ARPA funds made 2023 a bumper year for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, but 2024 funding may shrink

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB/Report for America) — The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives seniors money to buy local produce served a record number of people in southeast Ohio this year.

A total of 3,192 southeast Ohio seniors participated in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program in 2023, according to the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, which operates the program in this region. This marks an increase of 850 people compared to 2022. Each participating senior received $50 in coupons to purchase fresh produce from local farmers.

The program was able to serve so many people due to funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, according to the council’s aging and health director, Jennifer Westfall.

“It’s a big deal because we put food in front of 3,000 people,” said Westfall. “We’ve all been to the grocery store. We all know what it costs. And then you throw energy bills on top of it, and then you throw in the older adult population, (who) potentially have medical bills and prescription costs. So, the significance in us helping 3,000 people — it’s big.”

Fruits and vegetables on display at a farmer's market stall.
Westfall said giving seniors access to fresh produce helps them stay healthy. [WOUB Public Media]
Despite the program’s success and popularity — Westfall called it an “easy win” because it feeds seniors and puts money in farmers’ pockets — it may not serve as many people in 2024. Westfall expects funding from the American Rescue Plan to run out by the end of next year. Other sources of funding likely won’t measure up without help from Congress.

“The Older Americans Act fund has been woefully underfunded for years,” Westfall said. “Because of the pandemic, because of the ARPA funds, we experienced this time period where we were funded how we should be. This amount of money, we should have all the time.”

Seniors age 60 and older are eligible for the program. Eligibility is capped by income: Last year, the limit was $26,973 for one person and $36,482 for two. Westfall said those numbers will likely undergo small changes in 2024 when the government updates the federal poverty level.