Federal Application Process
Difference between Farmer's Markets and Other SNAP Retailers
A farmers market is authorized by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) to accept the Illinois Link card. The Point of Sale (POS) terminal is deployed to the market. The market uses an alternative redemption method for Link sales. This allows multiple food vendors at farmers markets to sell eligible food items to Illinois Link customers, without requiring each vendor to be separately authorized by FNS and obtain their own POS terminal.
Food & Cash EBT Transactions
Approval by the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) authorizes farmers markets to accept Link payments from the Illinois Link food account. Under this approval, farmers markets must follow the federal SNAP and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) rules and regulations. The decision to accept Link cash benefits, in addition to food benefits, is made during the application process. The farmers market must specifically request authorization to accept cash Link payments, and describe how Link purchases with food and cash benefits are accounted for separately at the vendor sales level.
Illinois Link Card purchases at Farmers Markets
Not all farmers markets operate the same. Here are two examples of how the Illinois Link purchases can be processed.
- Use a POS device that has the ability to record sales internally, including a code for each farmer, and can produce multiple receipts. When Link customers complete their selection of eligible food items, the vendor will write the total amount due for the sale on a paper chit, hold the parcel, and give the chit to the customer, instructing them to proceed to the centrally located Customer Service Table for payment. At the Customer Service Table, the Link customer swipes their Link card through the POS device and enters their secret PIN. If approved, the Customer Service staff will print three receipts for each sale: one each for the customer, vendor and market. The Link customer will be given two receipts and told to return one to the vendor, where they will exchange the vendor's receipt for their parcel. At the end of the day, market staff reconciles the sales receipts and chits with the sales allocated to each vendor. Vendors are paid according to the method and schedule developed by the market.
- Use tickets or tokens specifically designed for the farmers market. Markets may use tickets with a watermark and serial number or wooden tokens with the market logo. The design should be one that is not easily duplicated. The tickets or tokens are usually for $1.00 each. No change back is allowed. The first step for the Link customers is to go to the Customer Service Table to purchase the markets tickets or tokens by swiping their Link card through the POS device and entering their secret PIN. If approved, the POS receipt shows the total dollar value of the tickets or tokens purchased, and the remaining balance on the Link account. The market staff dispenses the tickets or tokens for the value of the Link transaction and keeps a record of the transaction. Unused tickets or tokens can be returned for credit on the Link account at the end of the same day, or redeemed for eligible food items at the same market on another market day. The market develops a method for reconciling the tickets or tokens to the sales and the allocations for each participating vendor.
Retailer Processing of Illinois Link Transactions
Illinois Link purchases are normally processed through a POS terminal. Wired POS terminals require an electrical outlet and an analog telephone line. Wireless POS terminals are battery-operated and do not require a telephone line or electrical outlet.
Manual vouchers are used as a back-up when the POS terminal is not available. The market manager fills out the voucher with the Link customer's name, Link card number and market information. The voucher must be signed by the customer and the Link card must be present. The market manager calls the Illinois Link Retailer Help Line to obtain a voucher authorization number, which freezes the amount of purchase in the customer's Link account. The Link purchase is processed with the voucher. The market has 17 days to settle the voucher, either electronically through the POS or by submitting the voucher to the State's EBT Contractor.
Free EBT-only POS Terminal
The 2014 Farm Bill now requires SNAP retailers to pay for their own equipment. Retailers are no longer offered free EBT equipment. The FNS retailers certified to accept the Link card who are exempt from paying for their own equipment are: Farmers' markets, direct marketing farmers, group living arrangements, Homeless meal providers, military commissaries, meal deliver services, drug and/or alcohol treatment programs, non-profit food buying co-ops, shelters for battered women and children, communal dining facilities. Under federal regulations, these exempt authorized retailers who average $100 or more in SNAP sales per month and who do not choose to buy or lease their own equipment will be provided an EBT-only POS terminal that can only be used for EBT transactions. The EBT-only POS terminals are wired and require electricity and an analog telephone line. FNS certified farmers' markets and direct marketing farmer may be eligible for free wireless POS terminals for processing EBT only transactions (not debit, no credit). Farmers markets and direct marketing farmer may obtain details about wireless option by contacting DHS.Link@Illinois.gov.