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Program to help seniors cut cost at local farmers' markets reopens for new applicants this week only

Eligible seniors receive five $25 checks to spend at authorized farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) offers a seasonal program for eligible senior citizens to save money when buying fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers' markets.

"We have been taking applications for the last month," said DSS Director of Communications & External Affairs Connelly-Anne Ragley. "As of 8 a.m., we have received more than 22,000 applications statewide."

The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides eligible senior citizens with five vouchers worth $25 to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets in 43 counties authorized by the department of social services authorize. 

The online application portal will be active again and accepting applications for ONE WEEK ONLY -- beginning Monday, June 28 and ending at 5 p.m. Friday, July 2.

Seniors who have already submitted an application in 2021 do not have to re-apply, the portal is for new applicants only.

RELATED: Program helps low-income seniors get fresh produce while supporting SC farmers

The initiative began in 2001 with six counties. DSS says the program is to keep more money in seniors' pockets and to help local farmers. 

"I know during the pandemic we heard stories of farmers who had all of this produce but had no one to buy it or no place to sell it," said Ragely. "Maybe they had a restaurant contract, but the closures due to the pandemic, the restaurant only needed around 20 percent of the produce they previously relied on. "This is a great way to not only support those local farmers but also to get healthy foods in senior citizens' diets."

To qualify, South Carolina residents must be aged 60 or older with a yearly income of $23,832 or less ($32,232 for 2 people), and have a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID. 

SFMNP is not available for residents of Bamberg, Berkeley, Greenwood, and Laurens Counties.

RELATED: USDA to begin debt payouts to roughly 16,000 minority farmers

News 19 asked Orangeburg shopper, Gloria Brown, about how the program could benefit her.

"I spend at least $40 at the farmers' market versus spending more at the grocery store," said Brown. "I'm a vegetable eater. Sometimes it's rough for me to get them. If I could get the voucher, I can walk a mile to the farmers market to come to get what I need."

RELATED: 'We are definitely in a drought': Farmers concerned over heat and dry conditions

To apply for the SFMNP, visit the DSS website and complete the online application before July 2. Over-the-phone assistance with the application can be had by calling (803) 898-7601 and then press ‘0’ for assistance Monday thru Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

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