US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue announced earlier this month that 32 programs across the country would receive funds from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program to encourage people who receive food stamps, now knows as benefits from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, to buy healthy foods.
The grants cover a variety of projects, including “relatively small” pilot projects that will last a year or less and receive up to $100,000, multi-year community-based projects that could last up to four years and receive up to $500,000, and multi-year large-scale projects that also will last up to four years but will have access to at least $500,000 or more.
Recipients of the grants include VNA Health Care, which will create a “FreshFirst” fruit and vegetable prescription and nutrition education program in Aurora, Ill. The program not only will boost access to fresh product, but provide health and cooking education that is integrated with access to primary care.
In Rhode Island, recipients will create a “Food on the Move” mobile market program that brings fruit and vegetables to underserved communities statewide. Among the program’s goals is to increase SNAP recipients who buy produce after the 15th of month by 30%.
Since the creation of the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program that funds the grants was created under the 2014 Farm Bill, it has awarded more than $65 million to programs such as these and the hugely successful Farmacy Health Improvement Program, which researched limited access of healthy foods to low-income people with specific medical conditions, such as types 1 and 2 diabetes, and gave them money earmarked for buying locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
“As a result of this project the ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ program became a national model for other healthy food incentives that are now active in nearly 20 states,” and help “low-income Americans bring home healthier food, while supporting family farmers and growing local economies,” according to the announcement.
By increasing access and interest in produce, the grants could help change the proportion of SNAP funds that are spent on healthy versus unhealthy products – a controversial issue that came to light last year when USDA released a report that found about 20% of SNAP benefits go towards sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy and sugar.
That finding triggered an effort to ban the use of SNAP benefits on sugary drinks, which was met by derision from industry and some researchers alike as unfair, administratively difficult to implement and unlikely to actually change eating patterns.