When you live on a low income, eating healthy can be very difficult. Healthy foods like fresh vegetables or fruits are more expensive than processed and pre-packaged foods. For people on a tight budget, this usually means forgoing the more expensive items and picking the cheaper items to get by.
Research backs this up. Brown and Harvard Universities put out a study that found eating healthy costs the average family around $550 per year, per person! This is a lot for any family, let alone one struggling just to make it from month to month.
The more obvious consequence of this is that having an unhealthy diet can lead to chronic illness, health issues, and diseases. No one should have to endure these things, regardless of their income.
Low-income families should not have to choose between making ends meet and their health.
However, there is good news. This problem hasn’t gone unnoticed. There are currently government-sponsored programs that give low income families a few incentives to eat healthier.
The NPR profiled one of these programs called ¡Más Fresco! This program rewards food stamp (SNAP) recipients for buying fresh produce. Every dollar they spend on fresh produce, they get a one-to-one dollar match. They can earn between $10 and $40 in extra cash. The total amount they can earn depends on the program tier they’re in. They can only use this additional money to buy fresh produce.
The University of California, San Diego, is in charge of this program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the ¡Más Fresco! program a $3.4 million grant. There are other similar programs in other states the USDA also gave grants to start, including programs in Vermont, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Mexico, Georgia, and Minnesota.
Here’s how the program works.
Each time a SNAP recipient spends a dollar on fresh vegetables or fruit, they get a matched dollar amount from the grant. They can use this to buy more produce. There are three tiers, and recipients can earn $10, $20, or $40 based on their tier. The researchers who are in charge of studying this program randomly picked the tier amounts to try and determine what dollar level is needed to make a good change in a person’s diet.
Since February 2017, the program has grown to 1,153 recipients. On average, the people involved in the program have a family size ranging between five and six people and get around $329 a month in SNAP benefits. They also have to be willing and able to shop at participating stores like Northgate Gonzalez Markets in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties.
Recipients get ongoing fruit and vegetable discounts, healthy cooking classes, and in-store education programs. So far, the program is getting a lot of positive feedback. The program recently opened spots for 2,000 more people who will be able to get the incentive next year.
Low income families shouldn’t have to make a choice between eating healthy foods and having enough to eat. We need programs like this in every state, and quickly.