USDA picks Massachusetts to test 'Healthy Incentives' food stamps pilot program

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Aug. 19 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday that Hampden County, MA will 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 healthful 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,” 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.”

The Healthy Incentives Pilot will enroll 7,500 randomly selected SNAP households to receive incentives. For every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, 30 cents will be added to their benefit balance, cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one-third.

Massachusetts was selected competitively, based on its comprehensive pilot proposal that included very thorough and strong design, implementation, staffing and management plans. Hampden County is a mix of 27 urban, rural, and suburban cities with a total of 50,000 SNAP households. The majority of recipients are concentrated in the areas of Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee which 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 USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. “It's time to move forward with innovative approaches like HIP to get Americans eating more healthily.”

Secretary Vilsack also announced the selection of Abt Associates, Inc. of Cambridge, MA as the independent contractor to evaluate HIP. The evaluation will focus on whether incentives increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and how participants' overall diets are affected. Researchers will also study HIP effects on the state, retailers and other SNAP stakeholders and assess the feasibility of implementing HIP nationwide.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will provide Federal oversight of the pilot and evaluation. FNS oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs. These programs serve one in four Americans over the course of a year and work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. SNAP, the largest of these programs, helps more than 40 million Americans each month put healthy food on the table. Go to for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.

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