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Senior vouchers available for farmers’ markets

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Senior Services Director Dwayne Pielech speaks Wednesday about vouchers available for seniors to use at farmers’ markets. Commissioners Jerry Echemann and others observe.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County will be participating in a program this summer to help senior citizens buy locally grown vegetables.

Belmont County Senior Services Director Dwayne Pielech announced Wednesday before the Belmont County Board of Commissioners that applications are available for seniors to receive farmers’ market coupons.

“We’re excited about the program. This will be the second year it’s offered in Ohio and the first year Belmont County has participated,” Pielech said. “We are going to receive an allocation for seniors. Anyone 60 years of age and older who are eligible income-wise will be eligible for a $50 coupon vouchers to participate in the farmers’ markets.”

He said the vouchers can be used only at approved farmers’ markets. Pielech’s office will receive a list of approved markets and stands, which will be passed on to the consumers.

“As things start to open up and seniors who are already uncomfortable with the whole pandemic want to get out, what better way than to go into an open-air environment, support their local farmers and at the same time have 10 $5 vouchers?” Pielech said.

Pielech noted income guidelines are based on federal poverty indicators, specifying 180 percent of the poverty level.

“What that means to the general public, an individual that’s in the home by themselves, they can’t earn more than $23,000 a year in income,” he said.

Pielech said applications will be available next week.

“We’ll start the application process as early as (Thursday), but the coupons will not be available until later in June because the program doesn’t start until July 1,” he said.

“We won’t ask for their tax forms or anything. We’ll just ask, ‘Do you earn less than $23,000 a year?’ By their verification, they’re eligible.”

In answer to a question from Commissioner Jerry Echemann, Pielech said it is essentially an honor system.

Pielech said Belmont County has been allocated $11,000, which would allow more than 200 seniors to participate, but if other counties in the region do not participate in the program, then Belmont County could seek extra allocations. Pielech said he intends to pursue this aggressively.

“We want to get as many people eligible, utilize our original allocation. They want us to start a waiting list and as soon as we can obtain more funding, we’ll make even more people available,” Pielech said.

He hopes for more than 500 participants.

He said the senior center staff will personally deliver the coupons while maintaining social distancing. He said the coupons will be good through October or until the markets and roadside vegetable stands close.

Pielech commented that the coronavirus pandemic has continued to raise concerns among seniors, who are more susceptible to dangerous outcomes from infection, but while the senior centers are remaining closed, his office will continue to make plans to keep seniors engaged and socialized.

“In June, we’re looking at additional services we can offer,” Pielech said, adding they will reach out to people in their homes during the closure of the senior centers.

For more information about the farmers’ market vouchers, call the Belmont County commissioners office at 740-699-2155.

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