Double-up Food Bucks: Double the Return, Double the Economic Impact

Blogger’s Note: This blog post has been corrected. The original version contained an error. It shoud read and now does, “The House version of the farm bill (H.R. 6083) reduces the amount families and seniors receive by an alarming $16.5 billion nationwide over the next 10 years.”


In Maine and other states a pilot program is underway which enables SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) families to receive one extra dollar for every dollar they spend at local farmers’ markets, which, in turn, must be spent on locally-grown food.

It’s brilliant.

It gives SNAP families the ability to buy local, garden-fresh food, which is often more expensive than processed, store-bought food. The food is more nutritious with all of the health benefits associated with eating right. Plus, federal food dollars help local growers and farmers while the money stays in the community.

According to Sherie Blumenthal of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, about one-quarter to one-third of the Lewiston Farmers’ Market  customers use the incentive program. To make their funds go further, St. Mary’s gives one dollar in coupons for every two spent and caps the coupons at $10. For families, the program helps stretch their food dollar, and Ms. Blumenthal reports SNAP users overwhelmingly buy fruits and vegetables. For the vendors, it brings in a greater revenue stream, broadens their customer base, and diversifies the market, she says.  Ms. Blumenthal sees many customers who save their coupons for when their SNAP funds run out. “People are using their benefit thoughtfully,” she says.

Currently philanthropic donations fund these programs, sometimes called Double-up Food Bucks or Double Value Coupon Program, or in Lewiston’s case, Market Dollars. However, the bipartisan Senate version of the 2012 farm bill (S. 3240) includes matching funds for Double-Up Food Bucks programs.

SNAP has a huge impact on the local economy. SNAP families spend the federal assistance dollars as soon as they get them. The money enters the economy quickly and supports local grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmers’ markets. USDA research found that SNAP spending has a multiplier effect as well; generating $9 in local spending for every $5 of food purchased. According to Moody’s Analytics, food stamps are the top most effective economic stimulus, especially during a recession, generating the greatest bang for the buck.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that SNAP primarily benefits children, seniors, and the disabled. Almost half of those benefiting from SNAP are children. Is there a better investment than feeding hungry kids?

Despite the economic and food security gains under SNAP, the program is under attack. The House version of the farm bill (H.R. 6083) reduces the amount families and seniors receive by an alarming $16.5 billion nationwide over the next 10 years. Under this proposal, almost 38,000 Maine households could lose their food benefits and, as a result, thousands of Maine school children would become ineligible for school meals programs. This would be devastating for a state like Maine where an estimated 80,000
children suffer from hunger
each year and we rank 6th in the U.S. for very low food security.

Opponents say we must cut SNAP spending because it has grown dramatically in recent years. But the rise coincides with the recession and greater numbers of people out of work. Again, the CBO says the number of people who receive SNAP benefits will decline as the economy improves.

Billy Shore, Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, put it best when he wrote in the Huffington Post,

Cutting food stamps in the wake of new evidence that the economic recovery has stalled would be like deciding we can’t afford water to fight the fires ravaging Colorado and the western United States this past month. It combines an element of callousness with flat-out ignorance of what it takes to ensure that innocent victims can survive.

SNAP is doing its job; helping people, especially children and seniors, during a period of need. It stimulates spending in a down economy, too. And the Double-up Bucks program gives both the ill-nourished and the economy twice the bang for the buck.