Incentives for food assistance benefits create opportunities for families and local farmers

The new Farm Bill incentive program is allowing consumers to support their local farmers.

The 2014 Farm Bill which was signed into law in February in East Lansing, Michigan by President Obama includes an additional $100 million for food assistance incentive programs that consumers can use at local farmers markets and some small grocery stores in Michigan. 

The programs allow people who receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which was once known as food stamps. SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase eligible foods from approved retailers and cannot be used to purchase hot prepared food from restaurants, household goods or other items such as cigarettes or alcohol. Through the new incentive programs that will be funded by the 2014 Farm Bill, SNAP recipients are able to receive additional money that they can use at farmers markets and some grocery stores to purchase fresh local fruits and vegetables. The additional money helps families afford nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables which they might not be able to otherwise afford and gives them healthier options with their limited food dollars.

SNAP benefits are available to families and individuals who qualify based on their income.  Currently about one in six people in Michigan (16.9 percent in June 2014) receive SNAP benefits. According to the Food and Nutrition Service, in 2013, the average amount of benefits per U.S. household is $266.70 per month or approximately $3,200 per year. For comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2013 the average U.S. household spent $6,602 per year on food both in home and at restaurants. Removing restaurant dollars from the total yields a total spent per U.S. households on groceries at $3,799 per year.

The Fair Food Network, a privately founded national non-profit organization, introduced the Double Up Food Bucks program in 2009 with a small pilot in the Detroit area. In 2014, the Fair Food Network was funding Double Up Bucks at 150 locations across Michigan with the support national and locally-based foundations and non-profits.  The Fair Food Network released a report analyzing the first five years of the program which outlined the following benefits: 1) families have healthier choices with more than 90 percent of the participants reporting eating more fruits and vegetables; 2) small Michigan farms get a financial boost – 85 percent of farmers participating report making more money: and 3) Double Up Food Bucks has created a “massive increase in SNAP use at farmers markets.”  According to the Fair Food Network report “Michigan is in the top five of state in the nation for SNAP use at farmers markets and is the highest in the Midwest.”

The Community Food Systems team of Michigan State University Extension supports the goals of the Fair Food Network and programs like Double Up Food Bucks to strengthen Michigan farmers and local economies while increasing local food access for people and families in need. 

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