Expansion of federal food assistance proves to be a boon for Hawaii farmers

Expansion of federal food assistance proves to be a boon for Hawaii farmers

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Those on federal food assistance now have more local options for using their benefits, and that’s proving a boon for Hawaii farmers.

Farm Link Hawaii is now able to accept those on food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That partnership was approved last fall.

“We applied three times before we got accepted,” said founder Rob Barreca, explaining the federal process of accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

Farm Link Hawaii connects local farmers with consumers by allowing them to order products online. The items can be delivered or picked up at various warehouses.

The business was started with the assistance of non-profit, Elemental Excelerator, which helps launch local start ups.

Bonnie Chang, a single mother of three, was one of the first SNAP participants to take advantage of the increased benefit using Farm Link Hawaii. She no longer had to buy imported food from store shelves.

“It was a like huge game changer,” she said. “I felt like I could have a say in where my food comes from.”

Farmer Dan Carroll of Hua Ochards said there is a push from individuals to seek out local products.

“A whole new market that wasn’t there pre COVID,” Carroll said, adding the support helped supplement incomes as restaurants shut down.

Carroll said those restaurants are starting to reopen and he hopes the combination will reverse the damage done by pandemic closures.

There has been a steady increase in SNAP users in Hawaii, with an even bigger jump in recent months. A total of 80,553 new applications have been taken since April 2020.

There are limitations, though.

The federal government does not allow the financial transaction to be done online. So while the items can be ordered on the website, payment has to be made in person at one of the warehouses.

“Somebody has to physically give us their SNAP card and do it at sale which is a pretty big burden,” Barecca said the feds are working on a pilot project to change that so the entire process can happen online.

Since being allowed to accept SNAP, Farm Link Hawaii has had 70 users sign up. Farm Link Hawaii was a 2019 cohort of Elemental Excelerator which is now looking for more local start ups to work with.

Copyright 2021 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.