ST. PAUL (March 5, 2013) — This summer, a pilot project will put more locally-grown fruits and vegetables on the plates of thousands of Minnesotans. The Department of Human Services is partnering with the Minnesota Grocers Association and Minnesota Grown to encourage healthy eating and better nutrition for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.
Beginning in June, customers at select grocery stores across the state will be able to request a $5 coupon toward their next produce purchase when they pay using an Electronic Benefit Transfer card.
“These coupons will make it an easier decision for SNAP recipients to add fresh fruits and vegetables to their shopping carts, impacting both the physical and fiscal health of our state,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. “Evidence suggests that diets rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic, costly diseases.”
Three pilot locations will be selected through a collaborative process with the Minnesota Grocers Association based on populations served and store administrative capabilities. The stores will be announced later this spring. Minnesota Grown, a partnership between the state Department of Agriculture and Minnesota farmers, will provide materials to the grocers to promote local products. DHS will track project outcomes and if successful in increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, could seek additional partners to expand the program in the future.
“Our members have long been dedicated to providing nutritious food to Minnesotans. We are excited to take part in this project that will give more residents access to fresh produce, while also supporting our local farmers and the economy,” said Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, which represents more than 1,200 retail food stores in the state.
The pilot program will run until approximately 20,000 coupons are used, expected sometime as harvest season comes to a close in September. The $150,000 cost is being funded through the state’s portion of a federal bonus for increasing SNAP use among eligible residents.
The United States Department of Agriculture notified Minnesota in September that it was among states with the most improved Program Access Index, the ratio of SNAP participants to the number of people living below 125 percent of the poverty level – about $23,550 for a family of four in 2013, according to the federal government. SNAP participation by this population increased 8.2 percent to 63.7 percent in Minnesota’s fiscal year 2011.
Minnesota counties, which administer the federally-funded program, are sharing 75 percent of the $1.2 million award to address costs associated with rising SNAP caseloads. DHS has identified several projects for its 25 percent portion of the award – approximately $305,000 – to further its work to increase access to healthy food. In addition to the grocery store incentive, the state will put $100,000 toward a summer backpack program to help low-income children and families in need during summer months by providing additional food and SNAP education resources. Other projects include outreach to Latino and senior populations, both of which have low SNAP participation rates. About 45 percent of eligible seniors are currently enrolled in SNAP.
“The department and counties across the state have done significant work to make SNAP more accessible to people in need,” said Jesson. “A record high number of Minnesotans – more than 500,000 each month – are now accessing SNAP, but many more are eligible for benefits. We will continue to work with counties and our many partners in the Nutritious Food Coalition to ensure all eligible Minnesotans have healthy food on their tables.”
In recent years, several changes to streamline the application process have had a positive impact on SNAP access and eligibility. In May 2012, DHS launched the ApplyMN website, which for the first time allowed Minnesotans to fill out a single online application for a majority of public assistance programs including nutrition assistance, health care, child care and emergency assistance.
DHS also received federal approval on waivers allowing recipients to report income twice a year rather than every month, and complete phone interviews rather than face-to-face interviews as applicants. This has been particularly helpful for the working poor, who previously had to take off work to go to a county office, seniors, people with disabilities and others with transportation issues.