According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-2025), 90% of Americans do not eat the recommended amount of vegetables and 80% do not eat the recommended amount of fruit. Persistent barriers to purchasing, preparing, and consuming fruit and vegetables in the United States are particularly salient in low resource communities.
Through the 2018 Farm Bill (7 USCS § 7517), the federal government dedicated funding from $45 million to $56 million to be appropriated over 5 years to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), formerly known as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. This program provides grants to nonprofit organizations and state, local, and regional governments to provide incentives to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase fruit and vegetables. Other programs target additional marginalized populations. We evaluated ways that a similar funding mechanism might be used as a delivery model for the overall US population.
Congress has various mechanisms to accomplish federal policy goals. We found that three powers are relevant to the creation of a national fruit and vegetable incentive program, including Congress’s Commerce Clause power, its power to tax, and its power to spend. These powers allow Congress to regulate, license, tax, or provide tax incentives or conditional funding to entities to carry out the program.
A national fruit and vegetable subsidy program would improve diet and reduce disparities and food insecurity while supporting farmers and food retailers.
Our evaluation of legal and administrative feasibility considerations supports a voluntary conditional funding program. Conditional funding occurs when the federal government provides funding to entities to administer a program or enact a policy in return for the program or policy abiding by federal objects (e.g., all states have enacted laws making age 21 the legal age to purchase alcohol in return for federal highway funds). A conditional funding strategy could best be accomplished through either a direct spending program or a large categorical grant to state or local governments or NGOs to implement the program.
Many groups around the country are already working in the field. A national program would benefit from engaging these stakeholders to utilize lessons learned from existing programs and leverage their networks. The biggest change needed to extend subsidies from targeted subgroups to the broader US population would be to implement the program in retail settings and through online purchasing platforms. While most programs have used physical vouchers, an electronic method would be most efficient and effective for such a national program.
Because most of the population shops in-person at retail establishments or through online retailers, these avenues would provide greater access and allow for the distribution of both fresh and frozen produce. Frozen fruit and vegetables are nutritionally beneficial, less expensive, and lead to less spoilage and food waste.
A national fruit and vegetable subsidy program would improve diet and reduce disparities and food insecurity while supporting farmers and food retailers. In addition to the administrative mechanism discussed here, additional funding would be necessary for national administration and to support fruit and vegetable consumption for the overall US population. The current Farm Bill expires in 2023, so there is a great opportunity to use the next one as an avenue of potential change.
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