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Healthy Incentives Program restored in state budget



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

With the governor’s signing of the Legislature’s supplemental budget for the remainder of the budget year through June 30, $2.15 million in funding for the Healthy Incentives Program has been restored, with HIP due to be turned back on today.

The program, which essentially doubles local farm products available to users of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was suspended April 15 because funding had run out.

The Department of Transitional Assistance’s restart of the program is planned for today, according to Winton Pitcoff, director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, which runs the program.

“This action represents recognition on the part of state leaders of the importance of this program,” said Pitcoff. Massachusetts, he added, “has long been a supporter of healthy food access, public health supports for low-income families, sustainable farms, a strong local economy, and the careful stewardship of natural resources. This support for HIP represents an investment in all of these, through a program that has proven to be extremely effective and efficient thanks to its innovative design and the hard work of state agencies, farmers, and committed community partners.”

Pitcoff urged the Legislature and the governor to approve $6.2 million for the program in the state budget for the year beginning July 1. The Senate has included that amount, with the House budget reflecting $3.2 million, according to Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington.

Kulik, who as vice chair of the House Ways and Means Committee will be on the conference committee, which he says he hopes will settle on the $6.2 million level, nevertheless questioned how long into the year even $6.2 million would last.

Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, told the Senate last month that this year, “We thought the money would last three years but it’s lasted nine and a half months. It’s an extremely popular program. This has been major. People are going to farmers markets, buying food, that had never been there before .... It’s extremely good for our farmers.

At the same April hearing, amendment sponsor Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, who has since resigned from his Senate seat, testified, “Most people who participate are folks in the SNAP program, 70 percent of these families have a working head of household who isn’t earning enough money to feed their family. Some 37,500 families have been participating in HIP, a total of some 65,000 people who are receiving capacity to have more nutritious food and enhance their families. … We attended a meeting in Orange … and heard directly from a group of seniors and children, farmers, co-op members. The people who are benefiting directly. It was compelling testimony and we heard about how much better their health is as a result. They’re not snacking on sugar-filled food. They’re eating fruits and vegetables from our local farms.”