Ky. program expands to double grocery buying power for those in need

Low-income families who use food assistance programs got a boost on Tuesday that could put more fresh produce on the table through a combination of $1.4 million in federal, state and private funding.

Community Farm Alliance, the city of Lexington, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Lexington Farmers Market announced an expansion of the popular Double Dollars program, which allows families to double their buying power at farmers markets and retail stores.

Those who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Women, Infants and Children benefits can double the value of SNAP or WIC dollars to buy Kentucky-grown fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy.

The program will merge efforts in Lexington and with the CFA into Kentucky Double Dollars, to be available in 22 counties statewide. SNAP and WIC recipients will be able to use the Kentucky Double Dollars program at 27 farmers’ markets, 12 Fresh Stop Markets in Lexington and Louisville and two Lexington-based retailers — Good Foods Co-op and Lexington Market East End.

The USDA and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund provided funding to encourage sales of locally grown produce and meats. This year, about $300,000 will be available to Kentucky families to buy farm-grown fresh food.

And families do use it, according to the Bluegrass Double Dollars pilot program, which has been run for the past two years by Bluegrass Farm to Table and the Blue Grass Community Foundation. Of more than 16,000 Double Dollars vouchers issued, about 85 percent were redeemed, generating more than $39,000 in sales of Kentucky-grown produce, according to those who administered the pilot program.

“It’s good nutrition and good business,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, and the Kentucky model is being replicated in other states.

Private partners WellCare and BB&T also have contributed funding.

Shannon Jones, senior director of health services for WellCare of Kentucky, said the WellCare helpline received more than 2,200 calls last year from people looking for help with food security.

“It’s obviously not healthy for growing children or anyone else to miss a meal,” Jones said. And the cheapest food is not always the healthiest option. The Double Dollars program “is a way of making it easier for struggling families to afford the most nutritious food possible. ... This is a buy one-get one for your health.”