WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American Heart Association is making the case for a pilot program for food stamp recipients that would combine a green light for fruits and vegetables and a stop sign for sugary beverages.
Also read, Lawmaker wants to ban the purchase of soda with food stamps in Florida.
Speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association Washington Conference Sept. 19, Kristy Anderson, senior government relations advisor for The American Heart Association, outlined the group’s proposal during a session called “A Nutrition Revolution for Fruits and Vegetables in SNAP.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Progrm session was moderated by Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy for United Fresh. The panel also included Kellie Adesina, Democratic senior counsel for the House Agriculture Committee and Mike Beal, chief operating officer for Balls Food Stores, Hen House Markets, Kansas City, Kan.
Beal talked about his company’s success since 2015 with the Double Up Food Bucks, a program from the Fair Food Network that gives SNAP participants incentives to buy local produce.
“It has been very, very well received by our consumer base,” he said. “It has moved the needle in sales of local produce.”
In an interview after the session, Anderson said combining incentives to buy healthy food and provisions to reduce sugary beverage consumption has never been tried in a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot before and the American Heart Association is pitching the idea for the 2018 farm bill.
“As far as we know, we are the first major public health organization to support such a thing, and it has been gathering a lot of attention,” she said.
The proposal allows SNAP recipients to choose not to use their food stamp benefits on sugary beverages in return for extra money for fruits and vegetables.
In a farm bill policy statement, the association said SNAP is the only federal feeding program without nutrition standards. SNAP recipients have worse diet quality than income-eligible non-participants, according to the group, and tend to spend more on sugary beverages.
“As we have gone around and talked to those on (Capitol Hill) and other stakeholders, we think a voluntary approach for the pilot would be the right a approach,” she said. “One of the things we have seen in the data is we know that incentives work pretty well, but we also know a combination approach might work even better but it has never been done before and we need data to see if it would work,” she said.
The association believes the pilot should not be a part of the Food Insecurity Nutrition Program, which since the 2014 farm bill has distributed tens of millions in grants to help provide point-of-purchase incentives for fruit and vegetables to SNAP participants.
“The issue of SNAP choice is very emotional,” she said. “We think it is important (the pilot) remains separate for now,” she said.
The farm bill is scheduled to be reauthorized in 2018, and nutrition programs will pay a key role. Anderson said. The SNAP program has an annual cost of approximately $74 billion.
According to the the policy paper, the association supports keeping SNAP (and all of Title IV) as one comprehensive Farm Bill and not separated into different legislation, and boosting benefits to help ensure diet quality.
SOURCE Tom Karst, The Packer
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