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One Step Closer to Expanding Healthy Food Incentives in California

A Photo by Noah Christman for SPUR.

A new request for applications may not, on the face of it, seem like a big deal. But, when the California Department of Social Services posted its request for applications for the California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project in early September, it marked an important milestone in SPUR’s long-term goal of making healthy food incentives a permanent supplement to the CalFresh/SNAP food assistance program for low-income Californians. Healthy food incentive programs, like SPUR’s Double Up Food Bucks project, provide matching funds that make fruit and vegetables more affordable for CalFresh participants.

The state is seeking grocery stores and farmers’ markets — paired with nonprofits or local government agencies — to test out new technology that would distribute healthy food incentive dollars directly onto customers’ electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards rather than via paper coupons or store-specific loyalty cards. The pilot project is the result of legislation, co-sponsored by SPUR and California Food Policy Advocates — and championed by Senator Scott Wiener and numerous other legislators — that passed in 2018 with a $9 million budget from the general fund. For SPUR, developing this technology is one of the key steps in making the case to the state legislature that healthy food incentives can and should be scaled state-wide.

SPUR is currently coordinating with various grocers — both within our current Double Up network and outside of it — to identify willing pilot sites for our EBT integration application, which we will submit in early November. Under the current timeline, pilot sites will be announced in January and, hopefully, incentives will be loaded onto low-income Californian’s EBT cards by September 2021.

Stay tuned for more updates about this ongoing effort to scale incentives statewide permanently. If you have any questions about this program, please reach out to Eli Zigas, Food and Agriculture Policy Director, at [email protected], or Diego Ortiz, Food and Agriculture Program Manager, at [email protected].