Health & Spirit

Rewards program encourages SNAP recipients to make healthy choices

Teresa Wiltz, on

Published in Health & Fitness

About a dozen years ago, a handful of farmers markets in Harlem, the South Bronx, and Takoma Park, Maryland, began offering coupons to food stamp recipients so they could buy more produce.

And in 2008, the farm bill provided $20 million for pilot programs around the country that encourage low-income families to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Massachusetts and Michigan were among the first states to try out that hypothesis on a formal basis, and the success of those pilots prompted Congress to create FINI in 2014.

In 2009, Detroit started offering food stamp recipients "Double Up Food Bucks" to buy fresh fruit and vegetables at five area farmers markets. The program has now grown to 150 sites across Michigan and has served over 300,000 families.

The Michigan program was able to expand when the USDA in 2015 awarded its administrator, the nonprofit Fair Food Network, a $5 million FINI grant, which was then matched by a private funder.

A Massachusetts program in 2011 started giving food stamp recipients 30 cents for every dollar they spent buying produce from local farmers.

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The program proved to be successful: Participants spent more on fresh produce -- and ate more fruits and vegetables.

So last year, with a three-year, $3.4 million FINI grant, Massachusetts expanded the program. Some 35,000 households across the state snapped up nearly all of the matching funds within the year.

Because officials had run through most of the money two years ahead of schedule, the state will temporarily suspend the program from mid-April to July, according to the state's Department of Transitional Assistance.

While the program is suspended, food stamp recipients can still use their benefits to buy produce at farm stands -- just without the rebate.


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