By Francie Lin, GFN Writer-in-Residence I think everyone would rather forget the early pandemic days…
This year marked the start of an innovative new program to help bring more locally grown produce into the homes of SNAP recipients. The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is funded through a partnership between a USDA FINI (Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive) Grant and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. SNAP is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as “food stamps.” With HIP, you can spend your SNAP dollars on farm-fresh fruits and vegetables at participating retailers and have the whole amount of your purchase instantly added back to your EBT card. The retailers for the program include farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and CSA farm shares, which directly support local farms. The maximum monthly reimbursement is $40 for households with 1-2 members, $60 for households with 3-5 members, and $80 for larger households.
HIP, which is managed by the MA Department of Transitional Assistance, and provides a multitude of benefits to both community members and the local economy. It helps to increase food security, improve community and personal health, and to strengthen the local economies and farms. HIP went into effect this past April, allowing us to integrate the benefits of HIP into our existing programs to further increase food accessibility. HIP became a part of Tuesday Market, The Red Bag Senior and School Shares, and the SNAP Share at Crimson and Clover.
Vendors at Tuesday Market were able to accept HIP starting in July. Niki Lankowski and Erica Martenson, our Market Manager and Market Assistant, educated over 136 shoppers who are SNAP participants about the HIP program and how to use it. The farmers who participated in HIP noticed an increase in SNAP customers buying produce, with over $23,000 SNAP spent on HIP-eligible products at Tuesday Market. Our year-end survey showed that nearly all SNAP participants came to the market more frequently and spent more money because of HIP. Here are a few words from Tuesday Market customers about the impact of HIP:
“Extremely positive impact on my grocery shopping for fresh vegetables & fruit; very grateful for the program”
“HIP has made it possible for me to buy fruits and vegetables at the farmers market, in a way that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise”
“HIP has been amazing—eating fresh produce is so important to me but in the past I have often foregone buying produce in favor of cheaper food options”
This year, participants with SNAP benefits were able to set up an autowithdrawl from their HIP
benefits to pay for the Red Bag Senior and School shares as well as the SNAP Share. Participants would get reimbursed for the cost of their farm share and then are able to use that money at any SNAP retailer. We had over $11,000 redeemed through the Farm Share Programs. Here are a couple words about the SNAP farm share program with HIP:
“The Snap Share/HIP program allowed my family to enjoy the bounty of local vegetables throughout the summer and into fall. We had been members of a farm share previously but could no longer afford it without the help of this wonderful program. Not only did my children get to enjoy the benefits of locally grown, chemical –free produce but they also were able to pick their own and see the growing process first hand. Many thanks”
“I did this because my daughter has lots of allergies and needs fresh produce, it not only helped her but all of us. It also gave us more family time (even when hard) picking out what we wanted to eat. My son loved my eggplant Parmesan and fresh potato salad, squash soup, and roasted pumpkin. All thanks to this share.”
As we have designed “wrap-around” approaches that provide additional subsidies and include non-HIP products like meat and dairy, HIP has allowed Grow Food Northampton to extend our investments in food access to more participants without raising more money. HIP has been widely successful on a statewide level as well. Since the program began this past April, 871 people in Hampshire County have redeemed over $65,379 in HIP benefits. More than 33,000 families in Massachusetts have participated in the program and have redeemed a total of $2,304,303! It is clear that there is a high demand for fresh local produce among low-income households. On Nov. 1st, The Massachusetts Food Policy Counsel met with agencies and food program representatives at the Statehouse to discuss HIP. Our Market Manager, Niki, represented Grow Food Northampton and was featured talking about Tuesday Market. Check out her coverage HERE.
The FINI grant covers a three-year period. Over the last 7 months, it has been so successful that HIP will need to secure additional funding before that time is up in order to meet demand during and beyond those three years. Grow Food Northampton expects to support efforts to secure public and private funding for this extraordinary program in the coming years so that not only our program participants in the Northampton area, but SNAP customers throughout Massachusetts can afford healthy, local fruits and vegetables.