ORLANDO, Fla. – Floridians who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) face a myriad of barriers when it comes to purchasing nutritious food, according to a new report from the Florida Project. The results from a survey conducted of 341 SNAP recipients across the state were overwhelmingly consistent, with at least 50% of respondents stating that the price of nutritious food coupled with low benefit amounts made it difficult for them to buy healthy food. 

SNAP, which is regarded as one of the most efficient and effective anti-hunger programs in the United States, helps nearly 2 million Floridians put food on the table. For typical households, it provides a maximum of between $2 and $3 per person per meal.  While the program has a long-standing track record of improving the nutrition and health of people with low income, SNAP participants, anti-hunger stakeholders, public health professionals and policymakers all recognize the need to better promote and remove barriers to healthy eating among SNAP households.  

In 2021, diverse stakeholders in Florida, with support from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, formed the Florida Project to explore new strategies for strengthening the nutrition and public health outcomes of SNAP participants. Project stakeholders include Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Florida Impact to End Hunger, Central Florida Alliance to End Hunger, Concerned African Women Inc., Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger and Whole Child Leon.

The top three strategies selected by survey respondents from a list of 11 ways to help SNAP participants purchase more healthy food were:

Allowing people to buy healthy hot and prepared foods. Because federal law prohibits the purchase of hot and prepared food with SNAP, this pilot would require a waiver from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Service. Waivers are possible when approval would result in a more effective and efficient administration of the program. 

Increasing how much money people can get in SNAP for healthy foods and beverages. SNAP allotments are set by USDA based on the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan. Implementation of this pilot would require either that FNS change its SNAP allotment structure for Florida to boost benefits for healthy food items or that a private donor or the Florida Legislature appropriate a state supplement to SNAP for healthy food. 

Increasing how much money people can get in SNAP for food and beverages, regardless of the nutritional value. As noted above, because SNAP allotments are set by USDA based on the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, implementation of this pilot would require either that FNS change its SNAP allotment structure for Florida to boost benefits or that a private donor or the Florida Legislature appropriate a state supplement.

Project partners will be urging lawmakers to implement pilot programs based on the strategies above.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute, said: “SNAP plays a critical role in fighting food insecurity, and its importance has only been amplified during the pandemic and economic downturn. We thank our partners and all of the people who participated in the survey and focus groups as part of the Florida Project. The first step to removing barriers to healthy eating and reducing disparities in food security is understanding some of the challenges that SNAP participants face.”

Kim Johnson, CEO of Florida Impact to End Hunger, said: “This project really allowed the partners to listen and hear from the heart of SNAP recipients. We are thankful for their insight and honest feedback that was shared during this project. We heard loud and clear that providing healthy food options for their families is important.”

Toni Thomas, associate director of Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger, said: “We are hopeful that this research will encourage Florida’s lawmakers to increase the amount of monthly SNAP benefits so that SNAP participants can have increased access to healthy and nutritious foods. Also, allowing participants to use their benefits for programs like Meals on Wheels would help our senior and homebound community members greatly get the nutritious food they need to survive.”

Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of this publication.

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