It now costs Iowa grocery stores and other businesses more to accept payments through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Merchants now have to pay for their own equipment and processing services whenever SNAP cards are used. Kevin Concannon, the U.S.D.A.’s Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and a former Iowan, says the change was designed to prevent the illegal use of the program.

Concannon says, “We found that in some locations where a manual machine was used to record the expenditure on the SNAP benefit, there was a higher rate of fraud or trafficking.” About 421-thousand Iowans now receive SNAP benefits, or about 13-percent of the population.

Concannon says the goal is to make the use of those benefits more secure. “There are now 257,000 locations across the United States where one can use or spend your SNAP benefits,” Concannon says. “The requirement will be now that all of those outlets will be required to use electronic benefit capacity.”

Iowans who make part of their living at the 230 farmers markets across the state will be glad to hear that there are a few exceptions to the rule. “Those exceptions are basically farmers markets because it recognizes the nature of a farmers market is often on a vacant lot or in a rural area,” Concannon says. “It’s part of our effort to really reach out and support local agriculture and to encourage people to purchase healthier foods.”

Other exceptions include military commissaries, direct marketing farmers and non-profit food cooperatives. Concannon is the former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.