At the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries can double their money up to $20 each week. For every five SNAP dollars spent, customers receive an additional $5 to spend on healthy groceries. That’s an additional $80 each month to be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy — all from local area sustainable producers.

 Wouldn’t it be great if all SNAP (the program formerly known as food stamps) recipients were able to double their money for fresh, healthy foods at any grocery outlet? U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D- N.Y.) has proposed legislation that would do just that — at least for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Under the proposed legislation, SNAP recipients would purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at half price, ostensibly doubling the amount of money they could spend on healthy produce. The food stamp program would pay the store full price for the produce, so the discounted price would not affect the markets selling the foods. The estimated cost for this program is $2.6 billion or roughly 3.8 percent of the overall costs of the food stamp program in 2009.

Earlier this month, the political and food world was a buzz with the news that New York City officials had asked the USDA to eliminate the option of purchasing sugary soft drinks with food stamps. One of the reasons cited for the request was that food stamps should not be used to purchase anything that has limited nutritional value. Sugary soft drinks have little to no nutritional value and are often cited as one of the causes of the obesity problem in the United States. I linked to several well-written pieces online that discussed the value of the food stamp ban on sugary soft drinks, including one by Food Politics author Marion Nestle.

Nestle had said that if she were in charge of the food stamp program, she would “make the benefit worth twice as much when spent for fresh (or single-ingredient frozen) fruits and vegetables.” She sees that as a more effective incentive for food stamp recipients to purchase healthy foods than a ban on buying soda and other sugary drinks.

Incentive. That seems to be the key word here. What will get food stamp recipients to choose healthy foods over less healthy, processed foods? Making the healthy produce more affordable is a good incentive for those who really want to purchase them, but for those who don’t care, a discount won’t make a difference. As a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study showed, adults who don’t use food stamps don’t always chose fresh fruits and vegetables, either.

For those SNAP recipients who want to choose the healthy foods but are often prohibited by cost, this proposed legislation could turn those Gala apples in the photo above from $1.99/pound to $.99/pound — turning the two and a half apples the $1.99 would buy into five apples (and those are pretty big apples). It will be interesting to see how far this legislation gets.

  

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