Health & Spirit

Rewards program encourages SNAP recipients to make healthy choices

Teresa Wiltz, on

Published in Health & Fitness

The program operates in 39 states, but data on how many programs are running nationwide or how many food stamp recipients it serves is not available, said Selina Meiners, a USDA spokeswoman.

FINI grants to cities and states range from $100,000 for small-scale pilot projects to several million dollars for large-scale projects. Sometimes the money goes to nonprofits and farmers markets that work with state agencies that administer the food stamp program; sometimes it goes directly to state-run initiatives. And sometimes local governments and nonprofits match the federal funding.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate agriculture committee, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, is working on the new farm bill, but declined to comment on whether he supports the president's proposed cuts. U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, also declined to comment.

Eliminating federal funding for the food program "would have huge consequences," said Julia Koprak, a senior associate at the Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit funded in part by a FINI grant.

"More people will go hungry," Koprak said.

Early evaluations of FINI projects show benefits. An April 2017 report by the Farmers Market Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group, found that in 2016, around the country, households on food stamps that were enrolled in the program consumed 16 million to 32 million additional servings of fruits and vegetables. The report found the program generated an estimated $14.3 million in economic activity for participating communities.

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But food advocates worry that might not be enough to sway Congress.

"It's hard to prove that eating more healthfully produces immediate -- measurable -- results," said NYU's Nestle, the author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health."

"If budget cutters insist on definitive proof," she said, "it's not possible to give it to them."

FINI got its start in 2014, but the idea of helping low-income Americans spend more of their food dollars on fresh fruit and vegetables has been bouncing around for a while.


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