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State lawmakers vow to revive Healthy Incentives Program

  • State Sen. Anne Gobi, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and State Rep. Susannah Whipps address the crowd at the Quabbin Harvest in Orange on Friday. FOR THE RECORDER/CARSON MCGRATH

  • State Sen. Anne Gobi, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and State Rep. Susannah Whipps address the crowd at the Quabbin Harvest in Orange on Friday. FOR THE RECORDER/CARSON MCGRATH



For The Recorder
Friday, April 13, 2018

ORANGE — A single mother raising two sons, Jennifer Parsons of Athol needs food stamps to keep food on the table, but the Healthy Incentives Program, or HIP, allows her to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for her family.

“Healthy food is expensive and I want my kids to grow up to be healthy. These programs save the children from medical issues down the road,” said Parsons.

Community members, farmers and local politicians gathered in the Quabbin Harvest to share their stories about the program Friday afternoon.

HIP makes it easier for community members to purchase fresh produce by allowing them to use SNAP or food stamps at local farmers markets and shops that then earns them extra money on their SNAP and EBT cards said Cathy Stanton, chair of the Quabbin Harvest Board of Directors.

Currently the program has exceed expectations across the state this year. According to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Senate has not completed its version of the budget yet, but the House has allocated $3.5 million for HIP for Fiscal Year 2019.

“The program is solid, people like it, people get it and we just have to push as much money into the program as we can,” Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said. “The question is how much further can we go in Fiscal Year 2019.”

Stanton said the program has allowed the Quabbin Harvest to serve more people in the community and support local farmers in the area.

“The Healthy Incentives Program has been terrific for us,” she said. “We have been the number one enroller in the state at times. It has certainly helped us with our cash flow and it has led us to serve new customers, make new friends and fulfill some of our mission.”

State Rep. Susannah Whipps also emphasized the importance of buying local food and how the HIP program champions that message.

“The closer you buy (food) to where it has come out of the ground, the better it is for you. It hasn’t been processed, it hasn’t been on trucks for weeks, it is from the ground to you — farm to table — and it is so much better,” said Whipps, who lives in Athol.

Leon Sargent of Athol said receiving $40 from HIP has helped him change his diet and enabled him to find a community at Quabbin Harvest.

“When I walk in here I get recipes. I exchange help in different situations. I find all kinds of neat and interesting stuff … I came here and changed it all around,” he said.

A type 2 diabetic, Sargent said because of HIP he’s able to eat healthier foods, only shopping at grocery stores when he absolutely has to, and now is no longer on a statin — a class of drugs that lowers the level of cholesterol in the blood by reducing the production of cholesterol by the liver.

State Sen. Anne Gobi said she’s seen the benefits of the program in her own area.

“For the farmers in my area, they just love it. Every single farmers market that I went to last summer, somebody was there able to take advantage and able to use the HIP benefits, which was great,” she said.

Some community members expressed concerns about the program moving forward under the current federal administration.

Rosenberg assured them the commonwealth will do everything in their power to continue these programs, HIP being native to Massachusetts.

“In one of the richest countries in the world, people should not go hungry,” he said.