After I published my post last week about the Administration’s proposed changes to the delivery of SNAP benefits and the effects these changes will have, I read an article posted on the Talk Poverty website discussing how SNAP is helping to keep small farmers in business. I was drawn to read this article, because it touched upon two points I made in my previous post–how easily most SNAP participants can and do access fresh produce with the current benefit delivery system and how that current delivery system helps businesses in the local economy. This article discusses Double Up Food Bucks, a program funded through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant program, that allows every SNAP dollar spent on produce at participating farmers’ markets and grocery stores to count as two dollars, up to $20 daily cap. This program has currently been launched in 20+ states and this article focuses on the results of the Arizona program.
While I was not surprised that the article reported on the popularity of this Arizona program, I was surprised at how popular and successful the program is. The author reports that SNAP spending at participating farmers’ markets rose between 67 and 290 percent since the program began in 2016. At one farmers’ market SNAP spending increased from $9,000 in 2015 to over $43,000 by 2017 as a result of this program. Additionally, over half of those dollars were spent on locally grown fruits and vegetables. As Adrienne Udarbe, executive director of Pinnacle Prevention, the nonprofit that manages the program for Arizona, states, “Double Up is a win-win-win. SNAP recipients have access to more fruits and vegetables, local farmers make more money, and more dollars stay in the local economy.”
Pennsylvania is not one of the 20+ states which has a Double Up Food Bucks program, however, some agencies within the state have created their own programs similar to the Double Up Food Bucks program, like Philly Food Bucks created by The Food Trust. In Chester County, the Chester County Food Bank (CCFB) sponsors a program through it’s Fresh2You mobile produce truck. Through this program, SNAP recipients who shop at the mobile market with their EBT card will stretch their SNAP dollars with Veggie Bucks. For every SNAP dollar spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, shoppers will receive that same amount in Veggie Bucks to be used on future purchases, all season long. The Fresh2You mobile produce truck makes a weekly stop in our town. Consequently, the CCFB provides our food pantry with some Veggie Bucks to give to clients when they come to get their food for the month. These clients can then take the Veggie Bucks to the Fresh2You truck when it stops in our town to help purchase fresh produce.
The Administration’s proposed budget, with its restructuring and spending cuts, creates much uncertainty about the Double Up Food Buck program’s future for the over 20 states participating in the program. The concern over the fate of this program lies in the belief that the proposed America’s Harvest Box signals a shift away from providing funding for SNAP recipients to have autonomy to make their own food purchases, including the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, by making this shift, the Administration will not only be providing less access to fresh produce, but will also be economically hurting local produce farmers who have benefited financially from participating in the Double Up Food Bucks program.
For me, this article provides further evidence of the shortsightedness of the proposed changes current legislators wish to make in SNAP and other programs assisting those in need. From whatever angle I study SNAP and ancillary programs, like Double Up Food Bucks, I see a very successful programs which accomplish their missions with efficiency and very little fraud. I fail to understand the reasoning behind the repeated attacks on these programs. Either those who wish to shrink or alter SNAP have a lack of understanding of who uses the program and how they use it or a wish to impose a punitive element on those who need this assistance. I want to be generous and believe the reason behind these cuts or restructuring proposals is due to a lack of understanding, but over the years I have seen more evidence that the desire to punish those needing assistance is more likely the reason. What the current Administration fails to realize is that this proposed change or any change which cuts the budget of assistance programs for the food insecure, like SNAP or the FINI grant program, will punish far more than those who are poor and in need of assistance. Members of local economies, like these small produce farmers, will also suffer as a result of these changes.