A statewide initiative introduced in 2017 called the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) provides an additional $40-80 of benefits for SNAP-enrolled consumers who purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local producers.
For the past nine months, Mass Farmers Markets’ HIP Coordinator, Rebecca Miller, has served as resource for farmers and customers who use the Healthy Incentives Program. “I have heard stories from SNAP recipients from all over eastern Massachusetts about how the program has shifted their eating habits, brought them to farmers’ markets for the first time, and increased their overall health, and from farmers about how the program has brought them a new customer base and positively impacted the financial sustainability of their business,” she said.
The future of HIP is in jeopardy. Due to the impressive success of the program funding allocated for a three year period was spent in less than a year. If no additional funding is added the program will be suspended on April 15th.
Farmers and HIP advocates banded together at the State House on March 1st for HIP Lobby Day. Representatives from Nuestras Raices, a community farm in Holyoke MA, grew small pots of Oregano Bruja, an herb commonly used in Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and Cuban cuisine, and handed the plants out to state legislators. State Senators and Legislators, including Massachusetts State Senator Anne M. Gobi and State Representative Paul A. Schmid III, announced their support for HIP funding, and promised to encourage other legislators to get on board. Teams of advocates spoke with individual legislators about their experiences with HIP and why they believe it is a program worth fighting for.
Miller left the State House in high spirits. “It was so energizing to see all of the farmers and food access advocates from across the state today and hear everyone’s stories of how the program has benefited their businesses and families. We’re going to follow up with those we met with in a few days, please keep calling and writing to your reps about HIP!”
The advocacy doesn’t end with HIP Lobby Day. There are lots of ideas about how to keep HIP going at https://www.mafoodsystem.org/projects/HIP/. It is especially important to get in touch with your state legislator if you are a person who uses HIP benefits or if you are a farmer who accepts HIP benefits at your farm stand or farmers market tent.