Deadline nears for incentive funds to increase produce consumption

January 14, 2015
Source: The Produce News
Author: Tim Linden

The deadline to submit an application for the first round of funding under the farm bill’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program is Dec. 15. The program enables nonprofit and government agencies to partner with food retailers to stretch the food stamp dollars of recipients if they purchase fruits and vegetables.
 
The most recently passed farm bill includes $100 million for this program to be spent over the five-year life of the bill.  The request for proposal was released in late September, with $31.5 million up for grabs for the 2014-15 time period.  In both 2016 and 2017, $18 million will be awarded, with $22.5 million available in the final year of the bill, 2018.  The other $10 million has been allocated to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to administer the program and evaluate it.
 
In a nutshell, the competitive grants program has been designed to increase the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables among SNAP participants. FINI was created by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (commonly called the farm bill) and is patterned after several private programs that have sprung up around the country over the past decade.  
 
Most of the programs use private grant money to stretch food stamp dollars when they are spent in a farmers market. A recent story on National Public Radio indicated that an agency in New York City was the inspiration for the idea. In that program, a person spending food stamp money at a couple of local farmers markets received a $4 token for every $10 spent on fresh produce.
 
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the current chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee and one of the main architects of the farm bill, has been credited with championing this effort in Congress. In her home state of Michigan, the Fair Food Network is one of the more seasoned veterans in this effort. That group’s Double Up Food Bucks program launched in 2009. It now encompasses 100 farmers markets throughout the state, and it launched a pilot program with five supermarkets this summer.
 
According to the USDA’s RFP, successful grant applicants will receive money “to conduct programs that provide point-of-sale incentives for the purchase of produce.”
 
While a nonprofit or a government agency has to be the lead organization that receives the federal grant, for-profit food retailers may participate in incentive programs and basically partner with the non-profit. It is a matching-funds program with the private funds matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  Matching funds may be provided through in-kind contributions.
 
The program is designed to encourage the sales of locally or regionally produced fruits and vegetables as well as increase overall consumption by SNAP participants. There are also several other components to the grants, including developing programs that increase fruit and vegetable purchases and may be duplicated elsewhere.  
 
There are three grant categories based on project size and duration: Pilot projects — one-year grants of not more than $100,000; multi-year community-based projects of up to $500,000 total over a period of up to four years; and multi-year large-scale projects of at least $500,000 total over up to four years. More information is available at www.grants.gov.
 
USDA has asked for comments on this initial RFP so that it can consider changes in next year’s RFP. Those comments are due by March 29, 2015.
 
First posted at Produce News on December 1, 2014.