The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as food stamps) offers nutrition assistance to millions of Arizona families, provides economic benefits to local communities, and plays a critical role in reducing hunger and malnutrition throughout the state. SNAP helps more than 1 in 5 households in rural Arizona and 1 in 4 households in small towns afford healthy meals. Just over 917,000 individuals participate in SNAP in Arizona each month, over half of which are children, spending over $110 million dollars of federal funds on food each month.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program is a new provision under the USDA Farm Bill that has allowed implementation of SNAP healthy food incentives across the nation. Nonprofits in Arizona have been the recipients of over $500,000 in Federal grants that bring the impactful fruit and vegetable incentive program, known as the Double Up Food Bucks program, to Arizona. Through this program, for every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible food items at participating farmers markets, farm stands, and mobile markets across the state, recipients receive an additional dollar to spend on Arizona-grown produce. In less than a year, Double Up Arizona has grown to 26 locations throughout the state, from Nogales to Tuba City.
SNAP spending is a large stimulant of economic activity in Arizona. Fruit and vegetable incentive programs, like Double Up Food Bucks Arizona, benefits farmers, families and our economy by increasing the purchasing power of Arizona-grown fruits and vegetables for food-insecure families participating in SNAP. This results in improved health and reduced food insecurity while also supporting local farmers and strengthening local economies in underserved and rural communities. Every dollar spent on local produce generates a $1.79 in local economic activity. If just 1% of SNAP benefits in Arizona were spent on Arizona-grown produce, it would result in $1 million in profits and sales to Arizona farmers and their families, with a potential for $2 million utilizing fruit and vegetable incentive programs.
In 2017, as part of Governor Doug Ducey’s initiative to reduce obesity and related health issues, the Arizona Department of Agriculture and the Arizona Department of Health Services formed a partnership aimed at addressing three major issues: The Emergency Food System, Food System Equity, and Economic Development. A Food & Agriculture Policy and Advisory Council was developed. This council has identified the SNAP fruit and vegetable incentive program as their number one recommendation to Director Killian and Governor Ducey as an innovative solution to address each of the three major issues.
The SB 1245 appropriates $400,000 of the State general fund in fiscal year 2018-2019 to be used to plan, prepare, and develop the infrastructure necessary to implement a produce incentive program for SNAP participants to purchase locally-grown produce items at participating farmers markets, farm stands, community support agriculture (CSA) sites, and grocery stores. Appropriation for the program through the Arizona state general fund is vital to continually leverage federal dollars and ensure the sustainability of the program.
A small investment in Arizona-grown produce goes a long way. An analysis from ‘Local Food, Farms and Jobs: Growing the Economy, found that a 20% increase in food production, processing, and purchasing could generate $20 to $30 billion in economic activity for the entire state. Investing in our local food system can preserve needed farmland, increase property values by using previously vacant land for food production, and build community and regional identity.