The Fiscal Year 2018 Massachusetts State Budget, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed on Wednesday, July 17, 2017, included some notable additions to the SNAP Program. In an effort to support local farms while continuing to assist low-income families, the SNAP program received $1.35 million in funding to support the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP).
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the program commonly known as “food stamps.” It provides low-income families with a monthly stipend to purchase nutritious food. Eligible recipients receive a plastic card they can use for their groceries. The card is known as an EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card and can be used like a normal debit card.
In partnership with the Department of Agricultural Resources and the Department of Public Health, the HIP is working alongside more than 40 organizations to assist low-income families and support local farms. These crucial organizations include Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Project Bread, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets and the University of Massachusetts’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture.
This funding will improve local farms’ sales and give low-income families more affordable access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The HIP program allows farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and community-supported agriculture programs to participate. When eligible SNAP recipients swipe their EBT card at a participating vendor to purchase fruits and vegetables, HIP credits their account with the total value purchased. This credited amount is capped, although the funds can be used toward any future SNAP purchase. The monthly credit cap varies depends upon the household size. Households with 1–2 members can earn up to $40 per month, households of 3–5 members an earn up to $60 and households with 6 or more members can earn up to $80 per month.
This statewide health incentive being added to SNAP is the first in the nation, and it is already proving to be successful. Although HIP will take some more time to reach thewhole of Massachusetts, over 150 retailers are participating in the program, and this number is increasing by the week.
Projected SNAP sales at markets and farms are expected to increase greatly in the coming year. The average total in past years has been less than $400,000; however, just one month into the market season, over $250,000 in HIP benefits have been accrued.
“HIP has definitely increased my sales,” said Nicole McKinstry from McKinstry’s Market Garden in Chicopee. “We are seeing new customers regularly on a daily basis. Most are so excited about buying local fruit and vegetables that they now can afford, many of them with children who never had fresh fruits and vegetables before. The seniors are very appreciative of this program as well and use their HIP money very wisely.”
HIP’s mission is to make fresh produce more accessible and affordable for low-income families. In doing so, the program strives to help Massachusetts families avoid dietary deficiencies, obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases caused by poor diets.
“HIP is a fantastic program that addresses a number of important issues in the food system, particularly access to fresh, healthy foods for low-income families, and the sustainability of local farms,” said Winton Pitcoff, director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative. “It’s great that the governor and the legislature are making an investment in this program.”