“Bonus Buck” Pilot Program To Cut Fruit and Vegetable Costs in Half

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vegetables-freshby Leanna Sweha

Yolo County is getting ready to roll out a three-month pilot program that will give CalFresh (SNAP) recipients a 50 percent discount when they buy fruits and vegetables. Retailers Food-4-Less, La Superior, Raley’s, and Walmart are partnering with the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) to run the “Bonus Bucks” program from October through December.

A $100,000 USDA grant will finance the bulk of the pilot program’s cost. Yolo County is one of only two counties in the nation to be awarded the pilot grant through the USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program under the 2014 Farm Bill.

Fresh, canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables without any added sugar, salt, fats and oils will be eligible for the discount. “These items are also Women-Infants and Children (WIC) eligible, which helps simplify procedures for our retail partners,” said Kacey Dominguez, Senior Administrative Services Analyst with HHSA.

During the planning phase of the grant, HHSA surveyed CalFresh participants, who reported that a combination of financial incentives and nutritional education would best incentivize them to buy more fruits and vegetables. As of September 1, there are 8854 CalFresh eligible households in Yolo County, which adds up to a lot of people who stand to benefit.

Under CalFresh rules, retailers cannot ask a customer if he or she is a CalFresh client. Therefore, eligible products will be recognized by scanners and discounted at purchase after the client swipes his or her EBT card used for CalFresh purchases.

In addition to the retailers, a local farmer will operate a mobile farm stand in Knights Landing two days per month during the period, with the goal of reaching more rural communities.

“We will conduct pre- and post-program surveys to determine how many CalFresh participants knew about program, whether they used it, and whether consumption of fruits and vegetables increased,” Dominguez said. The goal is a 20 percent participation rate among CalFresh households. A related goal is to limit overhead to 9 percent.

Local community partners and CalFresh outreach contractors will advertise the program. Retailers are also planning launch events which will be advertised through promotional materials. Some retailers will host CalFresh program representatives at the launch to sign up eligible residents as well as provide additional information about other HHSA services.

“Bonus Bucks is the first of its kind in California, and, if successful, can support the development of similar programs in other communities in the future,” Dominguez said.

The results should be interesting, especially given a new review article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showing that SNAP recipients consume on average the same number of calories as non-participants, but those calories consisted of much fewer fruits and vegetables.

“Yolo HSSA wants to acknowledge our retail and nonprofit partners, without which we could not have seen the project through,” Dominguez added.

Leanna M Sweha, JD, has been a resident of Davis for 20 years.  As a young molecular biologist in a USDA lab working to engineer Roundup-resistant corn, she grew interested in sustainable agriculture.  Fascinated with the legal and policy issues of agricultural genetics, she became an attorney specializing in agricultural and natural resources law.  She has worked for the California Resources Agency and the UC Davis Office of Research.

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