Fresh idea better than food-aid crackdown
It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that people receiving money for food assistance should be allowed to spend those precious tax dollars on alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.
Surprisingly, in New Hampshire at this time, there is nothing to prevent these purchases. So House Speaker Bill O’Brien called a press conference Friday to announce his plan to pass laws to prevent this from happening in the future.
If you didn’t hear about the press conference that’s probably because so much more attention was paid to O’Brien flack Shannon Bettencourt literally shutting the door in the faces of two Concord Monitor reporters, refusing to allow them into the meeting because the speaker’s feelings had been hurt by a Monitor editorial cartoon. Who knew Bully O’Brien was, in reality, Crybaby O’Brien?
O’Brien’s pettiness overshadowed some legitimate concerns about how food assistance money is used. In some ways, the moment symbolized his failed tenure as speaker, a decent idea obscured by petty vindictiveness.
If the speaker limits his efforts to stopping people from using food assistance to buy alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and lottery tickets, then he’ll garner universal support. If he overreaches and, as the Nashua Telegraph reported, tries to prevent those on assistance from buying food that is “too expensive for low income families to buy,” he’ll complicate what should be a relatively simple fix and likely fail.
We would also like to call the speaker’s attention to a positive food assistance program operating right now on the Seacoast that should be helped to grow from a regional program into one that serves the state and nation.
Seacoast Eat Local’s SNAP/EBT Farmer’s Market Program is simply a brilliant idea.
The program allows families receiving food assistance to use their EBT cards at the Portsmouth and Dover farmer’s markets, giving them access to the healthiest foods our region has to offer.
People in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) can buy fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, milk, cheese, honey, breads and other baked products. Seacoast Eat Local not only provides access, it doubles the value of the EBT cards, matching purchases dollar for dollar up to $10.
This wonderful program makes the farmer’s markets accessible and affordable to those receiving assistance, allows the families to purchase the best local food, and creates new customers for our local food growers and producers.
Yes, there is some abuse of the state’s food assistance program and if that abuse can be stopped without jeopardizing getting food into the bellies of those who truly need it, then we are all for it.
But we are much more excited by Seacoast Eat Local’s farmers market program, which puts good, healthful food directly into the hands of those who need it while benefiting our local food producers.
For information on the farmers market program, visit Seacoasteatlocal.org.
Thanks go to all those who help us make this happen, including our partners in the program, Seacoast Grower’s Association. Their participation allows us to extend this program from our Winter Farmer’s Market to year-round access through their Portsmouth and Dover farmers’ markets. We would also like to acknowledge the generous as well as critical support of the Thomas W. Haas Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which allowed us to expand in our program’s first year, and to the Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Centrix Bank, and Long Term Care Partners for additional funding. Special thanks to Brendan Cornwell for leading the project, to our coordinator, Sarah Jacobson, who helped us launch the program, and to the many wonderful volunteers who continue to staff our farmers’ market booth and serve on our committee.
For more information about Seacoast Eat Local’s SNAP/EBT program and how you can help, visit us at www.seacoasteatlocal.org — your donation helps others gain access to fresh, healthful and local food!
For farmers’ markets in the area that accept SNAP/EBT: www.seacoastharvest.org.