Government aid remains essential in the fight against hunger for the area’s most vulnerable populations. Yet there’s no guarantee those in need can or will use their benefits to support healthy eating habits.
Fortunately, a Kansas City area program is making it easier for individuals and families battling food insecurity to afford a diet rich in fresh, nutritious foods. The Double Up Food Bucks incentive program doubles the value of SNAP dollars (previously called food assistance/stamps) for participants when they purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
More than 1.1 million residents in Kansas and Missouri depend on federal food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. About two-thirds of SNAP recipients nationwide are children, elderly, or disabled. The average monthly benefit to all households is $254.
The Double Up Food Bucks incentive program doubles the value of SNAP dollars for participants when they purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The goal of Double Up Food Bucks is to help SNAP customers who have limited dollars to spend on food
buy fresh fruits and vegetables, which they might not otherwise be able to afford,” said Marlene Nagel, community development director with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). Nagel noted the program also is creating new opportunities for area fruit and vegetable producers by spurring demand for fresh produce.
Double Up Food Bucks in Kansas and Missouri is administered by the Double Up Heartland Collaborative, a partnership between MARC, Cultivate KC, the University of Kansas Medical Center, Douglas County, and the Fair Food Network.
A similar incentive program called Beans and Greens led by Cultivate KC and Menorah Legacy Foundation was launched seven years ago at several area farmers markets. A grocery store pilot program in 2015 further demonstrated that an incentive program encouraging the purchase of vegetables and fruits could work in store settings.
Thanks to the success of the earlier programs, MARC in June 2016 won a $3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to extend the reach of the Double Up initiative. A prerequisite for winning the grant was the ability to secure equivalent matching funds from non-federal resources.
Notably, a significant portion of those matching dollars were provided by the Health Forward Foundation in conjunction with other non-traditional funders. Last year, the Double Up Food Bucks program was available at stores and markets across the Kansas City metro area, as well as in eastern Kansas and the St. Louis area. A total of about 100,000 transactions resulted in about $128,000 in Double Up spending on produce in 2016.
The Double Up Heartland Collaborative is expanding the program’s footprint to include more locations in the Kansas City area, eastern Kansas, the St. Louis metropolitan area, and in small towns across outstate Missouri. This year, Double Up Food Bucks will be available at:
- 28 farmers market locations and 53 grocery stores in the Kansas City metro
- 21 farmers market locations and 60 grocery stores in the St. Louis metro and in outstate Missouri
- 17 farmers market locations and 2 grocery stores in eastern Kansas
“If the program continues to be successful at increasing the purchase and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables on a broad scale, policy officials and others hope it could drive food policy at the federal level and perhaps lead the USDA to incorporate similar initiatives into the SNAP program,” said Donna Martin, a public health planner and also the program manager for Double Up Food Bucks initiative.
A survey conducted last year by the University of Kansas Medical Center found SNAP customers were reducing junk food consumption and eating more fruits and vegetables thanks to the program.
Both Martin and Nagel said Health Forward’s support has been essential to Double Up’s success, both during the early years and in helping meet the matching fund requirements for the federal grant.
“Being able to say early on that Health Forward was a strong partner and supporter of this effort was enormously helpful to us in securing additional funding,” Nagel said. “And they’ve continued to offer advice and expertise as the program has rolled out.”
Learn more about food insecurity at costoffoodinsecurity.com