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New York state announces expanded FreshConnect Checks program for veterans


Wed, Jun 22nd 2022 05:10 pm

New redemption sites & involvement of county veteran service providers said to support increased redemption rates for veterans, servicemembers & families

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) and Division of Veterans Services (DVS) announced an expanded FreshConnect Checks program that aims to increase participation in the program by veterans, servicemembers, and their immediate families.

An enhanced distribution strategy this year includes county veteran service providers across the state, increasing the number of sites distributing checks; and lengthens the time period of this seasonal program. Additionally, newly developed promotional materials are aimed at helping veterans learn about the benefits available to them through the program and how to participate.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “The FreshConnect Checks program helps consumers access nutritious foods, while helping farmers expand their reach into new markets. We want to make sure that our veterans, servicemembers and their families know that they can tap into this program and use this benefit to purchase fresh, local New York state products to put on the table. I thank the Division of Veterans Services and our county veterans service providers for their help in getting the word out, and look forward to a successful season of this critical program.”

Viviana DeCohen, director of the New York State Division of Veterans' Services, said, "Veteran and military families across the nation continue to face the problem of food insecurity, a concern no one should ever have. Gov. Hochul and our partners at the Department of Agriculture and Markets understand these concerns, which is why this expansion in both funds and timeframe of the FreshConnect Checks program is so critical. These changes are another important step to ensuring more veteran and servicemember families are accessing fresh and healthy foods as well as the benefits they earned in service to our nation."

A press release noted $200,000 in FreshConnect Checks is available to veterans, servicemembers and their immediate family members at all DVS offices statewide. New this year, county veterans services agencies are now able to distribute FreshConnect Checks, greatly increasing the number of sites distributing checks from 31 last year to 59 this year. Additionally this year, the distribution period for FreshConnect was moved to May 1 from July 1, lengthening the program’s utility by two months.

New promotional materials have been created for veterans to increase awareness of the program and how to participate. Materials include a palm card and a rack card that explain what the program is, how to use FreshConnect checks, and how to find a participating farmers’ market, farm stand, or mobile market.

There are no income restrictions, combat service requirements, or length of military service requirements for a veteran, servicemember or eligible family member to receive an allotment of FreshConnect Checks. Any eligible individual may receive $20 worth of FreshConnect Checks for redemption at participating farmers’ markets, farm stands and mobile markets. FreshConnect Checks can be used to purchase dairy, produce, meats, fish, eggs and more. Coupons are currently being distributed. Veterans interested in learning more can call 1-888-838-7697 for more information.

DVS and AGM have joined together every year since 2014 to distribute FreshConnect Checks to veterans, servicemembers and their immediate family members. In 2019, the program received national recognition when it received the highly respected Pillars of Excellence Award from the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, praising the program’s innovations and statewide successes.

State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, "We owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women who are currently serving or have served honorably in our nation's armed services. By expanding the FreshConnect Checks and providing additional food dollars to veterans, we can encourage servicemembers to put healthy, nutritious foods on the table, support local agriculture, and broaden awareness about this important program."

Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation of NY, said, “In these times of high inflation, FreshConnect is a great way to help consumers stretch their food dollars while introducing them to fresh, healthy, locally grown foods, and generating additional sales for our state’s farmers. We are pleased to see this program extend to our veterans, as well, ensuring our vets can afford a healthy diet.”

New York state launched the FreshConnect Program in 2011 to create new farmers’ markets and support existing markets that provide outlets for fresh food in high-need neighborhoods. FreshConnect helps expand access to fresh food in underserved communities, improve the diets of individuals in those communities, and foster economic development. FreshConnect-funded projects aim to provide a boost to New York farmers and ensure that all New Yorkers have access to farm-fresh products and are encouraged to accept other nutrition incentives, such as WIC and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs.

The FreshConnect Checks program encourages recipients to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at participating farmers’ markets. The program provides $2 incentive coupons for every $5 in SNAP benefits spent with the market, increasing the purchasing power of SNAP consumers by 40%. In 2021, more than $4.9 million in SNAP sales occurred at farmers' markets throughout the state, an 85% increase over 2020. A full list of participating markets is available at https://agriculture.ny.gov/farmersmarkets.

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