ZIP code error leaves Wisconsin seniors without a nutrition program

Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2002

MILWAUKEE -- Seniors in Wisconsin will miss out on fresh broccoli, asparagus and other produce because an application for $612,500 in federal aid missed the deadline by three weeks.

The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program which, by all accounts, was a success when it was introduced last year, won't be able to serve any seniors without the grants.

The application sent by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection went astray because a single digit in the ZIP code was wrong.

The state agency and its congressional delegation are now scrambling to find another source of grant money for the program.

''There's probably no other source of funding that we could uncover if the congressional delegation doesn't find something,'' said Lisa Hull, spokeswoman for the state agriculture department.

The application was for $612,500 -- about twice the amount the state received last year when the program served 4,000 seniors. The state wanted to extend the program to 9,575 seniors in 21 counties. To qualify, residents had to be 60 or older and have an annual income of no more than $21,480 for a family of two.

The program, which ran during the growing season of March to November, issued vouchers that could be used at local farmers' markets and roadside stands. The goal was to help seniors improve their diets with fresh produce while giving Wisconsin farmers more business. Each participant could initially receive up to $100 in vouchers.

''I will miss it because I enjoy the vegetables. I know some other people who will miss it also,'' 69-year-old Verlee Dalley said.

The vouchers helped her buy produce at a farmers' market once a week. Without the vouchers, she probably will visit the market only once a month.

Sylvia White sold produce grown on her farm in Waterloo to people who used the vouchers at a Milwaukee farmers' market.

''It meant a lot to me and meant much more to the older folks,'' she said. ''I found a lot of them were very happy they could buy a little more food.''

She also made some extra money through the program.

''I'm up there in age, too,'' said White, who is 72. ''I know how important it is to have an extra dollar.''

The Ashland County Aging Unit had hoped to get enough money to help 500 seniors.

''It's frustrating to have your hopes set on something you think is a sure thing,'' said Carrie Linder, the agency's director. ''We were really looking forward to it.''

The application was due Jan. 31, and the package was sent only the day before through an overnight delivery service. The mail went astray because an employee wrote the incorrect ZIP code on the package, program administrator Kathy Schmitt said.

It did not arrive at the U.S. Department of Agriculture until Feb. 21.

''At this point, there isn't anything we can do,'' said Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the USDA's food and nutrition program.

The Wisconsin agriculture department still plans to apply for federal aid next year.


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