Image: AP

Thousands of low-income people are at risk of losing the ability to buy fresh produce at local greenmarkets because the company that processes 40 percent of of SNAP transactions at those markets is shutting down.

Vendors at farmers markets rely on card readers and specific software to process the debit card-like federal benefit cards used for SNAP. The Washington Post reports that The Novo Dia Group, the company that runs the software, is shuttering by July 31 and there is currently no immediate alternative in place.

This means that “about 1,700 of the more than 7,000 markets that offer SNAP” have “no way to serve low-income customers.” The company’s shutdown could cause a devastating ripple effect, the Post reports:

The shutdown also will compromise a range of incentive programs that have emerged over the past decade to improve low-income shoppers’ access to healthful food. Nonprofit groups, such as Wholesome Wave and the Fair Food Network, and a $100 million U.S. Department of Agriculture program, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, match or supplement SNAP benefits at farmers markets.

“It’s devastating,” said Michel Nischan, CEO of Wholesome Wave, which offers matching dollars for SNAP spending at about 1,200 farmers markets. “There are markets in areas considered food deserts that are the only places to buy fresh food, and they only exist because patrons can use SNAP or incentives.”

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According to Novo Dia founder and president Josh Wiles, the company is shutting down because the United States Department of Agriculture chose to bring in a different vendor several months ago, which he says ultimately made the company financially unviable. A USDA spokesman told the Post that it is “analyzing the impact this decision will have on our program participants as well as farmers and producers.” That would have been a good thing to analyze before making the decision, though.

The Trump administration is working with a startup, Financial Transaction Management, to run the SNAP payment program, but they’ve been delayed by at least six months.

Meanwhile, low-income Americans are caught in the lurch. In New York City alone, at least 20,000 people will be affected, Barbara Turk, New York City’s Director of Food Policy, told Grubstreet.

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“We found out last Tuesday,” she said.

“It’s one of the things that makes me come to work in the morning, to democratize food access,” Turk said. “Why would we go back? It’s a vendor change, not a policy change, but there’s this unintended policy consequence that’s huge.”

Correction: Grubstreet originally cited Cheryl Huber, Assistant Director of the Union Square Greenmarket at nonprofit GrowNYC as the source for quote on the impact in New York, and has since updated its post to attribute the quote to Barbara Turk, New York City’s Director of Food Policy. This post has been updated to reflect that change.