Fresh fruit, vegetables access for low-income New Hampshire residents pushed by lawmakers

Fresh fruit, vegetables access for low-income New Hampshire residents pushed by lawmakers

April 6, 2022 0 By Christian Wade

Access to fresh fruit and vegetables for low-income residents through a program that has lie dormant is being revived by New Hampshire lawmakers.

A bipartisan proposal approved by the state Senate last Thursday calls for spending $300,000 in state funds to create the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. This is for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also commonly known as WIC. The plan would allow WIC recipients to use the assistance to buy food at farmers markets and farm stands.

The measure, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, was approved on a voice vote.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, said reviving the program will help connect low-income families with healthy, locally grown foods.

“In addition to improved nutrition, there’s also an added benefit to this program for increased demand for a delicious and nutritious New Hampshire grown produce,” she said in remarks ahead of the vote. “It boosts the local economy, you have the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, and also new opportunities for our local farmers to sell their products.”

The Legislature’s Committee on Finance had voted 4-3 to refer the bill to a study, which would have scuttled its chances of being approved this session.

The panel’s Republican majority argued that the $300,000 expenditure was unnecessary to offer low income residents access to fresh, locally grown food.

“Rather than reestablish a program not in operation for years, committee members suggested modifying the current regulations of farmers markets and WIC programs to enable families to purchase discounted fresh local fruits and vegetables with the disbursements they currently receive,” Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, the committee’s chairman, said in remarks.

But Whitley argued that the state’s contribution to restarting the program would open the door to additional federal funding through nutritional programs.

“Federal funds support 100% of the food cost and 70% of the admin costs,” Whitley said in her remarks. “So a tiny investment has a big bang for your buck.”

A fiscal note attached to the bill by the state Department of Health and Human Services estimates the $300,000 appropriation and federal matching funds could be used to provide a $30 one-time benefit to the estimated 11,977 low-income women and children enrolled in the WIC program.

To qualify for the WIC program, a family’s income must be at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.

The proposal now moves to the House of Representatives, which must approve it before sending it to Gov. Chris Sununu for consideration.

This article was originally posted on Fresh fruit, vegetables access for low-income New Hampshire residents pushed by lawmakers