Gov. Brown Weighs $5M Match for Nutrition Incentive Program
BERKELEY – The healthy food incentive program Market Match is increasing access to fresh produce among Californians who are struggling to feed their families, while giving an economic boost to the state’s embattled farm communities. Any day, Governor Jerry Brown is expected to decide whether to take advantage of federal matching funds to expand Market Match by funding the California Nutrition Incentives Act. The proposed $5 million in state funds would attract federal matching dollars through the USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program (FINI) and double the impact of the state’s investment.
One year ago, the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, which administers Market Match statewide, received one of the USDA’s first FINI grants, totaling $3.7 million over two years. Preliminary evaluation results show that the program, through the grant funding, is on track to connect nearly 240,000 food-insecure shoppers with 2,200 of the state’s small farms, stimulating $9.8 million in fruit and vegetable sales.
“Market Match makes fruits and vegetables affordable for low-income families, so they can easily participate in that basic cornerstone of health—eating right,” says Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque. “The preliminary survey results clearly show that Californians on tight budgets who don’t already shop at farmers’ markets are becoming regular customers and buying more fresh produce through Market Match, which also helps local businesses and rural farming communities thrive.”
As June budget negotiations heat up, the Sacramento Bee published a strong endorsement of the funding proposal and of Market Match’s valuable statewide impacts. Both the California State Senate and Assembly included a $5 million appropriation to fund the program, but it remains to be seen whether Governor Brown agrees. In 2015, Brown axed the $2.5 million that the legislature requested for the program.
Last year the Ecology Center led California nonprofits, without help from the state, to raise $3.7 million in private funds and in-kind contributions to secure the federal FINI dollars. This enabled the Ecology Center to expand the number of farmers’ markets and other farm-direct sites that offer Market Match from 153 at the start of 2015, to 263 in 2016. After one year of FINI funding, Market Match has served 105,518 CalFresh shoppers, who spent $2.46 million in CalFresh and Market Match, which went to 1,602 small farmers across the state.
Market Match works by providing CalFresh customers with matching funds when they spend their CalFresh benefits (i.e. food stamps) on fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. So a shopper who spends $10 of CalFresh benefits at the farmers’ market gets an extra $10 to spend on fresh produce.
The evaluation of FINI-funded Market Match is being led by Howard Greenwald, PhD of the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and utilizes direct observation, consumer and farmer surveys, program manager interviews, and intensive consumer surveys. Of the 844 shoppers surveyed so far, over 70% report that they are buying more fruits and vegetables overall, and nearly 80% report that their family’s health has improved, as a result of Market Match.