Just last week, I was faced with a tough decision I have never faced before when shopping. I always have the same grocery list and the same budget every two weeks. This time, I noticed that the fresh fruits and vegetables were higher in price than my last shopping experience two weeks prior. I was shocked that I was almost $40 over my budget. As the cashier waited for me to pay, I had to decide if I could afford the extra cost. Would it be taking away from another household expense?
I’m not alone in that struggle. Over the past 18 months it is estimated that Wisconsin saw a 57% increase in its food insecurity rate – a staggering increase that has impacted both the health and, as people have reduced their spending, the economy of our state. Fortunately, there is a solution that can help address both areas – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Produce Incentive efforts, like the Milwaukee Market Match.
These programs incentivize SNAP participants to purchase healthy products at one of five local farmer’s markets and then receive a matching amount to purchase additional fruits and vegetables, thus empowering low-income families, disproportionately people of color, to choose health. Studies have shown that those who participate in incentive programs, choose to purchase more fruits & vegetables, and eat a more nutritious diet. In the long run, this can help in reducing risk and prevalence for heart disease and other chronic diseases. At the same time, these efforts are a boost to the local economy, with every $1 in new SNAP benefits, generating up to $2 of economic activity. This helps local farmers/entrepreneurs sustain – and grow – their business.
The existing Milwaukee Market Match program has been tremendously well received by both markets and the community, but is also chronically underfunded, experiencing an annual shortfall in benefits. Public funding, as has happened in other parts of the country, can expand that impact and help boost both the overall well being and economic health in our community.
As a heart attack survivor – aware of the dangers of high blood pressure and obesity in our community – I decided to pay the full balance, wanting to stick with my list and knowing that healthy foods are what I need as a heart patient.
Not everyone has that privilege though. I know that so many of my neighbors cannot make the same choice. Milwaukee must continue to invest in SNAP incentives, so that my church family, co-workers, neighbors and loved ones can get the foods that they need to build longer, healthier lives.
As a volunteer for the American Heart Association, and a long-time resident of Milwaukee, I urge our City and County leaders to take action. Please prioritize health by investing budget and/or ARPA funds in the Milwaukee Market Match program. You can create a win-win for local families and farmers. You can empower healthy choices for everyone in our community.
Pastor Veloris Brooks-Mann, American Heart Association Volunteer