiving food stamps even though they qualify for benefits.
Fighting misinformation is the biggest battle, the advocates say. For instance, the current official name for the food stamp program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, a term that is not widely known. In addition, there is widespread confusion about what is required in terms of documentation. Food stamp applicants don’t need a permanent address, or even photo identification, to qualify. Applicants merely need someone who knows them, such as a social or caseworker, to call and verify their identity.
D.C. Hunger Solutions has been working with caseworkers at homeless shelters and other social service programs making sure that they know the rules and can help spread the word about the availability of food stamps. The goal is to make sure that everyone who qualifies for food stamps has them and knows how to get the most out of their assistance. One barrier, finding healthy food to buy with food stamps is being addressed with the help of farmer’s markets.
Two years ago, D.C. Hunger Solutions began a project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, to enable District farmers’ markets to accept food stamps. Now, more than a dozen farmers’ markets in the District accept food stamps. And three, including the FRESHFARM Market, by the White House, will double the value of up to ten dollars worth of food stamps per day.
In the hands of savvy shoppers such as Reynolds, such a bonus can really help put healthy food on the table.
On a recent Saturday, Reynolds arrived at the FRESHFARM market on H St NE with 25 dollars on her card, but she was able to boost her spending power and received 35 dollars in wooden tokens and vouchers to spend at the market.
“To be honest with you, the chips and money go a long way,” said Reynolds. “You get your money’s worth.” She had been to the market twice already, and on this visit, she was gathering ingredients to make a spaghetti and meatballs dish and salad to go with it. With her increased budget, she was able to purchase ground beef, lettuce, garlic, tomatoes and more.
Electronic Benefits Transfers coordinator for FRESHFARM Farmers Markets Olivia Rubagumya said being able to use food stamps at the market is a real boon.
“People are really happy when they hear that [there are food stamp benefits at the market]. I wish we could match higher. We used to, but we’re trying to stretch it out… [This program is] making food accessible.”