Paying food stamp recipients to buy more fruits and vegetables has mixed reviews

Jaqueline Benitez shows the inside of her refrigerator at her home in Bellflower, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. Benitez, 21, who works as a preschool teacher, depends on California’s SNAP benefits to help pay for food, and starting in March she expects a significant cut, perhaps half, of the $250 in food benefits she has received since 2020. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner)

Some economic analysts have mixed reactions to a federal program that would pay people on food stamps if they buy more fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service recently announced a $25 million grant to incentivize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants to consume more fruits and vegetables with the goal of encouraging healthy eating and improving diets.

Economist Markus Bjoerkheim with the Mercatus Center said that changing people’s diets can lead to long-term savings for taxpayers.

“I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of what ultimately shows up as expensive healthcare bills down the road, which taxpayers pay for, are preventable through lifestyle changes, including of course eating more fruits and vegetables, so on some level, it’s obvious we’re not experimenting enough in this space,” Bjoerkheim said in an email to The Center Square.

Bjoerkheim said by experimenting with benefit-design, there may be cheaper, non-medical ways to improve public health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure with programs such as these.

“Ultimately, if pilots show that we can improve health outcomes at lower costs through subsidized vegetables than through much more expensive medicine, that would be really valuable,” he said.

Paul Guppy, vice president at the Washington Policy Center, had some concerns with the program.

Guppy said there was nothing stopping people from spending the money they get back from buying vegetables on unhealthy food.

“There’s a better way to improve nutrition for families,” Guppy said in an email to The Center Square. “The government could simply make it so unhealthy foods cannot be bought with SNAP public money. That would directly benefit families and would provide access to the healthy foods that are necessary for life-long health and well-being. “

As previously reported by The Center Square, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Cory Booker, D-NJ, gave introduced the SNAP Nutrition Security Act to collect data on SNAP purchases to identify what products taxpayer dollars are being spent on.

“In the midst of America’s obesity crisis, taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be spent on junk food,” Rubio said in a statement. “This legislation would strengthen the SNAP program by requiring the USDA to collect data on the impact of SNAP. This data will provide a clearer picture of how SNAP can be used to improve recipient’s health and ensure the program promotes a healthy, nutritious diet.”

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