Expanding Double Up Bucks is Essential for Reducing Food Insecurity
By Akeisha Latch
Access to fresh, affordable, and nutritious food is not only essential to food security but also a human right. After the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic in 2020, the share of Americans who were food insecure rose to 38 percent, the highest levels ever documented in the United States. Nearly half of families with children experienced food insecurity during the pandemic. Due to structural inequities, families of color are more likely to experience food insecurity and have lower access to healthy affordable foods in their neighborhoods and communities. With this year’s food prices predicted to increase by 7.9 percent, it is important that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Association Program) participants have access to Double Up Food Bucks and other federal programs that reduce hunger and improve healthy food access.
Double Up Food Bucks is a nutrition incentive program of Fair Food Network, a national nonprofit, that matches fruit and vegetable purchases dollar for dollar, up to $10 a day, allowing families to get twice the amount of produce—or more bang for their buck. The Double Up Food Bucks program is one variation of program models that are federally funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). Double Up Food Bucks increases the purchase of fruits and vegetables by providing incentives at point of sale for income-eligible SNAP participants.
A mother and Double Up Food Bucks user shares her perspective on the program: “To provide your children with a healthier lifestyle [and] provide yourself with a healthier lifestyle that extra 20 to 40 dollars […] is awesome.”
To truly ensure that families are getting more, the benefit of double purchasing power should be more equitably accessible across grocery stores and geographies for SNAP recipients who live in food deserts and experience food apartheid. GusNIP grant programs and nutrition incentives, like Double Up Food Bucks, provide much-needed benefits for communities of color and for Black- and brown-owned grocery businesses. Policymakers should provide adequate funding to advance the program’s impact and help support the mission of organizations like the Fair Food Network that help communities and grocery stores complete the application, access funding, and alleviate burdensome administrative costs.
Some policymakers believe that those receiving SNAP benefits would have healthier diets if they were better educated on healthy food choices. However, the harsh truth is that people who receive SNAP often cannot afford to purchase fresh, nutritious food options or those options are not available in their communities. Research finds that fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive and not subsidized as compared to processed foods. Nutrition incentives such as Double Up Food Bucks that link purchasing power to the nutritional quality of food are effective public policies that our nation should expand.
Expansion to more grocery stores would boost access to healthy food
Despite Double Up Bucks’ effectiveness, barriers to access remain, including the limited number of vendors that participate in the program. The program currently operates in 27 states, and only 13 of those states operate the program at grocery stores, which are often more accessible for communities than farmers’ markets. The remaining states operate their programs out of farmer’s markets, which are commonly located in rural areas with larger populations of residents who are white and have higher socioeconomic statuses. Also, farmers’ markets are often open at limited hours when community members may be working or caring for their families. Expanding Double Up Bucks to more grocery stores is imperative to increasing access for marginalized communities that experience food apartheid.
Uplifting rather than demonizing individuals experiencing poverty means we must create policies and programs that truly meet their needs and make it possible for families to lead happy, healthy, and economically secure lives. Families should not have to make tough decisions on where to buy groceries or the types of groceries to purchase. The Double Up Food Bucks program can maximize access to healthy food and reinforce personal agency. This program, in coordination with SNAP, meets the needs of so many and should continue to be highlighted and expanded.