Healthy food pilot program set for Massachusetts

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Aug. 19 said Hampden County, Mass., has been chosen to conduct the first-ever Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) — an incentives-based program to empower low-income Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables. The 2008 farm bill authorized $20 million to research whether incentives for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) will increase their purchase of healthy foods.

“This pilot project will empower low-income Americans to eat more nutritious food and has the potential to strengthen the SNAP program that serves as a critical safety net to the most vulnerable in our society,” Mr. Vilsack said. “Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially in the place of higher calorie foods, can help move America towards healthier lifestyles and a healthier future.”

Mr. Vilsack said HIP will enroll 7,500 randomly selected SNAP households to receive incentives, and for every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, 30c will be added to their benefit balance. The move is expected to cut the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one-third.
Massachusetts, which was selected based on its pilot proposal, will begin operating the pilot in the fall of 2011.

“The Healthy Incentives Pilot is an incredible step towards reducing obesity by encouraging low-income Americans to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets,” said Kevin Concannon, U.S.D.A. Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “It’s time to move forward with innovative approaches like HIP to get Americans eating more healthily.”

The U.S.D.A.’s Food and Nutrition Service (F.N.S.) will provide federal oversight of the pilot and evaluation. Currently, the F.N.S. oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, which serve one in four Americans over the course of a year and work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. SNAP is the largest of these programs.

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