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Food Stamps Go Farther at Austin Farmers' Markets

by: Genevieve Cato

Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 03:00 PM CDT

Over the last six months, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has experienced multiple budget cuts. It was even a part of Paul Ryan's budget plan. While assistance for needy families is under attack at the federal level, an organization in Austin is continuing to expand access to fresh produce for those receiving SNAP benefits and increasing their purchasing power at local farmers' markets.

What started in 2012 at two of the Sustainable Food Center's markets in Austin has expanded to all of their Austin locations. Modeled after similar programs in other states, SFC's Double Dollar Incentive Program is addressing the issue of food desserts in our community and helping Austinites impacted by recent cuts to their benefits.

More on how this local organization is stepping up to help Texas families below the jump.

The Sustainable Food Center works with those receiving SNAP benefits and Women, Infant and Children fruit and vegetable benefits (WIC) to ensure that they can purchase fresh, healthy food at local farmers' markets in their communities. The Double Dollar Incentive Program (DDIP) is one piece of their efforts. DDIP started in 2012, before the expansions to SNAP benefits ran out this past fall.

In 2009 as a part of the recovery effort, the SNAP benefits were expanded through 2013. The increase in benefits did not have to end in November. Had Republicans in Congress, including the Texas delegation, stood up for the needs of hungry Texans and families across the country, those expansions could have been maintained for a longer period of time. Instead, due to inaction, Congress slashed SNAP spending. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the 2013 cuts equal a loss of "about 16 meals a month for a family of three."

In January, the federal government made further cuts to SNAP benefits. While the most recent set of reductions will not have an impact on Texas families, the 2013 cuts certainly did: families lost funding for 26.8 million meals in Harris County alone.

This is why the continued support and expansion of the Double Dollar Incentive Program in Austin is so important. Through DDIP, families and individuals receiving SNAP or WIC can double their spending power on fresh food at any of the SFC markets in the area. From the SFC website:

The Double Dollar Incentive Program allows families and individuals who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps) and Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) fruit and vegetable benefits, to double the dollar amount that they can spend on fruits and vegetables. Eligible shoppers are matched dollar for dollar up to $20 each week, per program, to purchase fruits and vegetables at SFC Farmers' Markets.

Many of those who rely on SNAP and WIC to feed their families are faced with hard choices on such a tight budget. High calorie processed foods can be much cheaper than fresh produce and whole food options. When trying to stretch a dollar as far as possible, foods that are lower in cost often win out - but those foods are also often lower in nutrients.

Through a grant from the St. David's Foundation's Healthy Living initiative, SFC is able to double the spending power of families on SNAP and WIC while making sure local farmers are paid fairly for their produce. At the SFC markets, Austin is fighting back against food desserts and cuts to nutritional assistance benefits and supporting locally-grown foods all through one program.

Anyone who receives SNAP or WIC can simply visit the information booth at their local SFC farmer's market to receive their DDIP coupons - which include the matching funds. The process is simple and straightforward and accomplishes what Republicans in Washington have so far refused to do: help families gain access to healthy, fresh food.

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Do not republish without express written permission.

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