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Lawmakers revive program to help low-income N.H. residents buy food at farmers markets

People mingle at tents at an outdoor farmer's market
Jason Moon
/
NHPR
While lawmakers are moving to revive the program, a state health official said it likely won't be up and running in time for this summer.

A food assistance program to help low-income mothers and children access fresh food at farmers markets is one step closer to becoming law after a panel of lawmakers from the House and Senate agreed to fund it Tuesday.

The provision was added into House Bill 1099 by Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, who had originally introduced the legislation. Whitley’s original version, Senate Bill 403, would have provided $300,000 to the program, but lawmakers Tuesday agreed to spend only $30,000. SB 403 passed the Senate but languished in the House.

Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, said $30,000 was the maximum amount he was willing to allocate to the program, which would be run through the Department of Health and Human Services. “(It) would be the right amount to get the program started,” he said, adding that the money would cover administrative start-up costs, and the program could then be fully funded in subsequent years through the state’s normal budget process.

YOU CAN FIND a WIC clinic at www.signupWIC.com or call the State WIC Agency at 1-800-942-4321. There is an online pre-application tool to start applying for WIC services.

Lissa Sirois, the director of WIC for the Division of Public Health Services, told lawmakers Tuesday she agreed. “It’s not possible to get this program up and running for July 1 this year. So that $270,000 isn’t necessary today,” she said, since the program wouldn’t be purchasing food until the following year.

By passing the bill, the department could include the program as part of their normal business so it could be included in the state’s budget process, Edwards said.

“What I’m hearing is a commitment to put it into the budget,” Whitley said, indicating her support for the agreement.

Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican, argued in favor of spending more on the program.

“I want to push the department to do what they can to provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs … to the individuals. I’m not necessarily thinking that part of the department has felt the pressure that we want to put on them to get this program up and running,” he said.

The program, which has been dormant in New Hampshire for around a decade, would provide coupons to income-eligible families that could be redeemed at farmers markets in the state. It could benefit around 10,000 families currently enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.

HB 1099 also adds the Department of Health and Human Services to the list of public entities that cannot require someone to have a COVID-19 vaccination to receive public benefits or services or be eligible for department programs. In June, the governor signed a bill prohibiting other public bodies from requiring a so-called “vaccine passport.”

Bulletin senior reporter Annmarie Timmins contributed to this report. 

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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