LIHUE — Kauai Independent Food Bank will operate the Electronics Benefits Transfer program at the farmers markets until June 30, said Frank Ranger, KIFB director.
As of July 1, KIFB does not have the funds to continue the EBT program in the six farmers markets, said George Costa, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, in a release.
“With the growing concern from EBT recipients, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and the Kauai County Council have approved a $50,000 grant for any qualifying organization to be a certified EBT provider and service the four county sunshine markets,” Costa said.
The Office of Economic Development will administer the grant, he said, and is hopeful an organization can become certified and in operation by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.
Ranger said KIFB is working with the county to get a new agency certified.
“The Kauai Independent Food Bank is making every effort to help the Office of Economic Development in securing an agency to take over the EBT program,” Ranger said. “We are hopeful a new agency can be in place to minimize any disruption of service.”
Shoppers at the Kapaa sunshine market were already concerned.
“The EBT program is very good for the market,” said Wailua resident Lisa Raphael. “It allows me to eat healthy, it benefits the farmers of locally-grown food, and because so many people are on the EBT program, feeds a large part of the population.”
Raphael, a two-year EBT shopper, said she used to live on the South Shore and patronized the Koloa market. But after moving to Kapaa, she shops at the Kapaa sunshine market on Wednesdays.
Another South Shore resident said she shops the Kauai Community Market operated in partnership with the Kauai Farm Bureau and the Kauai Community College on Saturdays, and the Koloa sunshine market on Mondays.
“I was very excited about this program as it allows me to have fresh, locally-grown produce and helps the Kauai farmers,” said S.M. Harman in a letter to Kanahele.
“It is very important to me that the food dollars stay in the Kauai economy.”
Anuenue Kanahele, EBT clerk for KIFB, said there are at least four agencies who want the program.
“The process to get certified took KIFB more than four months,” Kanahele said. “Hopefully, this certification of a new qualified nonprofit agency will not cause a gap in the program.”
The Kauai Independent Food Bank, through a grant received in 2012, initiated the EBT service in four county sunshine markets, the Kauai Community Market and the Kukui Grove Monday Market as a “one-time” pilot program, Costa said.
Interest in the program grew, and in 2013, KIFB decided to provide the service for another year, dependent on available funds.
Costa said the county supported KIFB’s efforts with a $40,000 matching fund, which resulted in a benefit to EBT recipients getting double purchasing power (i.e. two-for-one program), and increased access to healthy, locally-grown produce.
Costa is hopeful an organization can become certified and in operation by the start of the next fiscal year.
“If this program is discontinued, the farmers will lose a large part of their income,” Harmon said. “Myself, and others on the EBT program, will no longer be able to shop at the wonderful local farmers markets.”