Opening Statement: Subcommittee Chairwoman Walorski: Food Incentive Programs
Remarks as prepared:
Good morning and welcome to today’s Nutrition Subcommittee hearing. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to be here and I want to thank, in particular, our witnesses for their participation and valuable insights.
It’s easy to think of malnutrition only in terms of the quantity of food intake: Is someone eating enough? But there’s another crucial element that we can’t overlook when discussing malnutrition, and that’s the nutrition itself: What is the quality of what they’re eating? This is an especially important question as America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 69% of adults and almost 32% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. This puts them at an increased risk of a range of major diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. These diseases in turn cut peoples’ quality of life and life expectancy and increase healthcare costs at an alarming rate.
Government programs like SNAP, or the Woman, Infants, and Children, or WIC, aren’t going to end the obesity epidemic alone. Nor will getting rid of junk food. It requires proper nutrition and exercise, which at the end of the day is a much larger discussion. What we are here to do today is to ask, how can we incentivize and encourage people, particularly low-income families who are at a higher risk of malnutrition, to eat healthier? Are current efforts working? And what are the characteristics of successful programs?
The effort to incentivize more nutritious purchases by low-income families began organically, typically involving private sector donations or local funding. It has also required collaboration within the community, including local non-profits and local governments.
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized a $20 million pilot project called the Healthy Incentives Pilot, or HIP. The goal of HIP was to determine if incentives given to SNAP recipients at the point of sale would boost the purchase of fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. Hampden County, Massachusetts was selected for the pilot. The pilot ran for 14 months, from November 2011 until December 2012, and credited back 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables to a randomly-selected pool of recipients. The incentive was able to be spent on any food. The results were encouraging. Two-thirds of HIP households said they bought a larger amount and greater variety of fruits and vegetables and three-fourths said they felt that fruits and vegetables had become more affordable because of HIP.
Building on this, the 2014 Farm Bill established the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, or FINI, a $100 million grant program to fund projects across the country to further test incentive strategies to encourage healthier eating among SNAP recipients. Several of our witnesses today have received FINI grants.
Before I close, I once again want to reiterate a theme I alluded to earlier: no one program can end hunger, poverty, or obesity. It takes collaboration within communities and a 360 degree approach to address these issues. As policy makers we must ensure that federal programs we oversee complement, instead of conflict with, other federal, state, and private sector programs and initiatives to best serve Americans.
Today we’ll hear from witnesses who can speak first-hand of successes, challenges, and different strategies in encouraging healthier food choices. I thank each of you again for being here and lending your expertise and I look forward to hearing from you.