Landing the “Win-Win” in policy making is a satisfying, but rare accomplishment; the “Triple Win” is even more elusive. When those opportunities present, however, it is important to seize them, and even more so when the subject matter is hunger -- quite literally, a matter of life and death.
Current data reveals that 1 in 7 West Virginians struggle with hunger, including 1 in 5 of our children. Here at home, 16% of our citizens in Cabell County and 15% in Wayne County are “food insecure,” which is the USDA's measure of a “lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” For many of our neighbors, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) is their lifeline to food access.
Late in 2018, the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, a non-profit with a decade of experience in supporting food systems development, started a program called “SNAP Stretch.” The program works simply – a recipient uses SNAP benefits at participating West Virginia Farmers’ Markets, on-farm stands, mobile markets, Community Supported Agriculture Programs, and local brick and mortar retailers, and is given vouchers to “stretch” their purchasing power. For an adult, the vouchers double the amount of the SNAP benefit, and for a Senior Citizen, or if accompanied by a child, the vouchers triple the benefit. Thus the West Virginia Senior turns a $20 SNAP benefit into $60 of fresh, healthy and locally-sourced produce and meat.
The additional $40 from the voucher is then reimbursed through the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition as part of the SNAP Stretch Program. In 2019, the reimbursement cost totaled about $53,000 statewide. However, with COVID’s impact on increasing food insecurity, $150,000, or almost triple the 2019 total, has been reimbursed so far in 2020. Thus, the entire 2020 budget for the SNAP Stretch Program, already tripled from 2019, has already been depleted, and it’s only the beginning of August.
The SNAP Stretch Program is truly one of those “Triple Win” opportunities. First, we incentivize the purchase of healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables to provide a better quality of life and defray future health care costs. Second, we better capture those federal food and philanthropic dollars. Studies show that nearly seventy cents of every dollar spent in this fashion stays right here at home, circulating in the local economy. Finally, we help to grow our agricultural sector by helping local farmers do what they best, meanwhile diversifying our economy. Like Monroe County farmer Johnny Sawyer told the Coalition, “when you buy from a farmer, you’re buying their kid’s backpack or braces.”Although the 2020 budget for the SNAP Stretch Program has been used, this is precisely the type of program that the federal CARES Act funds envisioned. I implore the Governor to approve supplemental funding to allow the SNAP Stretch Program to continue its much needed work through the year, thereby ensuring increased access to healthy foods for the most vulnerable West Virginians while also supporting local farmers. This is exactly the type of COVID-related assistance that was envisioned with these federal funds.
We take care of our neighbors here in West Virginia, and here is a golden opportunity to land the “Triple Win.”