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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

LINK Cards Still Work At Farmers Markets Despite Illinois Budget Impasse

Katie Finlon

Illinois is still without a budget after the last legislative session ended last week. Here's what that means for LINK card recipients shopping at farmer’s markets:

There are about 450,000 SNAP beneficiaries within the WNIJ listening area, according to Illinois Human Services data. That’s about a quarter of all recipients within the state.

Now, more and more farmers markets in the area are starting to allow those residents to pay with their LINK cards. That includes DeKalb’s market, which is in its fifth year of accepting LINK.

Amanda Srail is with Windy Acres Farm in Geneva, a vendor at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market. She says the farm only benefits from allowing customers to pay with LINK cards.

“If more people are able to afford delicious, fresh-picked produce and the LINK cards allowing it, it’s wonderful and it allows them to enjoy and eat healthy, as they should be,” Srail said.

Illinois human services officials say SNAP and LINK card funds are not in any way affected by the state’s current financial situation. That’s because SNAP and USDA grants for SNAP support at farmers markets are usually federally funded.

Jessica Antonacci, who is with the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, runs the city’s farmers market. Antonacci says there were about 200 LINK card sales in the DeKalb Farmers Market last year. She says LINK card usage within the farmer’s market is funded by federal grants, which pay for machinery costs to accommodate LINK cards and chip credit cards.

That also applies to other farmer’s markets in the area, including those in Rockford.

“I think it just makes sense for the community that we live in,” Antonacci said.

According to U.S. Census data, about 30 percent of DeKalb residents live in poverty based on income -- and not noncash benefits like food stamps.

Sterling and Freeport’s farmers markets currently do not accept LINK cards. The LaSalle market also does not, but there a few vendors who accept SNAP benefits independently. Don Wenzel, who owns Donnie Appleseed Orchard in LaSalle, is one of them.

Wenzel says one reason why he considered opening his stand to SNAP beneficiaries was from an encounter with a woman from a local program that benefits women, infants and children.

Wenzel says the young mother spent her entire allowance at his stand. When he offered to put her on the orchard’s punch card program, she said she appreciated it, but that it would probably be the last time she would be able to shop at the market.

“It sparked an interest in me, and that maybe if she was a part of a LINK program or SNAP program, maybe she would’ve been able to come back to that market throughout the growing season and be able to feed her family some fresh produce and whatnot,” Wenzel said.

Some farmers markets in the area are able to accept LINK cards from third-party grant providers, like LINK Up Illinois. That includes one in Machesney Park, as well as the markets in Rockford.

Corey Chatman, who is with LINK Up Illinois, says the program receives funds from the USDA and small foundations to provide grants to markets so more can accept LINK cards.

“We work at giving access to vulnerable populations to great food found at farmer’s markets,” Chatman said.

Chatman says LINK Up Illinois is not reliant on state funds, meaning it also is not affected by the budget impasse.