A bill to double the purchase power of some food assistance dollars at farmers markets was brought back to life Tuesday in the Senate and passed an initial vote on a razor-thin margin Wednesday.
House Bill 235 creates a nutrition incentive program for people with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Consumers shopping at farmers market or farm share programs can get an additional $20 to double their purchasing power for fresh fruits and vegetables.
The program would be funded with $45,000 in matching dollars from the state in the first year of the budget and $50,000 in the second year.
"It is a great way for families to help feed themselves and it's a great way for farmers in Montana to get some more customers," said Sen. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan, who carried the bill in the Senate and led the effort to revive it Tuesday.
To qualify for SNAP, a family of four would have a net income of $2,577 or less per month. About 99,750 Montanans participate in the program. Thirteen counties in Montana already have a matching program in place, Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, said Wednesday.
Those opposed to the bill included Sen. Steve Hinebauch, a Wibaux Republican.
"I don't know if you've noticed around this country how we've enabled people," Hinebauch said. "We gave people something and pretty soon they want something more, and they want something more and they want something more."
Sen. Jen Gross, a Billings Democrat, spoke in support of the bill, saying it would aid both families and small-scale farmers in the state by gaining them customers.
"This bill helps low-income Montanans access healthier foods," Gross said. "It takes the burden off our health care system because healthier foods help children be better learners, we get better health outcomes for seniors and those with disabilities. This helps local farmers."
The bill cleared a second reading on a 26-24 vote and faces one final vote in the Senate. If it clears that, it would move to the governor for his signature or veto.