Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Technical difficulties

Compassion | Bureaucracy could get in the way of low-income customers using their SNAP benefits at farmers markets
by Rob Holmes
Posted 8/01/18, 04:51 pm

A symbiotic relationship between farmers and low-income produce buyers is at risk thanks to a technical glitch.

At least 1,700 farmers markets could soon lose their ability to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) dollars from low-income customers due to a gap in the government’s mobile processing contracts, The Washington Post reported.

Farmers markets across the country depend on government-provided technology to process electronic benefit transfer (EBT) debit cards used by food stamp recipients. In 2017, recipients spent more than $22 million at 7,300 farmers markets, a boon for small-scale farmers.

“Building trust with both farmers and families has been years in the making,” Adrienne Udarbe of Pinnacle Prevention, an Arizona nonprofit organization that manages a statewide program that doubles the value of SNAP benefits spent at farmers markets, told Talk Poverty, a website of the Center for American Progress. “Farmers now trust that SNAP is an income source they can rely on to feed their families, and SNAP customers now put their trust in us and in the market to provide them food. When you break that trust, it does a lot of damage and there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.”

In mid-July, Austin-based mobile payment company Novo Dia said it would end its service to farmers markets by the end of the month. By law, states must give farmers markets and select retailers no-cost options for processing payments. Novo Dia had developed the widely used Mobile Market Plus app that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided free of charge to farmers markets, along with card readers and tablets. Since 1,700 markets relied on Novo Dia’s app and hardware, and only Novo Dia’s app works on Apple-based systems, the company processed close to 40 percent of all SNAP purchases nationwide.

But Nova Dia said SNAP transactions are highly regulated and low-profit, and without necessary support from the USDA, they were having a hard time staying sustainable, much less profitable.

The USDA recently gave the $1.3 million SNAP mobile payments processing service contract to Financial Transaction Management of Virginia.

Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s acting deputy undersecretary for Food and Nutrition Service, issued a statement on July 14 that promised to avoid service disruption. In it, he said the USDA awarded the new contract to Financial Transaction Management in March, and the new company was required to start processing applications for new equipment in July, but it is unclear how long it will take to get the equipment to markets.

A group of 14 Democratic senators sent a letter two days later to Lipps, urging him to explore every possible option to ensure no disruption in EBT service at farmers markets, something that would have “devastating impacts on SNAP families as well as farmers who sell their products to these local families.”

In a last-ditch effort, the non-profit National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs said it would foot the bill to keep Novo Dia operational through August. Last Friday, New York announced it had reached a deal with Novo Dia to keep the system operational at markets in their state through January, but other states are still grappling with what to do.

The best solution would be development of generic software for use on any phone or computer terminal, something the USDA has said it wants to do. The question is, as with all government processes, just how long it will take. On the bright side, with a government mandate to convert to electronic processing by 2020, the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program will likely benefit from getting all these kinks ironed out now.

Twitter/Jasmine Scofield Twitter/Jasmine Scofield Jasmine Scofield’s photo of David Casarez that went viral

Hungry for success

A surefire way to get your resumé to the top of the stack is to hand it out en masse on a street corner and have your efforts go viral on social media.

David Casarez, a 26-year-old homeless web developer, was sleeping in Rengstorff Park in Mountain View, Calif., when he had a “make or break” moment last week. On Friday afternoon, Jasmine Scofield was driving when she saw a well-dressed Casarez handing out his resumé while wearing a homemade sandwich board reading, “HOMELESS. HUNGRY 4 SUCCESS. TAKE A RESUME.” She got his permission to tweet his plight: “Today I saw this young homeless man asking for people to take a resume rather than asking for money. Please RT so we can help David out!”

Photos of Casarez and his resumé went viral, with 70,000 retweets by the next afternoon, according to the New York Post.

Casarez graduated from Texas A&M in 2014 with a degree in management information systems. He worked in Austin, Texas, until last year as a web developer at General Motors. But Casarez’s dream was to start his own tech company in Silicon Valley, so he cashed out his 401(k) to move to the Bay Area. But he only landed freelance gigs, as no one would hire him full time. In June, after a year of living in his 2015 Ford Transit Connect utility van and no steady work, his van was repossessed and he was broke.

But the California-style publicity stunt paid off: Casarez now has hundreds of offers from companies like LinkedIn and Google. “I wanted to keep my head up high, keep looking forward, and see what opportunity would come next,” he told the New York Post. This weekend he tweeted Scofield: “Thank you all for the overwhelming amount of support you have given me! No amount of good deed on my part could ever repay that debt.” —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg Dave Seiler right) and Ronald Gaskill, both homeless veterans in San Francisco

Homelessness skews older

This year, the number of homeless people in Los Angeles over age 62 spiked by 22 percent, to nearly 5,000 people, according to the Los Angeles Times. The surge is part of a wider story about elderly homelessness across the country.

A 2016 study of homeless people over age 50 found up to half of older homeless adults became homeless for the first time in late middle age. “These newly homeless individuals are generally low-income adults who sustained a financial or health crisis after a lifetime of workforce participation and housing,” said the research team from the University of California, San Francisco.

This may not surprise us since the general population is living longer. But for outreach purposes it’s noteworthy that during the past 25 years, the average age of single adults experiencing homelessness has moved upward, according to the study’s authors. In 2016, approximately 50 percent of single homeless adults were over age 50, compared to just 11 percent in 1990.

Justice in Aging, a nonprofit organization fighting senior poverty, has estimated that homelessness among those over age 65 will double by 2050 to about 93,000 people. —R.H.

Vote for the ministry that moves you the most

Voting for the grand prize winner of 2018 Hope Awards for Effective Compassion has begun. The ministry receiving the most votes will receive $10,000, while each of the regional winners will take home $2,000. Last year, 16,000 ballots were cast. Research our regional winners by reading WORLD Magazine’s features and listening to WORLD Radio’s profiles and then decide which ministry moves you the most. Voting ends on Saturday, Sept. 8. —Mickey McLean

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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