State officials are launching a pilot program to encourage food stamp recipients to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Starting in June, food stamp customers at select grocery stores in Minnesota will get a $5 coupon for fruits and vegetables. They'll be able to use that coupon during their next visit to the grocery store.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson expects the incentive will encourage people to try produce they haven't tried before.
"With healthier foods, they're going to have healthier diets, and then we're going to end up with healthier people," Jesson said. "Which is good for them, and actually, since many of these people are also on our healthcare programs, good for taxpayers too."
Jesson said the state will be watching to see whether the program changes what people buy with EBT cards, which carry food stamps.
"Is there an increase this year over the year before in the amounts of fruits and vegetables that are purchased? And if it works, we do want to take it to a broader scale," Jesson said.
The state hasn't yet announced which grocery stores will hand out the coupons. The pilot program is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the Minnesota Grocers Association, and Minnesota Grown, which promotes locally-grown food.
State officials say the pilot will run until approximately 20,000 coupons are used. They expect that will be sometime around September.
The $150,000 program will be paid for with one-time federal funds. Last fall, Minnesota received a federal bonus of $1.2 million for increasing food stamp use among eligible Minnesotans. The state will also use some of that bonus to increase backpack programs that provide food for low-income children during the summer.
Food stamps are officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.