KINGWOOD — The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Stretch program doubles or triples benefits when they are spent at qualified West Virginia farmer’s markets, including two in Preston County.
On Tuesday, Extension Agent Bill Shockey, Metheny’s Farmers Market owner Kim Stemple and Spencer Moss, executive director of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, asked the Preston County Commission to fund the program for three years using $396,522 in American Recovery Plan Act funds.
Each year, $125,000 would be used to extend SNAP benefits and $7,147 would cover administrative costs, Shockey said.
He explained the SNAP Stretch program started in 2018 and came to Preston County in 2020. Individuals on SNAP have their money matched 1:1 when using benefits at a farmer’s market. If they have a child with them, they get a 1:2 stretch and for senior citizens raising their grandchildren it’s 1:3.
“In West Virginia, we have found that that’s about 8%, or 26,000, of the children are under the care of their grandparents,” Shockey said. “In Preston County, I think that number is right around 600-700.”
Statewide, $286,000 was distributed in SNAP Stretch benefits in 2020 and $497,000 in 2021, Stemple said. Unfortunately, in 2022, the program’s budget is just $115,000.
In 2020, 18% of distributions, or $52,000, were in Preston County. In 2021, that jumped to 46% or $211,246. In 2022, that’s just $16,000, Stemple said.
In total, $980,000 went to the state’s agriculture economy and $410,000, or 42%, went to Preston County’s, Stemple said.
“SNAP Stretch has demonstrated itself to be a very good deal for Preston County’s economy,” she said. “And in my market alone, I know I purchased over $80,000 worth of Preston County-grown produce, in goods, and I paid out over $48,000 and services to Preston County businesses.”
Commission President Samantha Stone asked what the program planned to do after the three years because the county doesn’t have the tax base to support that kind of yearly contribution.
Moss explained the program started with a USDA grant and is now funded by two USDA grants. The program is also working with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Resources and the governor’s office to get a line item in the budget. There is precedent in other states.
Moss said Agricultural Commissioner Kent Leonhardt is 100% behind the program and has requested it be a line item in their budget for two years, but the governor’s office hasn’t put it in there.
However, she said the governor’s office likes the program and there are funding opportunities for it. Speaker Roger Hanshaw also believes DHHR might be a better for it, Moss said.
“I’m also looking at what it would look like for DHHR to run the program instead of a small nonprofit running the program in a couple of years,” Moss said. “Just so there’s some sustainability for the program as well.”