For Immediate Release - August 19, 2010

PATRICK-MURRAY ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR AWARD FROM USDA FOR PILOT NUTRITION PROGRAM

Incentive program for SNAP participants in Hampden County promotes healthier eating

BOSTON - Thursday, August 19, 2010 - The Patrick-Murray Administration today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has chosen Massachusetts to conduct the first-ever Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) - an incentives-based program to promote healthier eating, including fruits and vegetables, among low-income residents participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The 2008 federal Farm Bill authorized $20 million for USDA to test whether incentives to buy fresh produce will increase the purchase of healthy foods. Massachusetts was the only state chosen to administer this groundbreaking study. The grant will be distributed over three years to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), SNAP participants in Hampden County and an independent contractor that will evaluate the efficacy of providing incentives to eat healthier.

"I'm delighted that the Commonwealth has been selected to provide a national example through this pilot program," said Governor Deval Patrick. "This Administration is deeply committed to promoting health and wellness for all state residents, and I applaud the work of the Department of Transitional Assistance for developing a comprehensive pilot proposal that made our selection possible."

Massachusetts was chosen in a competitive process based on a comprehensive pilot proposal that included very thorough and strong design, implementation, staffing and management plans. Hampden County is a mix of 27 urban, rural and suburban communities with a total of 50,000 SNAP households. The majority of recipients are concentrated in the areas of Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee. Massachusetts will begin operating the pilot program in the fall of 2011.

The USDA also selected Abt Associates Inc. of Cambridge to act as an independent contractor to evaluate HIP. The evaluation will focus on whether incentives increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and how participants' overall diets are affected. Researchers will also study HIP effects on the state, retailers and other SNAP stakeholders, and assess the feasibility of implementing HIP nationwide.

"This pilot is a significant step towards reducing the financial barriers low-income residents have to add more fruits and vegetables to their diets for a healthier lifestyle," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. "Being selected for the pilot reflects the Patrick-Murray Administration's ongoing commitment to promoting healthy eating and living for all people throughout the Commonwealth."

"I am honored that our proposal was selected for this groundbreaking pilot," said DTA Commissioner Julia E. Kehoe. "I commend our staff members for their teamwork and their commitment to this project in the face of escalating caseloads. HIP furthers our effort to foster innovative partnerships that assist low-income individuals and families as comprehensively as possible. We look forward to working with USDA, Abt Associates Inc. and the excellent organizations in Hampden County to ensure the success of HIP."

The Healthy Incentives Pilot will enroll 7,500 randomly selected SNAP households to receive incentives. For every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, 30 cents will be added to their benefit balance -- thus cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one-third. The majority of the $20 million grant will be shared by DTA and Abt Associates.

In addition to providing nutritious food to its participants, SNAP has a positive impact on the state economy. DTA issues nearly $100 million per month in SNAP benefits. Every dollar spent in SNAP generates nearly $2 in economic activity. This means that the $1.2 billion issued annually in SNAP equates to $2.4 billion in local production, sales and jobs for the Commonwealth.

SNAP serves more than 755,000 individuals in Massachusetts by assisting low-income individuals and families with purchasing healthy food. The program is federally funded and serves as the first line of defense against hunger. Individuals, families with children, seniors and people with disabilities who are having difficulty meeting their basic needs are encouraged to apply for SNAP benefits by visiting www.mass.gov/vg/selfservice, calling 1-866-950-FOOD, or visiting their local DTA office.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will provide Federal oversight of the pilot and evaluation. FNS oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs. These programs serve one in four Americans over the course of a year and work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. SNAP, the largest of these programs, helps more than 40 million Americans each month put healthy food on the table. Visit www.fns.udsa.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.

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