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Food Stamp Cuts Could Hurt City Heights Farmers Market

Photo by Megan Burks / KPBS

Above: The City Heights Farmers Market shattered expectations when it celebrated its fifth anniversary this summer. It was the first in the county to accept CalFresh, or food stamps, making it a success at a time when markets in low-income neighborhoods were rare.

The City Heights Farmers Market over the weekend was just as it is every Saturday. Vietnamese and Burmese refugees carried enough greens to fill both arms. Women from East Africa sold kale and spinach. Children shared their strollers with massive bags of navel oranges.

Families who use food stamps have $36 less this month for stocking their cupboards. The cuts are also affecting businesses and, ultimately, the communities they serve.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

But things could be changing at the market, which became the first in the county to accept CalFresh, often called food stamps or EBT, five years ago.

Families who use CalFresh now have $36 less this month for stocking their cupboards. The 5 percent cut went into effect when a temporary stimulus boost expired Nov. 1. It's now affecting businesses and ultimately communities.

"I have noticed an increase in concern from people that have EBT," market manager Norah Duffy said. "They’re more hesitant to take out money. They just don't know what's going to happen with it, so they're being more conservative."

If the market's 200 or so customers using CalFresh spend $36 less a month, it could result in a loss of $7,200. In a good month, the market brings in $12,000 in EBT transactions. Duffy said that could drive away farmers who sell produce at the market and leave a lasting impact on a community many call a food desert.

"The whole point of the market was to bring fresh fruits and vegetable into neighborhoods like City Heights to make healthy, organic food accessible," Duffy said. "EBT is really what's holding that all together."

Congress currently is considering deeper cuts to food stamps as it crafts a new farm bill.

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