When the farm bill was passed earlier this year, there was a little-hyped program included that seeks to double the value of SNAP (food stamp) dollars when they're spent at farmer's markets for fresh fruits and vegetables.
The program is an expansion of smaller programs at farmers markets throughout the country. The Crossroads Farmer's Market was the recipient of a $5,000 grant from the National Watermelon Association, and used that money to redeem SNAP funds for double their value in the market. (A person would redeem 15 dollars of SNAP funds from their EBT card for 30 dollars worth of tokens to spend in the market.) Another program located in Harlem and the South Bronx gives SNAP recipients four additional "HealthBucks" coupons for fruits and vegetables for every ten dollars of SNAP funds spent at a farmer's market.
The program has received support from both sides of the aisle, according to NPR:
He invited one of Michigan's senators — Democrat Debbie Stabenow — to see Double Up Food Bucks for herself. And last year, Stabenow, who is chairwoman of the Senate's Agriculture Committee, proposed including it in the so-called farm bill.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Republican Frank Lucas, from Oklahoma, was hearing about this idea, too.
Farmer Appell had brought Double Up Food Bucks to the Cherry Street Farmers Market in Tulsa and talked about it to a member of Lucas' staff.
"It didn't seem like it required much of a sell," Appell recalls. "They seemed to be on board with it." If the program was supporting farmers, the congressman wanted to support it.
The funds allocated for the program ($100 million over a five-year period) will also be matched by private funds.
I'm totally in favor of anything that adds an incentive to buy healthy fruits and vegetables. There's a positive correlation (but not necessarily a direct correlation) between SNAP usage and obesity, and that's a problem. Also, this program incentivizes the creation of farmer's markets in areas with high SNAP enrollment numbers, which typically include "food deserts" with limited access to fresh produce. While I'd prefer the program be privately funded, I think this is an appropriate use of SNAP funds in an effort to urge people to eat healthier.