A program that rewards SNAP recipients for buying fresh produce will be out of funding for a few months this spring.
The Department of Transitional Assistance says it can’t fund the Healthy Incentives Program, which provides dollar for dollar matches for SNAP money spent on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets, from mid-April to July.
The temporary suspension of the program is reportedly due to its popularity and healthy eating advocates say that is proof that the program is working and should be funded.
“It’s an ideal time for folks to be getting out to farmers markets,” Massachusetts Food System Collaborative Director Winton Pitcoff said of the suspension time frame. “It’s unfortunate that’s when the money runs out.”
Those in the collaborative are hoping members of the legislature secure funding from mid-April to July, but also want to ensure that the program, intended to run for three years, will be fully funded.
“The estimates when designing the program projected that $1.25 million would be spent over two years, $2.6 million was spent in 10 and a half months,” Pitcoff said. “There honestly hasn’t been anything tried like this in the past. For all kinds of reasons it was a great success.”
Project Bread President Erin McAleer said so much work was done to make sure that farmers accepted EBT cards at their markets and the fear is that this temporary suspension will create confusion.
“The program was so overwhelmingly successful. It’s an unfortunate fate,” McAleer said. “The stigma out there is that low-income families just didn’t want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and we’ve long known that’s not the case and this truly proved it.”
The Department of Transitional Assistance said in a statement that it’s committed to targeting food insecurity and looks forward to resuming the program for the summer.
“Although the program will be temporarily suspended from mid-April until July, SNAP recipients continue to have access to healthy fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets, farm stands and their local grocery store,” the statement said.
Yet Ross Condit, spokesperson for The Food Project, said the suspension is a big deal to everyone relying on the funding to feed their family.
“If I took half of your salary wouldn’t it hurt your ability to buy food?,” Condit asked. “Basically it means you’re not quite eating at the same level that you are now. That’s a pretty big hit.”
Those working with legislators on securing the funding going forward also argue that SNAP recipients’ health is on the line without the program.
“The concern is that you potentially lose people, people stop participating in the program and accepting the benefit,” Pitcoff said. “The folks that we’ve talked to have noticed their health change … if you cut off the program it’s easy for people to get into the habit of getting back to eating processed foods from big box stores and produce you get at the corner and grocery store.”