Vegetables

A group is studying creating a food hub in the Walla Walla, Wash., area.

Washington would spend about $2 million a year to help poor people buy fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and stores under a proposal by the state Department of Health.

Some $1.4 million would go directly to purchase produce. The health department would keep $300,000 for administration and distribute $269,000 to farmers’ markets, retailers, nonprofit organizations and other government agencies for their parts in managing the program, according to the budget proposal.

The program would help an estimated 48,400 people on food-assistance to eat better and also support small- and medium-sized farms, according to the health department, “Fruit and vegetable incentives support a robust agricultural economy in Washington,” the health department states in its funding request to the Inslee administration’s budget office.

The health department has asked for nearly $4.2 million over two years to be included in the two-year spending plan Gov. Jay Inslee will propose in December.

The health department already runs a federally funded program to help food-stamp recipients and single mothers buy fruits and vegetables. A $5.86 million USDA grant the state received in 2015 will run out next year, according to the health department.

Health officials say they will apply for another USDA grant if Congress renews funding in the next farm bill. With or without federal money, health officials are seeking state money to slightly expand the current program.

Nearly 1.3 million Washington residents received food stamps in 2017, according to the department. Some 274,888 women and children were on WIC, a separate nutrition program for women, infants and children.

Under the health department’s proposal, 12,000 people on food stamps would redeem $300,000 at farmers’ markets, while 35,000 people would redeem $625,000 at participating grocery stores.

The department also anticipates doctors would write prescriptions to 1,400 hungry and poor patients to receive $175,000 worth of fruits and vegetables.

Women and children on WIC would be eligible to receive $30 a year for fruits and vegetables, totaling another $300,000, according to the department.

To run the program, the health department would have three employees — a project coordinator, communications coordinator and evaluator. The department’s administrative costs would equal the amount the department projects would spend on produce at farmers’ markets.

Some 90 farmers’ markets in 20 of the state’s 39 counties are participating in the current program, according to the department. Not all farmers’ markets accept the payment cards issued food-stamp recipients, according to a department spokeswoman.

The health department is evaluating how the program affects farmers, according to the spokeswoman. Some 84 percent of the managers of participating farmers’ markets report that the program has drawn more customers, she said.

In arguing for money from the state’s general fund, the health department says the program would further official state goals to make people healthier. Some of the goals are specific. Health goals posted by Results Washington, a state agency, includes having 36 percent of the state’s Hispanics at a “healthy weight” by 2020, up from 30 percent in 2013. The state also has set healthy weight goals for Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and African-Americans, but not Asians or whites.

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