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A new initiative from the US Department of Agriculture aims to give food stamp recipients greater access to fruits and vegetables in an effort to encourage healthier eating. The program will be funded through a $25 million USDA investment and take place in three states.
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In a Jan. 19 news release, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) said it is expanding the food stamp program — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — to provide the three states with funding and support to run an Electronic Healthy Incentives Pilot , or eHIP, for SNAP participants. The USDA is currently taking applications from states and will name the three at a later date.
Funding for eHIP is provided through the American Rescue Plan. Interested states must apply by March 31, 2023.
The USDA’s incentive programs are designed to encourage SNAP recipients to buy healthy foods by providing coupons, discounts, gift cards, bonus food items or extra funds. The ultimate goal is to improve food and nutrition security by making it easier for SNAP households to access the foods needed for optimal health and well-being.
“Research shows that SNAP participants who received fruit and vegetable incentives consumed 26% more fruits and vegetables per day than nonparticipants,” Stacy Dean, USDA deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said in a statement. “With the help of our partners and stakeholders throughout the country, SNAP incentive programs can change lives and ensure a healthier, more prosperous future for more Americans.”
Those partners include third-party organizations such as SNAP-authorized retailers, non-profits and states, local and tribal governments.
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The announcement of the eHIP initiative is the latest in a string of recent healthy food projects announced by the USDA.
In November 2022, the agency’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced its latest Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) investment, which included $38.7 million to support eight nutrition incentive projects. Funding will support various pilot projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by providing incentives to eligible SNAP shoppers.
In October 2022, the FNS awarded nearly $3 million to Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute. Under that program, Auburn will lead a Healthy Fluid Milk Incentives (HFMI) project involving 116 retail locations in four states — Alabama, California, Georgia and South Dakota.
These initiatives came during a period when SNAP has seen a spike in both recipients and costs, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and rising consumer prices. Last year the program’s hit a record $119.5 billion, up from $113.7 billion in 2021 and more than double the total in 2019, before the pandemic. The number of SNAP participants rose to 41.2 million in 2022 from 35.7 million in 2019.
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