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VA Lawmakers Asked to Back Fresh-Produce Program for SNAP Users

Virginia Fresh Match is a network of farmers markets and other food stores focused on providing access to fresh produce for low-income areas. (Adobe Stock)
Virginia Fresh Match is a network of farmers markets and other food stores focused on providing access to fresh produce for low-income areas. (Adobe Stock)
November 27, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. – Hunger-fighting and public-health groups are pushing state lawmakers to fund a program that helps recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program get more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Virginia Fresh Match is a network of farmers markets and grocery stores across the state that lets SNAP users double the amount of their benefits to buy produce. However, SNAP recipient Nicole Lucier of Woodbridge said she's worried about the Trump administration's latest bid to cut SNAP benefits. If it happens, she said, Fresh Match would be needed more than ever.

"Every dollar counts, and $30 or $60 worth of produce – if it's doubled with the SNAP match – makes such a huge difference," she said. "It would make things more difficult to get by, and to eat healthy."

About 3,000 Virginia SNAP recipients used the program in 2018, in a state where the average SNAP benefit is about $4 a day, according to Virginia Fresh Match.

The project's main funding comes from a U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition matching grant that will run out next year, according to Elizabeth Borst, who leads Fresh Match. To find more financial support, the group is working with the American Heart Association to get state lawmakers to back the project in the next General Assembly.

Borst said she thinks representatives will be open to providing funding, in part because Fresh Match also supports the state's top industry, agriculture.

"This program does hit on lots of points that I think many people find important," she said, "which is reducing food insecurity in the state and also supporting our small and mid-size farmers."

Since starting operation in 2009, the Virginia Fresh Match network now reaches about 80 communities in the state. Borst said about 10% of the state's population is considered food insecure.

More information about Virginia Fresh Match is online at leapforlocalfood.org.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA