A new federal program will allow low-income families to eat healthier food and spur the local economy at the same time.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), approved alongside this year’s Farm Bill, will put $100 million over the next five years into the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps). As CBS News reports, the money will go towards programs such as Double Up Food Bucks, which allows farmer’s markets to match the amount a SNAP recipient might spend, meaning they can double up on fresh fruits and vegetables. According to NPR, the $100 million will also be matched by private funding, so there’s a potential of $200 million going towards the program.
Crossroads Farmers Market, outside of Washington D.C., is one of the many farmer’s markets that already run a similar program. Rosie Sanchez, a SNAP recipient and market volunteer, tells NPR that the program “is very important…You know why? Because I get up to $15 for free. So I have $30 every week. With my $30, I’m able to buy fresh, local — it’s not expensive. It’s the best!”
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The initiative is important because the average daily amount offered to low-income Americans through SNAP is only $4.50 a day. And because fruits and vegetables at the grocery store tend to be more expensive than, say, a bag of chips, recipients can develop health concerns due to poor diets, such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity. Thanks to the new program,  SNAP recipients have effectively doubled their purchasing power for healthier fare.
A policy brief from the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Johns Hopkins Center found that “if Americans increased their daily consumption of these foods to meet federal dietary recommendations, the nation’s costs related to the treatment of cardiovascular disease alone could drop by $17 billion.”
Another plus with FINI is that it entices communities that are considered food deserts (low-income areas with limited access to fresh produce) to start farmer’s markets. Encouragingly, access to local fruits and vegetables is already increasing, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) found that the number of farmer’s markets increased from 2,863 in 2000 to 7,175 in 2011.
An investment of $100 million over five years doesn’t sound like a lot of money when the payoff could be much bigger.
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