Low earners show moderate take-up in USDA produce incentive pilot
Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in a Massachusetts county have reported higher produce purchases as part of a government program aiming at incentivizing fruit and vegetable consumption.
The report 'Explaining the Impact of USDA's Healthy Incentives Pilot on Different Spending Outcomes' was published recently in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.
The study took place in 2011 and 2012, offering a 30% incentive on purchases of most fruits and vegetables for 7,500 randomly selected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in Hampden County; an area with the lowest median income and highest poverty levels in the state.
Their spending patterns were then compared to a control group of 47,595 SNAP participants who did not receive the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) incentives.
"From the survey, regression-adjusted self-reported mean usual monthly spending for all fruits and vegetables was $78.17 for HIP participants and $72.02 for non-HIP participants. This difference represents a positive HIP impact of $6.15," the report authors said.
"Thus, HIP increased total self-reported fruit and vegetable spending by 8.5%.
"HIP participants’ mean household monthly SNAP purchases were $261.82, just over half of which ($136.68) were made in HIP-participating retailers."
However, the study also found the HIP impact on monthly targeted fruit and vegetable purchases in HIP-participating supermarkets was just US$1.19; a figure one fifth of the size of the self-reported data.
Report authors hypothesized about several reasons why this may be so; it could be that produce consumption took place outside of HIP-participating retailers, the price incentive pathway may have only had a modest impact, there may have been social desirability bias in the survey responses or perhaps the pilot program was not sufficiently understood.
"Despite multiple mailings and an extensive outreach effort, only 67% of HIP participants reported that they had heard of HIP," the authors said.
However, the authors claimed the study showed incentives through the SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card system were "both technically and operationally feasible".
In a press release, one of the authors, Parke Wilde of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said other programs were starting to pop up and the success could spread even more.
"I imagine policy makers will roll this out nationally. Hopefully this will lead to an interesting conversation about making this available to more people," he said.
"No category of Americans is eating well in recent years and this could be especially helpful for people on a tight budget."