By Barbara Bellinger
Capital Information Service
A program that provides low-income Michigan residents with fresh fruits and vegetables and a path to healthier diets recently received a $ 2 million boost from state lawmakers.
This is up from the $ 900,000 they allocated last year to the Double Up Food program. The program offers participants a dollar for dollar game on fresh fruits and vegetables. Families get twice the amount of produce for half the price.
“It’s like when this program was launched it was just a crazy idea,” said Alex Canepa, policy officer for the Fair Food Network, which manages the program. “Now the time has come. Lansing and DC (legislators) talk about the importance of nutrition security.
Michigan’s Double Up program was launched in 2009 as the first state of what is now a 29 state program run by the Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Network. The program has grown from five Detroit-area farmers ‘markets to approximately 250 independent farmers’ markets, mobile markets, food stalls and grocers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the food web with a four-year, $ 12.5 million grant in 2019 to expand the program. But to get the money, the program needs a 50% match, Canepa said.
“The state’s money allows us to withdraw the entire remaining balance,” Canepa said.
This additional benefit is necessary for a state of 1.9 million food insecure people, according to a report by the Food Security Council.
“One administrative change the state made at the start of the pandemic was to remove the $ 20 per day limit for Double Up Food Bucks,” wrote Julie Cassidy, senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, in an email. “It helped families get the most out of their food aid dollars as so many struggled suddenly, food prices skyrocketed and local pantries were pushed to the limit..“
“This gives customers some great options,” said Courtney King, director of King Orchards in Kewadin and Central Lake in northern Michigan. “I like that it’s just for the fresh produce, which really helps us and them.”
Becoming a Double Up Food Bucks retailer takes a lot of bookkeeping, but it’s a great way to provide fresh produce to people who might otherwise think it’s overpriced, King said.
“It’s a multi-pronged process,” said Joe Lesausky, director of food access for the Michigan Farmers Market Association.
Farmers’ markets and farm stalls first apply for approval by the United States Department of Agriculture as a supplier for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. Then they must contact the Michigan Farmers Market Association to apply to become a Double Up Bucks retailer.
The program takes place in 67 of Michigan’s 83 counties and adds about 10 new sites per year, Lesausky said. Officials say they hope to reach all counties in the state within the next three years.
“We saw an increase in Double Up spending before the pandemic even in middle and upper class communities,” Canepa said.
“Nutrition insecurity is not always where you expect it to be.”