The USDA also is interested in reducing food deserts for low-income households, Concannon said.
“We continue our work that will help make the healthy choice the easier choice across the country,” he said in the press conference.
He noted USDA is testing the concept of providing participant incentives for healthy food purchases.
In a follow-up, I asked Concannon about how the results from those incentive-based pilots promote fruit and vegetable consumption in the food stamp program.
He said the USDA will release the results of its Healthy Incentive Pilot in May. That pilot was conducted over a one-year period in western Massachusetts.
He declined to provide details from the pilot, but hinted the agency may be looking at the pilot for methods USDA could use to motivate participants to eat more healthfully.
Not related to the pilot, another approach might be to beef up requirements to stock more healthy food at the 250,000 retailers who redeem SNAP benefits. About 80% of stores who redeem food stamp benefits are well-provisioned grocery stores or big box stores, but 20% are smaller retailers, he said.
“USDA is very interested in strengthening the range of healthy foods in smaller stores,” he said.
Unfortunately, in my view, Concannon said he would hesitate to support restrictions of unhealthy food purchases by SNAP participants.
That’s a mistake. If the government is looking for serious results and increased consumption of orange and dark green vegetables, the approach should be two-pronged.
Yes, give 23 million households in the SNAP program incentives or “bonus bucks” to purchase fresh produce and other healthy food.
At the same time, the USDA should test the results of limiting purchases of junk food with food stamp benefits. SNAP participants can always purchase sugary drinks with other funds, if so motivated.
For those needing the SNAP program, restrictions on junk food seems a small sacrifice for a generous public benefit. For Congress and the agency that runs the program, the two-pronged approach of creating incentives for healthy food and restricting empty calories makes sense for America.
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