The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday announced a $4 million plan to increase the use of federal food credits at farmers markets.

The initiative will expand wireless access to qualified retailers that do not already accept payments through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, which provides financial assistance to help people with little to no income purchase food.

Congress’s 2012 spending plan authorized the $4 million to help markets buy or lease wireless point-of-sale equipment to connect sellers with SNAP. The funding will be available through Sept. 30.

(Deb Lindsey/The Washington Post)

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.

The program could also increase the customer base for farmers markets, as well as the amount of SNAP funding that goes directly to local farmers or economies, according to Concannon.

Farmers currently collect about 20 percent of every SNAP dollar spent on food, according to Concannon. (An earlier version of this blog item mistakenly attributed the 20-percent figure to a USDA report).

The number of farmers markets accepting SNAP payments has grown from about 750 in 2008 to more than 3,200 last year, according to the USDA. More would participate if not for the cost of the necessary equipment, the agency’s report said.

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