MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 21, 2011

Seniors can apply for vouchers for fruits, vegetables

More than 250 low-income area seniors will soon get help supplementing their diet with fruits and vegetables.

The Eastern Oklahoma Development District is arranging sign-ups for the Seniors’ Farmer Market Voucher Program.

The program is focused on addressing the cost of food for low-income seniors, Oklahoma’s bottom ranking in consumption of fruits and vegetables, and encouraging the purchase of produce from area farmers.

Bill Waggoner, director of Area Agency on Aging, said funding for the program was from a federal grant handled by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

“Each voucher allows the qualified applicants to buy $50 worth of fruits and vegetables once per year,” Waggoner said. “That may not seem like a lot, but it could last throughout the summer, theoretically.”

The last day to spend the money is Aug. 31.

Waggoner said there are income restrictions on who qualifies. For a single person, their monthly income must be $1,679 or less. Maximum monthly income for households of more than one are as follows: two, $2,268; three, $3,2857; four, $3,446; five, $4,035; six, $4,624; seven, $5,213; and eight, $5,802. For households larger than of eight, the maximum allowed monthly income is $589 per person, added to $5,802.

The decision to restrict the number of vouchers issued is a result of what happened when the program was offered last year, Waggoner said.

“We got inundated with phone calls and lost a lot of money.”

Waggoner said he called the state to see if EODD could get more vouchers for seniors but was told there were no more.

Doug Walton, director of the Muskogee Farmers’ Market, said he was able to get the ball rolling for the program.

“I heard about it at a national conference,” Walton said. “I learned that the program existed and states were kind of on their own as to whether they participated.”

Walton said that the cooperative effort enabled Oklahoma leaders to make an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to qualify for funding.

“Once the state got the funding, the different area agencies on aging like EODD were able to apply for that funding,” he said.

Walton said that the voucher program does more than help low-income seniors and increase their access to fruits and vegetables.

“It is also specifically to help local farmers at the same time,” he said. “It’s limited to locally-produced fruits and vegetables. It’s keeping some of the food dollars in local farmers’ pockets.”

Reach Keith Purtell at (918) 684-2925 or kpurtell@muskogeephoenix.com.

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