Seattle’s Fresh Bucks Rx program was announced July 22, 2016. This program helps make farmers market produce more affordable by stretching government food benefits for food-insecure families.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” (SNAP) to provide nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. There are millions of Americans who face food insecurity from meal-to-meal. Having SNAP benefits, and being able to “double” them at farmers markets, allows them to provide additional meals at home where they are needed.
According to the USDA:
SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service [FNS] works with state agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits. FNS also works with state partners and the retail community to improve program administration and ensure program integrity.
Seattle’s newly launched program “Fresh Bucks Rx” (Rx as in “prescription) is designed to help improve “health outcomes for low-income patients with diet-related disease.”
Fresh Bucks Rx builds on Seattle’s successful Fresh Bucks food access program which provides a dollar-for-dollar match—up to $10 per day—of SNAP (food stamp) benefits spent at participating farmers markets. The Rx refers to the fact that participating health care providers can “prescribe” fruits and vegetables to their patients and give them a voucher to redeem at farmers markets or farm stands.
Time will tell how much the Seattle program will be used by SNAP recipients, and how many families it will help. SNAP data is tracked by the USDA, though incentive programs are a separate step for farmers markets, so programs like the “doubling” are not broken down in publicly available data.
Across the nation in Eastern North Carolina, the Zebulon Farm Fresh Market (ZFFM) in Zebulon NC is one of the state’s farmers markets that doubles SNAP dollars. ZFFM does what they call “EBT matching” and SNAP participants who spend up to $25 at the market can get an additional $25 to spend for their families. This program has been in place since the 2015 summer market.
Funding for Seattle’s “doubling” program c0mes through a federal Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Washington State Department of Health.
The ZFFM “doubling” program is via a John Rex Endowment grant.
With time, more towns and cities will likely increase access — and available funds — for families who need help affording fresh local produce.