Millions of Michigan residents faced food insecurity prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and unemployment, closure of schools, amidst outbreaks in the consolidated national food production system only exacerbated this crisis.
According to newly released data, 1.2 million Michigan residents participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2020, a 6.6 percent increase over 2019.
SNAP is described as the nation’s most important hunger safety net and provides nutrition assistance to low-income families and individuals across the country. More than 76 percent of Michigan participants had a 2020 income below the poverty line.
Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) was introduced last year when Michigan became one of the first states to adopt the Families First Coronavirus Act, which allowed households with children who would have received free or reduced lunch at school to access additional funding for food assistance. These funds were administered through added benefits in the SNAP program.
SNAP itself is estimated to generate $1.70 in economic activity for every $1 benefit spent. Research shows that healthy food incentives — like Michigan’s Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program — that leverage federal SNAP funding to incentivize healthy local food purchasing amplify these economic impacts.
Double Up Food Bucks Michigan (DUFB), is a program of the Fair Food Network, traditionally offering a match of up to $20 per day for SNAP participants to spend their benefits on fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets. Since the program started in 2009, it expanded the incentive to participating retail stores as well.
Data from another new report, regarding the $3 Million of DUFB incentives distributed statewide in 2018, identified an economic multiplier of 1.4x for incentives spent at retail stores and 2.7x for incentives spent at farmers markets or other farm-direct sales.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fair Food Network allowed participating locations to increase the $20/day match limit, in order to further improve access to healthy, local food and stimulate the Michigan economy.
These federal dollars meet a critical community food security need, but even after a year where more and more transactions are taking place online, today in Michigan we cannot seamlessly conduct SNAP transactions online with local businesses. The economic opportunity to leverage these dollars within the state and benefit our local farms and retailers alongside our community members in need will not be fully realized until this is possible.
In the meantime, however, online farmers markets like Sara Hardy have made it possible to shop ahead and pay with SNAP benefits at pick-up. This valuable service recognizes the community need and economic impact these dollars can provide particularly when used for healthy, local food purchases in our own communities.
The Expanding SNAP Options Act was reintroduced into congress in February 2021. Contact your representatives to ask for their support for this bill to allow SNAP dollars to be spent online with local farms, farmers markets and retail businesses that benefit our local economy.
Tricia Phelps is the CEO of Taste the Local Difference, Michigan’s Local Food Marketing agency. TLD serves local farms and food businesses by connecting them to new market opportunities and building the consumer demand for local food statewide. Contact with her at [email protected]