Incentives that give consumers more buying power to purchase fresh and healthy food through food assistance programs have proven to be very effective in Massachusetts.1 There is a need and opportunity to support and expand these efforts in order to: 1) deliver SNAP and other benefits more strategically to help increase purchases of fresh healthy food (much of it locally produced); 2) demonstrate the long term viability of such incentives programs; and 3) offer a model that can be replicated widely and sustained into the future.
One of the most successful programs of this type in the nation was completed in 2013 in Hampden County. Administered by DTA, the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) offered SNAP participants an incentive of 30 cents for every $1 in SNAP funds spent on eligible fruits and vegetables at participating SNAP retailers, which included large chain store grocers, convenience stores, farmers markets, farm stands, and supermarkets. The project evaluation found that “HIP participants consumed almost one-quarter cup (26 percent) more targeted fruits and vegetables each day than did non-HIP respondents. This HIP impact is both statistically significant and large enough to be nutritionally relevant.”2
Following the success of the HIP program in Hampden County, Massachusetts was chosen in 2015 to receive a USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant to support the expansion of the program statewide. Known as the Healthy Incentives Program, this expanded effort will provide a 100 percent incentive match for each SNAP dollar that a participant spends on eligible fruits and vegetables purchased at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs throughout Massachusetts. The maximum monthly incentive will be determined by household size, ranging from $40 - 80. The DTA will implement the five-year project through interdepartmental efforts that include the MDAR and DPH, and the support of a coalition of statewide community partners. In this time the program will deliver up to $1.25 million in incentive dollars for SNAP families. In its first year, the FINI project will focus on start-up, planning, and core systems activities. Clients will begin receiving the new incentive benefits in April 2017 and the program will run through March 2020.
SNAP incentives for healthy food purchases have been available at some farmers markets in Massachusetts since 2008. Boston Bounty Bucks is one such program that was launched by The Food Project, and in its history has been administered by the Boston Collaborative for Food and Fitness with the City of Boston, and now by The Food Project. Bounty Bucks provides dollar-for-dollar matching for all SNAP purchases up to ten dollars per visit at farmers markets. Wholesome Wave has also provided similar matching incentive programs at farmers markets.