Incentivizing Better Health and Habits Across the Nation

Nutrition incentives provide extra food dollars to help low-income shoppers include more healthy fruits and vegetables in their diet. These programs are provided by retailers who are then reimbursed by their partner grant agency. 

Two primary nutrition incentive approaches relevant to retailers engaged through this program are SNAP incentives and produce prescriptions.  

  • SNAP incentives link the extra produce dollars to purchases made with the shopper’s SNAP benefits.  
  • Produce Prescriptions are issued by healthcare providers to low-income patients whose health conditions could be improved by eating more fruits and vegetables.  

Learn more about the similarities and differences between SNAP incentives and produce prescriptions.

History of Federal Nutrition Incentives

In 2014, Congress established the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI) to fund projects that would give SNAP recipients extra benefits for the purchase of produce and promote a healthier diet. These projects provide what is known as a SNAP incentive for the purchase of produce and operate in two basic ways.

In some projects, SNAP customers get a discount on the purchase of qualifying items at the point of sale. For example, if they buy $10 of produce, their SNAP accounts are charged $5; stores still receive the full purchase amount. In other projects, when customers use their SNAP benefits to buy qualifying products (these can vary from project to project), they receive a coupon (paper or electronic) to purchase more produce on a future store visit.

Initial reviews of FINI projects indicated they seemed to have a positive impact on the purchase of produce. Based on the initial assessment, Congress extended and expanded the pilot programs in 2018. The program was renamed the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) after Gus Schumacher, who was a pioneer in designing and developing the notion of nutrition incentives for low-income people.

In addition to extending the types of projects that were going on under FINI, GusNIP also authorized the creation of a second type of incentive project known as a produce prescription (PPR). In these programs, if a health care professional determines that a person from a low-income household suffers from, or is at risk of developing, a health condition that can be improved with a diet that includes more produce, the person receives a prescription for produce that can be redeemed at participating stores. Two key differences between the above SNAP incentive and PPR programs are that with PPR, the customer does not have to make a qualifying purchase and the benefit must be generated after a health evaluation.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) puts out a solicitation inviting interested nonprofit organizations and government agencies to submit proposals to administer nutrition incentive programs. For SNAP Incentive programs, the applying entity is required to put up half of the funding needed for the project. If the entity succeeds in having its grant application approved, the money they put up is matched dollar for dollar by NIFA. If the proposed project is a PPR, the applying entity does not need to raise half the funding. In these circumstances, the entity’s project is totally funded by NIFA.

Future of Nutrition Incentives

To date there have been 114 FINI projects and 52 GusNIP projects awarded. Early projects tended to focus on farmers markets as outlets for incentive implementation and offerings. Because of some changes in the law aimed at reaching more SNAP recipients for more of the year, recent projects have included more brick-and-mortar retail food stores. It is now common for projects to include a mix of farmers markets and brick-and-mortar stores. But no matter what the firm is, it must be authorized to redeem SNAP benefits.   

With support from USDA through the FINI and GusNIP programs, it appears that the idea of incentivizing the purchase of healthy foods is gaining traction. State governments are creating their own programs as are private foundations and companies. For example, we are seeing health care companies becoming involved with PRx programs. Additionally, other programs are being created to incentivize products other than produce; for example, a dairy incentive program has been authorized by Congress and will be piloted soon, and Hawaii has created an incentive program to support Hawaii-raised beef.

As more brick and mortar retail food stores continue participating in GusNIP projects, additional technical assistance and education could be helpful. This is where the NGAF Technical Assistance Center comes inBy providing direct one-on-one assistance and developing educational resources the NGAF Technical Assistance Center hopes to grow the number of retailers participating in GusNIP programs, thereby increasing the number of low-income individuals helped.