A pilot program to incentivize purchases of fresh foods among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants shows an investment of 15 cents per person per day may result in a 25% increase in purchases and consumption of fruits and vegetables, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.
The program, called the Healthy Incentives Pilot, studied a group of 4,000 SNAP households in Hampden, Mass. Vilsack said in addition to the 25% increase in consumption, adults receiving the HIP incentive consumed, on average, an ounce more fruits and vegetables per day than non-participants.
The program also increased the amount of benefits households could receive based on the kind of foods purchased using SNAP benefits.
"We found that these families spent about $77 a month on fruits and vegetables and that was, I think, an encouraging sign to us that incentives like this may be an effective way to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption and encourage more nutritious food purchases," Vilsack said during a conference call.
A number of additional pilot projects are also underway to continue incentive programs for fruits and vegetables and local foods. Vilsack cited a pilot project in Minnesota that offers $5 coupons to SNAP households for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables and a pilot project to make locally sourced produce available in metropolitan Detroit, Mich.
Oran Hesterman, CEO of the Fair Food Network in Michigan, said the program can assist local farmers by allowing SNAP recipients to swipe their benefits card at the Farmers Market and receive a match for the same amount of their purchase to be used later for more Farmers Market foods.
"Since 2009, over 100,000 customers have used the program," Hesterman said. "We've been able to see more than $3 million go directly into the pockets of local farmers as a result of this program."
Hesterman said 80% of the SNAP customers using the program are buying and eating more fruits and vegetables and 75% of the farmers are making more money because of the program, making Michigan the SNAP sales leader in the Midwest.
"As we provide an incentive, we see now that it doesn't take a whole lot of assistance or incentive for folks to make a choice to purchase a fruit or vegetable," Vilsack explained.
The program is extending into a similar pilot program at three Detroit grocery stores.
Though he said a farm bill wouldn't necessarily be needed to expand the SNAP pilot program because of assistance from non-profits, Vilsack noted the results from HIP, authorized by Congress in the 2008 farm bill, in his view illustrates benefits of nutrition assistance programs.