After more than two years of planning and development, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) issued its first incentives in April, and has already far surpassed expected participation. In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature and governor, recognizing the importance of the program, made a significant investment in HIP in the State’s FY’18 budget. This statewide program offers a one-for-one match to SNAP recipients when they use their EBT cards to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from participating farms at farmstands, farmers markets, mobile markets, and CSAs.
At the time of this writing, there are more than 225 participating retailers in the program, and more are coming on-line each week. More than $500,000 in benefits have been earned since April, already surpassing the amount of SNAP purchases at these retailers for all of 2016. In July alone, 15,000 households took advantage of the benefit, providing their families with healthy food and Massachusetts farmers with increased sales. More than 650 SNAP households have used HIP to purchase CSA memberships in 2017, as compared with 163 families who participated in a pilot program last year.
“HIP is an unqualified success for the Brockton Farmers Market,” said Market Manager Jon Van Kuiken. In the past two years combined the market had fewer than 30 sales of local food to SNAP recipients. On market’s first day of the season more than 80 people came to use their SNAP benefits to earn HIP benefits. “Our farmers sold most of their produce by 1:30. People loved the program! Everyone was appreciative and many were very excited,” he said. SNAP recipients have been lining up to purchase food as much as an hour before the farmers market in Boston’s Copley Square opens each week, as well.
“HIP has definitely increased my sales,” said Nicole McKinstry from McKinstry 's Market Garden in Chicopee. “We are seeing new customers regularly on a daily basis. Most are so excited about buying local fruit and vegetables that they now can afford, many of them with children who never had fresh fruits and vegetables before. The seniors are very appreciative of this program as well, and use their HIP money very wisely.”
“Now that I know what HIP is, I’m making sure to buy fruits and vegetables first each month,” said Marie Loranger of Monson, who was one of the first people to receive HIP incentives when she purchased vegetables in April. “My doctor has told me I need to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables, and my response has been that it’s too expensive. Now I have no excuse! I’m buying more vegetables and freezing them so I can use them all year.” HIP incentives can also be used to purchase vegetable plants, which Loranger has done as well, and she is looking forward to harvesting her own healthy food later in the summer.
Recognizing the value of this innovative program, and responding to a campaign led by the Collaborative and dozens of food system organizations, the legislature and governor approved a $1.35 million budget item to support HIP in FY’18. More than a million dollars still must be raised to reach the required match for the initial USDA grant that launched the program, but this investment by the state is a huge success for advocates and a significant vote of confidence for the program.
At the same time, a bill is working its way through the Legislature that would codify the program in statute, helping to ensure its sustainability past the three-year term of the USDA grant. An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program (H.2131), introduced by Representative Paul Mark, had its first hearing in front of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee at the State House in May. Testimony and comments of support are still being accepted by the Committee.
More background about HIP can be found at at www.mass.gov/hip.
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