In Washington state, Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition (COPC) recently led a Voices for Healthy Kids–supported campaign around the state’s SNAP incentives pilot programming.
“The USDA-funded pilot incentives programs have been very successful,” said Victor Colman, Director of COPC. “However, for our state the initial federal grant funding is ending and we need to make some needed updates to the technology infrastructure to make SNAP incentives easier and more efficient for everyone involved. Some of the SNAP programs use paper vouchers and coupons for the incentives, and technology upgrades will allow incentives to be seamlessly added back to participants’ EBT cards.”
Progress on the technology upgrade in the 2019 state legislative session was hampered, however, when the cost estimate for the work took longer than expected to obtain, finally becoming available after the legislative session concluded. By that time, COPC and key partners had shifted the focus of their advocacy efforts away from the technology upgrade toward state funding to move toward a sustainable SNAP incentives program by continuing the pilot programming. Fortunately, the shift was made before the crucial budget discussions took place and the campaign was able to achieve its funding goal. The final budget for 2019-2021, which the governor signed in May 2019, includes $2.5 million for produce incentives for people who are eligible for SNAP.
“We had to give up temporarily on the technology piece,” said Colman. “That allowed us to successfully focus on the budget request for pilot programming. And now that we have the technology estimate, we can, at least initially, pursue non-legislative avenues to find the money for the upgrade, including private funding sources or future federal USDA grants.”
When asked what advice he would offer to peer organizations pursuing similar policies in other states, Colman said: “Be very intentional about presenting multiple messaging strands. Don’t focus only on the need to end hunger or improve public health. It’s the business component, the economic development argument that brings additional lawmakers around. We made sure to present the business angle in our testimony. We brought in farmers and farmers markets to testify about the positive impacts on their business. We brought in the Safeway grocery store chain, and they were able to say that they saw folks coming in for more than just SNAP incentives spending, they were doing their grocery shopping and spending more money at Safeway. The chain felt like it was growing its customer base.”