The Capital Area Food Bank concludes its discussion of policy options for reforming SNAP. Among SNAP reform options, there are four major recommendations that could improve the diets and health of SNAP participants:
- Increase overall SNAP benefits
- Designate SNAP benefits for healthy food purchases
- Provide incentives for purchasing healthy foods
- Expand nutrition education
The second two recommendations will be the focus of this report.
Provide Incentives for Purchasing Healthy Foods
As part of the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) program, SNAP participants automatically receive a credit of 30 cents on their SNAP benefit electronic card for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables. This price manipulation decreases the cost of fruits and vegetables by 30 percent and motivates participants to buy more fruits and vegetables, since their benefits go further towards purchasing these foods. There would also be few associated costs for program management since the discount would be automatic, and fruits and vegetables are easily identifiable as healthy foods. (On a related note, some farmers markets in DC are already giving SNAP participants a $10 bonus to spend on fruits and vegetables when they spend at least $10 at a farmers market.)
SNAP participants would alter their food purchases towards a more healthy diet as a result of this new program. According to the Economic Research Service (ERS), research on low-income consumer behavior shows that a “20 percent price reduction would raise fruit and vegetable consumption to 2.2 cups per day – an improvement.” The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recommends policy makers “consider incentives – rather than restrictions – to encourage purchases of selected foods…by food stamp participants” as “better alternatives for promoting healthier diets” due to evidence showing the positive impact on diet of providing incentives for healthier food purchases.
Expand Nutrition Education
Expanding nutrition education for SNAP participants would address and alter the competing interests unrelated to finances that may prevent consumers from purchasing and consuming healthy foods. Many interests and factors affect food choices, including cost, taste preferences, preparation time and convenience of foods, and knowledge of nutrition and cooking. Creating further nutrition education for SNAP participants with a special focus on practical nutrition information and cooking skills would increase their ability and desire to buy and eat healthier foods.
Developing, expanding and producing the curriculum and educational materials would require additional funding, as would training and paying the staff needed to lead the nutrition education sessions. But, this investment could be cost effective, since increasing nutrition information is a proven way as ERS suggests to “prompt consumers to change their food choices – for example, to shift from whole to low-fat milk.”. Nutrition education can empower “individuals with such competing preferences [to] act more consistently in their long-term best interest” in regards to food purchases and eating a healthy diet. In fact, FNS recommends expanding and strengthening nutrition education and promotion to “make sure that participants have the knowledge, skills, and motivation they need to make healthy choices,” an approach that is “likely to be more effective than restricting choice in achieving the dietary improvements that promote good health.”
Thanks to nutrition educations programs such as Cooking Matters and a new Capital Area Food Bank Nutrition policy, our anti-hunger efforts address hunger in the region with healthy eating in mind.
Is SNAP in need of reform, and if so which SNAP reform policy options make the most sense to you? Why?