State and federal budgets could affect access to fresh produce
DANBURY — Residents escaped the heat for a few moments Saturday morning as they ducked under the shade of a tent at the farmers market to receive state and federal subsidies for their fresh produce and other healthy food.
About a quarter of the food purchased at the weekly market is paid for using money from state or federal programs, some of which are threatened by federal budget proposals or the lack of a budget at the state level.
President Donald Trump and federal lawmakers have included deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, in their budget proposals. Another federal program facing potential cuts is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children, or WIC.
“It’s definitely a critical problem,” said Peggy Zamore, the director and nutritionist for the Danbury Farmers Market Community Collaboration.
About 400,000 Connecticut residents participate in SNAP.
The state Senior Farmers’ Market Nutritional Program — which provides vouchers to help low-income seniors afford items sold at farmers markets — is on hold while legislators work out a state budget. The $350,000 needed to keep the program running was not included in the executive order signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, when the new fiscal year began on July 1 without a budget.
Farmers markets across the state were notified a few weeks ago that vendors wouldn’t be reimbursed for the vouchers until a budget is passed. The notice caused some confusion, especially because Zamore already distributed 75 of the 100 vouchers to Danbury-area seniors. She’s been telling the seniors and vendors to keep the vouchers, which could be worth money once the state budget is approved.
Even though the vouchers are currently not worth a penny, Danbury’s farmers market is continuing to match the state vouchers, as well as vouchers issued by federal programs, either by using more federal dollars or money raised by community foundations and organizations. Various local organizations also provide vouchers.
“It gives people an incentive to use SNAP for good food instead of unhealthy food,” Zamore said.
Zamore is also unsure if money will be included in the upcoming state budget to help promote the market. The market received a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture last fiscal year, and $30,000 the year before, to raise awareness about the market and its program. She said not having that grant “would kill the market.”
In Danbury, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D- 5th, stopped near a booth selling local produce Saturday to share some concerns she has heard from her constituents about the federal and state subsidies available to seniors, veterans and the working poor.
Esty said these programs increase access to local produce and are especially needed in states like Connecticut, where the cost of living is higher and residents might not be able to pay their bills working 40 hours a week.
“The nutrition cuts that have been proposed can be very devastating to people,” she said.