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New law brings WIC farmers market program to Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missourians eligible for WIC will soon be able to use their vouchers at farmers markets thanks to a new law. 

The language brings the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) to Missouri, allowing eligible women and children to use vouchers at local farmers markets. A partnership between the state and federal government, the program will cover the cost of the food and 70 percent of the administrative cost. WIC FMNP will be administered by the Department of Agriculture

The program was established in 1992 by Congress but required states to implement it. Missouri previously participated in the WIC FMNP but halted the program more than a decade ago and will join 39 other states when it is revitalized later this year. 

More than 1.2 million WIC participants across the country benefited from the program in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rep. Martha Stevens proposed the language as a standalone bill this session, a measure she had sponsored over the last three years. Stevens, who has experience in social work, said the program was an opportunity to help low-income families as well as the economy. 

“I’ve worked with a lot of low-income families in the past, and I know that food insecurity is a significant issue for a lot of them,” the Boone County Democrat said. “It’s a great opportunity for our local economy and for these families. For some families, this will be their first time being introduced to farmers markets so that is a positive way to connect people with food while also helping these wonderful assets in our communities.” 

While the department is at work on an implementation plan ahead of the bill’s Aug. 28 effective date, Stevens said the idea was to pilot the program alongside the Seniors’ Farmer Market Nutrition Program in the counties that offer it before expanding to other areas of the state. 

The proposal was backed by a number of groups as it passed through the legislature this year, including the National Association of Social Workers, the Missouri Soybean Association, the American Heart Association, and Empower Missouri. 

Christine Woody, Empower Missouri’s senior policy director, said the bill would ensure children received proper nutrition as they grew. 

“Missouri lawmakers have identified a focus on issues affecting young children this year, and nutrition must be included. Pregnancy and early childhood are particularly vulnerable times for kids,” Woody said. “Getting healthier food into their bellies is important to supporting healthy growth and development at this critical stage.”

Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, estimated more than 291,000 children faced food insecurity in Missouri last year. 

The language was added to GOP Rep. Hannah Kelly’s HB 432, a sweeping bipartisan package pertaining to vulnerable people. Other sections of that bill restrict schools from using restraint or seclusion punishments, create a food security task force, and require health benefit plans to cover children’s hearing aids.  

The bill was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson in July.