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Illinois increases number of farmers markets accepting food stamps

More low-income Illinois residents are using food stamps at farmers markets – a move that advocates and officials welcome.

From 2009 to 2010, the value of food stamps spent at Illinois farmers markets jumped to $41,000 from $11,000, a 269 percent increase.  Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said she likes that trend because it’s important to connect poor people to farmers markets.

“It’s not only doing ourselves a favor economically in Illinois, but health-wise in Illinois as well,” Simon said.

This year 49 farmers markets are accepting state-issued LINK food stamp debit cards. That figure is seemingly small, given that Illinois is home to more than 300 farmers markets, and the ones that accept food stamps are clustered in or near urban areas. Simon said Illinois is second only to California in the number of farmers markets accepting food stamps.

Still, Simon wants more to be done, and she has a particular approach in mind.

A year ago Illinois legislators created a program to improve retail technology at farmers’ markets. The idea was to help markets purchase machines and other equipment that allow consumers to use LINK. The equipment typically runs about $2,500, but legislators created the program as an unfunded mandate and compliance has not been swift. Simon said she’s looking for private money to jumpstart the initiative.

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