The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) re-launched in May after a suspension of slightly more than a month. As the growing season begins, SNAP recipients are once again able to earn a one-to-one match for their purchases directly from farmers at participating farmers markets, mobile markets, farmstands, and CSAs.
The program’s suspension on April 15 happened because all funds budgeted for three years of HIP operations and incentives were exhausted after just over a year of operating. From April 1, 2017 through April 15, 2018 program participants earned more than $4.2 million in incentives, when the projected amount budgeted for had been approximately one-tenth of that.
Thanks to advocacy efforts from farmers, families, and food system organizations, the Massachusetts legislature proposed, and Governor Baker signed, a supplemental budget that provided $2.15 million for HIP through the end of the current fiscal year (June 30). The program re-launched on May 23.
At the same time, the Campaign for HIP Funding resulted in both the senate and the house including $4 million for HIP in their respective budget proposals for fiscal year 2019 (FY19: July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019). While this is less than the $6.2 million requested, it represents a significant increase from the $1.35 million in last year’s budget, and shows that efforts to educate legislators about the importance of HIP to farmers, families, and communities were successful.
The FY19 budget is currently being reviewed by a conference committee to reconcile differences between those introduced by the two chambers, and will be sent to Governor Baker in June for his consideration.
Unfortunately, funds for community partners that provided critical support for the program – Buy Local organizations, food banks, Project Bread, Mass Farmers Markets, and UMass – have been deobligated, so those organizations will not have resources to continue to support the program after June 30. Efforts to include amendments to restore this funding in both the house and senate budgets were unsuccessful.
Based on estimates from the Department of Transitional Assistance, which operates HIP, $4 million will not be enough funding to operate HIP through all of FY19. Efforts are ongoing to consider how to address this gap, including outreach to other potential funding sources. The Collaborative is participating in these discussions, and will continue to coordinate advocacy efforts for additional funding in future years’ budgets.
Along with the funding bills, the Collaborative has been advocating for H2131: An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program. This bill would codify the HIP program in statute, helping to ensure its long term sustainability. The bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing on May 29, and is now under consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means.