During the past year, thousands of low-income families in Santa Clara County have been able to buy more healthy food because of SPUR's Double Up Food Bucks program. At our participating stores, these families earn matching dollars when they buy California-grown fruits and vegetables, which they can use to get a discount on fruits and vegetables the next time they visit the store. Our program has been working well, but because Double Up Food Bucks are distributed on paper coupons, they are easy for customers to lose or forget and create an extra administrative cost for store managers. A bill introduced this month in the California legislature would address both of those issues and pave the way to more easily scale programs like Double Up statewide.
Introduced by state Senator Scott Wiener and Assembly Member Joaquin Arambula in January, SB 900 creates the California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project. The bipartisan bill does two things:
First, it directs the state’s Department of Social Services to upgrade the state’s existing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system to be able to include fruit and vegetable supplements (also known as healthy food incentives). Currently, when people are enrolled in CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps), they receive food assistance benefit on an EBT card — which is similar to a debit card — that they can use to pay for food at most grocery stores and other retail locations. And, when they shop at stores or farmers’ markets offering incentive programs — including Double Up Food Bucks, Market Match, Más Fresco, Fresh Creds and Yolo County Bonus Bucks — they receive fruit and vegetable supplements via paper coupons, tokens, or a second debit card. This pilot would explore how to make it possible for the fruit and vegetable supplements to be accessed via the CalFresh EBT card so customers wouldn’t have to remember to bring anything additional to the store and retailers could process the supplemental dollars more seamlessly. It would also allow CalFresh participants to use their supplemental benefits across different retailers, mirroring how CalFresh currently works.
Second, it creates a grant program that would allow nonprofits and local government to partner with farmers’ markets, grocery stores and other retailers to test out the upgraded system and provide feedback on how to refine it in the future.
SPUR is co-sponsoring this legislation, and a related budget request, with California Food Policy Advocates because it would address one of the biggest obstacles to scaling fruit and vegetable supplements: a technology for distributing and redeeming them that is easy to use for customers, retailers and program administrators. The legislation would also position California to expand fruit and vegetable supplement programs at farmers’ markets and grocery stores across the state should long-term funding becomes available, which is a long-term goal for SPUR.
SPUR is actively seeking to build a coalition of supporters for this legislation. For more information and/or to add your organization to the list of supporters, please contact Eli Zigas, Food & Agriculture Policy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.