Business

Program aims to stretch SNAP dollars

(File) Credit card readers combined with wireless internet connections allow people to use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits loaded onto EBT cards at farmers markets and a host of other retailers. (Lance Cheung/USDA Archive Photo)
(File) Credit card readers combined with wireless internet connections allow people to use SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits loaded onto EBT cards at farmers markets and a host of other retailers. (Lance Cheung/USDA Archive Photo)

A new initiative is intended to help stretch Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, formerly Food Stamps — dollars this summer.

The Double Up Food Bucks program — funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered through the State of Iowa Healthiest State Initiative — makes it easier for low-income Iowans to eat fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting family farmers and growing local economies, advocates said.

The program is pretty straight forward. Any SNAP EBT dollar spent on fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmers markets or any New Pioneer Food Co-op stores will earn a dollar for dollar match, up to $10 per day, in Double Up Food Bucks.

The Double Up Food Bucks then can be spent on locally grown fruits and vegetables at New Pioneer or the farmers market. The food bucks are interchangeable between the markets and New Pioneer.

“It ensures affordable access to local produce by actually doubling the purchasing power for people on SNAP,” said Genie Maybanks, marketing coordinator at New Pioneer Food Co-Op. “And just because you earned the dollar at one location doesn’t mean you have to spend it there or in that same day. We encourage the support of all local farmers.”

The introduction of Double Up Food Bucks in the grocery setting is new for Iowa.

“We wanted to step up and be trailblazers in this area,” Maybanks said. “We are really aiming to fulfill our mission to help widen the access to healthy local foods.”

The program kicked off May 5 and the Co-Op has had inquiries from shoppers.

“This program is really going to free up the opportunity for more people to participate,” Maybanks said. “Sometimes people using SNAP aren’t able to prioritize purchasing fresh foods. We hope this brings affordable fresh foods to those who need it most, at the hours that work for them.”

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“The primary goal is of course to improve access to local fresh produce that’s available, improve health outcomes and stretch those SNAP dollars,” said Sofia Mehaffey, community health and nutrition director at Horizons, A Family Service Alliance.

“But the social aspect of attending the downtown farmers market and other markets and that experience is also really important to make sure is accessible to everyone in the community. There’s a message of otherness when someone has a different source of income than you … .”

There are a lot of misconceptions about people on SNAP and what their life is like, she said.

“So it’s important to bring people together so they have access to that event but so that other people who maybe have a different financial circumstance at the moment can realize some connection with people who are just as important in our community.”

A SNAP participant several years ago, Mehaffey knows firsthand there were challenges for SNAP users who want to buy fresh food.

“Trying to navigate that market as a single mother with two small kids to find the couple of vendors who accepted SNAP was a challenge. It was really discouraging. It was a disincentive for people using SNAP to visit the market,” she said.

“But the farmers market is such a big social event for our city. Now with SNAP at the Market and Double Up Food Bucks, we have a win-win all around. We’ve created an inclusive environment, expanded access to local produce and kept dollars in the local economy.”

The first Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market will be Saturday, May 26.

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