A family in Somerville told Project Bread when they called our FoodSource Hotline. With HIP, they could buy more fruit for their two children.
On September 29th, the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing focused largely on food insecurity and programs administered through the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). During this hearing, the committee heard oral testimony and received written testimony on five of Project Bread’s 2020-2021 legislative priorities. Taken together these five bills represent significant support for families with children and individuals with disabilities in accessing their basic needs including food.
Included in these are one of our top priorities, An Act Relative to An Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program which would make the Healthy Incentives Program a permanent program and help ensure its long-term sustainability. Launched in 2017, HIP provides a dollar-for-dollar match, up to a monthly limit based on household size, for SNAP dollars spent on fruits and vegetables purchased at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community support agriculture programs across the state. HIP supplements inadequate SNAP benefits while increasing access to healthy, local food.
You can take action to make HIP permanent. Ask your legislator to support S.108/H.250: An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program which funds HIP to allow SNAP recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers.
Project Bread's FoodSource Hotline screens callers for SNAP eligibility and provides callers across Massachusetts with information and referrals to community food resources. Through the hotline we have also provided thousands of residents information on HIP. The following are two stories that demonstrate how critical this program is for low-income households.
Noelle from Framingham called us to apply for SNAP. During our call, the hotline staff mentioned HIP and the benefits of the dollar-for-dollar match. Noelle called back to find a winter farmers' market. Unfortunately, the area she lives in does not have a farmers' market during the winter months, but HIP has been so helpful to her that she was willing to travel to a town close by. She talked about not being able to afford fresh veggies before applying for SNAP. Now, she loves making salads and occasionally bakes zucchini bread to share with her neighbors. She reports having more money to go towards her bills and said she hopes this program stays around forever.
In November 2020 during the pandemic, a caller from Roxbury shared that while she already received SNAP, it didn't cover enough of her grocery expenses. Her doctor told her not to eat certain foods for her health, but the alternatives were more expensive, and she was unable to purchase them. Thanks to HIP, she was able to find a farmers' market near her and afford more fruits and vegetables.
Noelle's story is particularly poignant and demonstrates the need to permanently authorize HIP as a part of the Department of Transition Assistance (DTA), as opposed to the status quo of HIP being authorized only through the annual budget process. With uncertainty and limited funding, DTA has been limited in its ability to plan and maximize the impact of HIP. In the initial implementation, farmers were recruited as vendors on a first-come, first-served basis. This left farmers from marginalized communities, such as farmers who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color out of the program, and created geographic gaps, particularly during the winter. By enshrining HIP in the general laws and as part of the regular responsibilities of the Department, the Commonwealth can more effectively and consistently reach the goals of increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for households experiencing food insecurity and increasing economic activity for smaller farms.
In addition to the An Act Relative to An Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program, the Committee heard testimony on:
Together these bills would go a long way to helping households facing food insecurity due to low wages that keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty and hunger ensuring they have access food while building resiliency for the future. Project Bread submitted written testimony on all five bills.