Rescue funds could help ease RI’s food crisis

Senator Valarie J. Lawson and Dr. Amy Nunn

Senator Valarie J. Lawson, a Democrat, represents District 14 in East Providence. Dr. Amy Nunn is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute.

The number of hungry families and children in Rhode Island has reached a critical point. As Rhode Island leaders debate how to allocate $ 1.1 billion in federal funds received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), we have a generational opportunity to address this crisis of forehead.

One in four local households goes hungry, according to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. This is the highest hunger rate Rhode Island has reported in decades and puts us near the bottom of the nation when it comes to food security. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this unfortunate trend, leading to a 65% increase in the number of local households that depend on the Federal Supplementary Nutritional Assistance (SNAP) program to deliver health. food on their tables.

While SNAP benefits are certainly crucial resources in Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities, we know these dollars can go no further. The average cost of a healthy, nutrient-dense meal, according to Feeding America, is around $ 3.23. The gap between the benefits received and the true cost of nutritious foods is forcing far too many families to stretch their budgets by opting for cheaper and unhealthy options. Since rapid inflation makes fresh produce even more expensive, the problem may get worse before it gets better.

That’s why we’re urging Governor Dan McKee and heads of state to allocate $ 25 million in ARPA funds to create what’s called a statewide SNAP retail incentive program. The program would offer SNAP beneficiaries a 50% discount on fresh fruits and vegetables when they pay with their benefits in retail stores. Essentially, this program would double the purchasing power of low-income people in produce aisles across the state, leading to increased sales for grocers and significantly improved health outcomes for underserved populations.

There is ample evidence to show that financial incentive programs like the one we are offering are extremely effective in reducing hunger and increasing consumption of healthy foods. Locally, SNAP retail incentives are not available in retail stores, where the majority of SNAP recipients shop, but variations are offered and widely used throughout Rhode Island through initiatives such as Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Rhode’s Bonus Bucks program. Island Public Health Institute’s Food on the Move Program.

Across the border in Massachusetts, lawmakers again pledged to fund the statewide Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which, since its launch in 2017, has reached nearly 100 000 families; encouraged more than $ 26 million in fruit and vegetable sales; and led to a dramatic 1,250% increase in SNAP sales in participating markets.

Similar programs have been launched in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Texas and Washington – and in any case, the impact is clear. When individuals and families have the opportunity to make healthier choices, they take them. SNAP beneficiaries buy more fruits and vegetables, thus improving their overall well-being, while at the same time, farmers, food distributors, grocers and the overall economy all benefit from the increased purchasing power. tens of thousands of customers.

It is high time to implement a long-term statewide plan to reduce hunger in our communities, and the introduction of a SNAP retail incentive program is a good first step. The availability of $ 1.1 billion in federal ARPA funds, a pool of resources intended to meet the “immediate needs” of Rhode Island’s post-COVID recovery, presents an ideal opportunity to fund the launch phase of this program and help our neighbors to afford fresh and healthy products. the food their families need and deserve.

Once launched, we are confident that the impact of this program on Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities will speak for itself.

Senator Valarie J. Lawson, a Democrat, represents District 14 in East Providence. Dr. Amy Nunn is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute.

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