Friday, January 31, 2014

Farm Bill includes new program to help food stamp recipients eat healthier at farmers' markets

Even though the Farm Bill cuts an estimated $800 million a year from food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it includes an initiative to help low-income families eat healthier while doubling their food stamp benefits through farmers' markets, Tim Carman reports for The Washington Post. While final details for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program are incomplete, proponents say the $100 million program "could help hungry families and also address the country’s obesity crisis" by "matching funds to farmers markets, up to $20 million annually for five years, to incentivize SNAP recipients to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables with their benefits."

“This program helps families buy healthy food from their local farmers markets, which also helps family farmers and boosts the economy,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the Senate's chief writer of the bill as Agriculture Committee chair.

Similar local and state programs are already in place, and are credited with helping low-income families eat healthier, Carman reports. "Many of the state and local programs work the same: Foundations and other organizations raise money to supplement SNAP purchases at a farmers market or similar venue where local fruits and vegetables are sold. The participating market then will double the SNAP benefits up to a certain dollar amount, usually $10 or $20."

Oran Hesterman, president and chief executive officer of Fair Food Network, a Michigan nonprofit, told Carman that because of that state's program, 95 percent of food stamp users say they increased the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet, and 90 percent said they decreased the amount of junk food the purchase. "Hesterman said that while the current allocation is only $100 million, the number could increase with the next farm bill in five years, if the program proves successful," Carman writes. "If it increased to 1 percent of the SNAP budget, for example, it would be about $800 million to spend annually on an incentive program at farmers markets, he said." Hesterman told him, “That would be a game changer." (Read more)

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