Funding for Healthy Incentives Program restored

  • The weekly summertime farmers market in Greenfield. The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) provides an automatic rebate when shoppers use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, so they can buy produce from participating local farms. Staff File Photo/Melina Bourdeau

Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2020 12:13:19 AM
Modified: 3/6/2020 12:13:09 AM

The state Senate followed the House this week and voted to approve another $2 million for the Health Incentives Program, better known as HIP, putting an end to the temporary suspension that went into effect on Feb. 23.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill Wednesday.

“It’s great to see that the HIP program will be reinstated quickly, and made permanent and year-round moving forward,” said Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “I’ve been the lead sponsor of the bill to make this program permanent for a few years now, and it’s been great to see so many of my colleagues, advocacy groups, farmers and users of the program recognize the value of making healthy, nutritious foods available to more families and rally in support of HIP. This will have a positive impact on the daily lives of many people throughout Franklin County.”

The House overwhelmingly approved the $2 million for HIP and it went on to the Senate, which took very little time to approve it, as well. That means recipients won’t have to wait until the reinstatement date of May 15.

Mark said it will be reinstated within days now that the money has been approved in the state’s supplemental budget.

The Healthy Incentives Program began in 2017 and was meant to be a year-round program, but it has been suspended every year since it was created because so many people need it and the state has run out of money to support it each year. The suspension has left SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) recipients and participating farmers in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region facing tougher winters.

HIP provides those struggling with the ability to stretch their food dollars to buy produce, meats, dairy and more, and it provides farmers the opportunity to sell their products all year long.

“It’s an important program, especially for Franklin County and the North Quabbin,” Mark said.

He said the state should never need to suspend the program and disrupt people’s lives, leaving them to wonder how they will get by for several months. He hopes this is an eye-opener and that the state will move forward by funding the program in years to come so that there are no suspensions again.

The program provides an automatic rebate when shoppers use SNAP, so they can buy produce from participating local farms. The state Department of Transitional Assistance runs the program, and all SNAP recipients in Massachusetts are automatically enrolled in HIP.

According to Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) Executive Director Philip Korman, the Healthy Incentives Program has helped 71,000 families purchase $14.1 million of local produce since its inception in 2017, and has brought immense benefits to local farmers, families who rely on SNAP and the local economy.

Since its inception, the program has provided local farmers who are HIP vendors with more than $9 million in revenue across the state, increasing the amount of state income tax collected from them.

According to statistics on the Department of Transitional Assistance’s website, about 32 percent of Franklin County households receive HIP benefits. The agency does not offer the number of people the suspension has affected.

“HIP not only benefits our farmers, but also the people who rely on the program for healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland. “It is an investment in our future in terms of the economic security of our farms and the health and well-being of our neighbors.”

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, said Democrats and Republicans share the goal of ensuring HIP does not again experience a suspension. She said it is a highly effective program at battling hunger and gives an economic boost to farmers.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 269 or afritz@recorder.com.


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