WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced up to $ 31.5 million in grants are available to test new ways to make fruits and vegetables more affordable to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants.
News of the program launch drew immediate praise by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and the United Fresh Produce Association.
“Helping families purchase more fresh produce is clearly good for families’ health, helps contribute to lower health costs for the country, and increases local food sales for family farmers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Sept. 29 in Richmond, VA, where he announced the launch of the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, a new farm bill program.
Under FINI, applicants may propose small pilot projects, multi-year community-based projects, or larger-scale multi-year projects that test strategies to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants through incentives at the point of purchase. Based on the type of project, USDA plans to award grants of $ 100,000 to $ 500,000, and applications are due on Dec. 15.
“We encourage our retail grocery members who operate stores in underserved communities to partner with their state SNAP agency and apply for a FINI grant,” said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health at United Fresh, who added that the projects are likely to inform USDA programs in the future.
With 85 percent of all SNAP benefits redeemed at grocery stores, “we believe that scaling up produce incentives at grocery stores in underserved communities around the country will have the greatest public health reach by increasing access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables year round,” she said, adding that incentives can help SNAP families purchase more fresh produce and increase produce sales.
Stabenow praised the farm bill program she said was modeled after Michigan’s successful “Double up Food Bucks” program, which provides SNAP participants with tokens to purchase to locally grown fruits and vegetables.
“These new programs will not only empower low-income Americans to provide their families with more healthy fruits and vegetables, they will also help strengthen local economies by investing in local food systems and organic agriculture,” Stabenow said.
USDA listed the following project aspects it sees as priorities for funding:
- Maximize the share of funds used for direct incentives to participants.
- Test strategies that improve understanding how best to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants, which would inform future efforts.
- Develop innovative or improved benefit redemption systems that could be replicated or scaled.
- Use direct-to-consumer sales marketing.
- Demonstrate a track record of designing and implementing successful nutrition incentive programs that connect low-income consumers and agricultural producers.
- Provide locally or regionally produced fruits and vegetables, especially culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables for the target audience.
- Are located in underserved communities.
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will host a webinar for interested applicants on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m.