Hard times and a tight budget don’t mean you have to live on a fast food dollar menus and cheap pre-packaged goods.

Food stamp benefits are getting a boost, and local farmers markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables are increasingly accepting them.

This year, more than 16,600 farmers at more than 5,800 markets, roadside stands and community-supported agriculture programs will accept coupons for produce, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Qualifying Families Now Get More

Continued steep job losses mean more families are struggling just to put food on the table, but the president’s economic stimulus plan aims to boost the amount of aid that low-income Americans get to pay for groceries.

In fact, families of four who rely on food stamps can receive about $80 more per month as a result of additional funding for the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fresher Foods For Less

In addition to an increased amount of food stamp benefits, which are transferred from a government account to a retailer using Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT cards, more sellers of fresh, local foods are accepting nutrition assistance funds at farmers markets.

Farmers market venders can take coupons, or like at one market in Milwaukee, wireless point of sale devices can be used, to allow low-income residents to use their EBT cards to buy fresh produce and other local foods.

Additionally, for example, at one farmers market in East Atlanta, vendors are doubling the value of food stamp benefits to help low income residents in the area of the market and promote a healthier diet, according to the Associated Press.

Additional Aid for Women, Children

Women, infants and children can also receive nutrition assistance through WIC, a program meant to support those with at particular risk of poor nutrition. In addition, WIC also runs a Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program in which those waitlisted for WIC certification can participate and use special coupons to buy certain foods from farmers, farmers' markets or roadside stands approved to accept the coupons.

Help for Seniors

To promote a healthy diet among low-income seniors, there’s a Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, which also supports more than just the benefit recipients but local farmers and ultimately local economies.

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