By Mike Pomranz
Updated August 12, 2015
Courtesy of Greenling

America’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP and colloquially still referred to as “food stamps,” is a constant source of debate. But regardless of how you feel about the program, some recent numbers from the USDA provide interesting insight into how spending within the program is shifting, albeit in very small ways.

Since President Obama took office, the USDA has prioritized increasing access for SNAP participants to roadside farm stands, farmers' markets and direct purchases from local farmers. According to their numbers, that initiative has been a success. The number of farmers accepting SNAP grew from just 753 in 2008 to over 6,400 today—an eightfold increase. That shift resulted in a 600 percent increase in spending at these farmers' markets and other locations, totaling $18.8 million in the 2014 fiscal year.

“All Americans, including those participating in our nutrition assistance programs, need to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. America’s farmers have an important role to play in addressing that need in communities across the country,” Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in a statement. “Accepting SNAP benefits also increases the customer base for local producers, adding an extra economic boost to the community.”

Granted, SNAP gave out nearly $70 billion in benefits last year, meaning the spending at farmers' markets was essentially a proverbial needle in a haystack you might find behind the market. Still, the total spending on benefits has only doubled since 2008, meaning that the percentage of money going directly to farmers is still outpacing the program’s overall growth.