Temporary pause on food assistance produce program lifts in January

Michigan's Double Up Food Bucks Program, which offers people on food assistance matching dollars on produce purchases and has been partially on hold since Aug. 1 at grocery stores, is expected to resume in January with a lower cap on benefits.

When it’s fully operational, the Double Up Food Bucks program is available at more than 250 farmers markets, farm stands and grocery stores across Michigan. The program allows people to purchase additional fruits and vegetables if they are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, at the time of their purchase or in the future depending on the location.

Through Dec. 31, participants cannot earn more Double Up Food Bucks at grocery stores. However, they can still spend what they have earned on past purchases and the pause does not affect participating locations in Flint or purchases at farm stands and farmers markets.

The temporary pause at grocery stores will end Jan. 1. Starting Jan. 15, the cap on how much Double Up Food Bucks families can earn and spend will drop to $10 a day, from $20 a day. Also changing in mid January: people using the Double Up Food Bucks card or app will need to spend what they have earned within 90 days.

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Participation in the program more than doubled since 2020. Demand "went through the roof" and has not decreased, said Holly Parker, chief strategy and program officer at the Fair Food Network, which operates Double Up Food Bucks.

"It is the combination of the pandemic — the ongoing impacts economically and health wise of the pandemic — and then added inflation that has really created this surge in demand and in need right now," Parker said.

Double Up Food Bucks temporarily paused earnings at grocery stores to slow down spending in order to keep the program running in the long term, and stay within the program's budget, Parker said.

The program also did not secure as much state funding as organizers anticipated, said Nathan Medina, senior manager of state policy at Fair Food Network. They expected $4 million but the state Legislature approved $900,000, he said. The program is backed by a combination of federal, state and philanthropic dollars.

Last year, the state's Food Security Council − created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 to look into the scope and reasons behind food insecurity − reported that food insecurity, or not having access to enough affordable and nutritious food, was an ongoing issue only heightened by the pandemic. In 2019, about 1.3 million Michiganders faced food insecurity − more than 300,000 of whom were children − compared with roughly 1.9 million people in 2020, including 552,000 kids, according to the council.

Federal and state food assistance programs, such as SNAP, WIC and school meal programs, were a crucial safety net for families during the pandemic, the group reported earlier this year.

Parker said nutrition incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks are important because they make healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families while also supporting local retailers.

This year, the program includes 37 locations in Wayne County, including 28 sites in Detroit. Shoppers spent $1.8 million in Double Up Food Bucks in Wayne County, with 90% of that shopping taking place at grocery stores.

For more information about the program, go to: https://doubleupfoodbucks.org/how-double-up-works/.

To find a participating location, go to: https://www.doubleupfoodbucks.org/find-a-location/#geo.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.

Contact Nushrat: nrahman@freepress.com; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratR.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Food assistance product program to lift grocery store pause in January