Hawaii’s nutritional assistance program is increasing incentives to buy local fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and grocery stores.

For every $10 spent, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cardholders will receive another $10 worth of fresh island-grown produce for free as part of the Double Up Food Bucks program, starting next year.   

The program, which was pilot tested on the Big Island, will be taken statewide thanks to the passage of Act 153, which became law July 1. A Department of Agriculture  spokeswoman said Tuesday officials expect the program to roll out in January. (Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that the program would take effect in July.)

“We all know that fresh fruits and vegetables are usually pricier, so this was just a way to help increase access for those who are on SNAP,” said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Health Institute.  

Double Up Food Bucks is funded by a $100,000 appropriation from the Hawaii Legislature and $1 million in matching funds from nonprofits, foundations, health plans, businesses and farmers markets.  

Cutting food costs through programs like “DA BUX” that offer subsidized produce is one way the Big Island has been addressing hunger.

The Food Basket Inc.

The Food Basket Executive Director Kristin Frost Albrecht said the program has seen “strong success” in Hilo.   

The Hawaii Department of Human Services will work with the Department of Agriculture to implement the program, according to DHS spokeswoman Keopu Reelitz.

“With this bill, Hawaii can further and simultaneously support our local farmers and families, putting local, healthy, nutritious foods onto clients’ tables,” she said. 

Hawaii’s SNAP program supplements food budgets via the Electronic Benefit Transfer system for low-income families and individuals, seniors, people on public assistance and people with disabilities.

Nearly 80,000 Hawaii families and more than 150,000 individuals currently utilize the SNAP program. 

Lorin Eleni Gill, who covers health care issues, is a corps member with Report For America, a national nonprofit organization that places journalists in local newsrooms. Her health care coverage is also supported by Papa Ola Lokahi, the Atherton Family Foundation and the George Mason Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation.  

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