Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Healthy Food Incentive Program
Location: Birmingham, AL
Food policy category: Food insecurity, Diet & Nutrition
How it works
The Healthy Food Incentive Program will provide qualifying residents of Birmingham with food incentive cards that can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
Residents who want to receive a card must fill out an application. To qualify, a person must be at least 18 years old, be a full time resident of Birmingham, and have an income that is equal to or less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Any resident who is currently receiving SNAP or WIC benefits is also eligible.
Qualifying individuals with no dependents will receive a card worth $50. A person with one dependent will receive a card worth $75, and the amount increases by $25 for each additional dependent. The maximum amount is $150, which is available for people with four or more dependents. If a qualifying individual is 65 or older, he or she will receive an additional $25.
The food incentive cards can be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at any location in the city.
Progress to date
The Birmingham City Council is currently accepting applications for the first year of the program. The first food incentive cards will be distributed to qualifying residents on August 1 of this year.
Why the program is important
A 2013 survey by the USDA found that SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) are usually insufficient to meet a family’s monthly food needs. Forty five percent of SNAP beneficiaries reported limiting their food intake (skipping meals) to get by, and 46 percent reported buying cheap starches like Ramen, pasta and potatoes at the end of the month when money runs low. Thirty-six percent reported visiting food pantries, but many of these respondents complained that the food from food pantries is often expired or rotten.
Many survey respondents said they did not buy any fresh vegetables, either because they are too expensive, or because they are afraid the vegetables will go bad before they can eat them. People with extreme food insecurity tend to buy frozen or canned vegetables rather than fresh.
These data suggest that families with extreme food insecurity are unlikely to be meeting basic nutritional needs, even if they are receiving SNAP benefits. Birmingham’s Healthy Food Incentive Program aims to correct that problem.
Birmingham residents have yet to receive benefits under the program, so it is too early to evaluate its effectiveness. However, the amount of money to be offered by the program, $25 per person per year, is low, and may not make much difference for individuals who are food insecure.
In fiscal year 2015, the average monthly amount of SNAP benefits, which are determined based on income, for a family of four was $465 per month. The Healthy Food Incentive Program would only provide that family with an additional $10 per month ($125 per year). For many families, this is not enough to meet the gap between benefits and needs.
However, because the Healthy Food Incentive Program is meant to be used for fresh fruits and vegetables, items that many families receiving SNAP say they cannot afford, it may make a small difference in the nutritional quality of these families’ diets.
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