The Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) has far outpaced expectations, with SNAP recipients purchasing more than $2.5 million of fresh produce from local farmers between April and November, and earning an equal amount of incentives in the process. In the first seven months of HIP, 58,000 SNAP clients benefited from the program, exceeding redemption expectations by more than 470%. Nearly 50% of the 33,000 households that have benefited include a senior, and more than 30% include a child.
The program provides a one-for-one match, adding money back onto a SNAP recipient’s EBT card whenever they use the card to purchase fresh fruits or vegetables at a participating farmstand, farmers market, CSA, or mobile market, up to a monthly limit depending upon household size. The program improves health outcomes in some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable communities, and helps keep local farms sustainable.
“The success of this program has demonstrated the pent-up demand. There is a myth out there that low-income people don’t care about healthy food,” said Christina Maxwell of the Western Mass Food Bank, which enrolls people in SNAP and provides outreach about HIP, at a November 1 MA Food Policy Council meeting.
Grace Sliwoski, Food Justice Program Coordinator at the Worcester Regional Environmental Council, which operates mobile farmers markets that accept HIP, reported that when customers first used the HIP program, “people were crying and embracing the market managers because they were so excited. The program enables them to eat well and eat enough.”
Justin Chase, a 13th generation farmer in Newburyport, was one of several farmers who spoke about how HIP has impacted their farms. Changing markets nearly put his family’s farm out of business in the 1990’s, he said. “We were working on a dying farm.” Justin took over the farm from his father a few years ago and began selling produce at the local farmers market, but was still struggling to keep the farm alive. This year, he signed up to accept SNAP and HIP and the effects were immediate; on the first day, Arrowhead Farm’s sales were double the previous year’s. Over the course of the season sales continued to increase, and people started to come from other towns for the produce and to utilize HIP. At the end of the season, they were earning ten times as much as they had before HIP. “We were relevant again,” he said. He put the increased revenue back into the farm, repairing the farm’s broken machinery and bringing a field back into production that had been abandoned for years. More than 200 farmers participate in HIP.
Because use of the program has exceeded expectations, additional funding must be secured to ensure that the program can be sustained. DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue expressed his commitment to securing additional resources to maintain the program and asked for support from individuals, organizations, and philanthropies.
The success of HIP was identified as a priority in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. The Collaborative has been working to educate legislators about the Plan, through events in Lynn, Great Barrington, and elsewhere. We are also developing a campaign to secure funding for HIP in the FY’19 budget. If you or your organization would like to participate, or would like more information, contact Director Winton Pitcoff.