The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Double Up Food Bucks Program, locally known as DA BUX has been an important part of Hawaiʻi’s food safety net since 2017. But in order to keep the program going into the future, more local support is needed.
DA BUX enables SNAP users to have double purchasing power when buying local fruits and vegetables at participating stores across the state. For example a customer could use $5 of SNAP benefits to buy $10 of locally grown carrots. It’s frequently referred to as a “winwin-win.” It’s a win for users who can buy more healthy local food with their SNAP dollars, a win for local producers since it incentivizes local produce, and a win for Hawaiʻi’s economy as it keeps SNAP dollars circulating locally in the food supply chain.
Over the last six years funding for DA BUX has come primarily from Federal programs and private donors. The Food Basket, Hawaiʻi island’s food bank, administers DA BUX in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Good Food Alliance. Since 2017 they have successfully applied for four grants through the USDA Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). Funds from those grants were matched by dozens of private organizations, including HFIA Members Ulupono Initiative.
Unfortunately, in 2023 the grant application was unsuccessful, leaving the future of this essential program in jeopardy.
THE BENEFITS OF DA BUX
Since its start DA BUX has proved beneficial on multiple levels. First and foremost, it enables users to buy fresh, local, healthy food at affordable prices. Another important benefit is that it helps grow the local retail customer base for local farmers. Between January 2019 and January 2022 local produce sales to SNAP shoppers at participating grocery stores on average increased 180%.
HFIA Member KTA Super Stores was an early supporter of DA BUX and their participation was important in getting the program off the ground at its inception. Toby Taniguchi, President of KTA Super Stores, explains why the program matters and some of the benefits, “For over a century, KTA Super Stores has strived to serve as an essential source for locally grown produce for our Hawai‘i Island community. DA BUX provides us the opportunity to support our local growers. Since launching DA BUX in Sept 2017, we have seen transactions associated with the DA BUX program more than quadruple at our seven store locations. We see this as positive sign that DA BUX is motivating families to purchase and consume more healthy fruits and vegetables and that this increased demand will drive increases in agricultural production for the state.”
FUNDING BILLS FAIL AT THE LEGISLATURE IN 2023
Unfortunately, in spite of the benefits for local users, local agriculture, and bringing millions in Federal grant money into the local economy, State financial support for the program has been inconsistent. In 2019 when the program expanded from the Big Island to the rest of the state the legislature authorized an appropriation of $100,000. In 2021 the state also directed some Federal Cares Act funding to the program. In 2022 and 2023 the state Legislature did not authorize funding.
During the 2023 Legislative Session several bills were introduced that would have provided funding for DA BUX, all of which were supported by HFIA and a strong coalition of others who understand the importance of the program. All the of the measures eventually failed. House Bill 1248 made it the farthest. For its final hearing in the Senate it received 80 pages of testimony, all in support. This included support testimony from The State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, Department of Health, and the Department of Agriculture which has been a strong advocate for the program.
Even though the proposed funding measure passed all necessary Committees in the House and the Senate, it failed to pass its joint Conference Committee. Funding for DA BUX was also included in the Senate version of the State Budget bill, but was not included in the House version, or the final version that eventually passed.
When funding through the legislature failed HFIA and others reached out to Governor Josh Green to urgently request discretionary funds be allocated to the program. This advocacy was
Governor Green’s decision to allocate half a million dollars to DA BUX along with the previous Federal grant from 2021 will enable DA BUX to continue to operate for about 8 more months.
successful and the Governor allocated a record $500,000 to support the program. These crucial funds will keep the program alive into 2024.
During this time The Food Basket was also working to secure the necessary GusNIP Grants to ensure the continued operation of DA BUX. Regretably, the funding released by the Governor came after the grant had been closed and it was too late to be taken into account as part of the 2023 grant application. The GusNIP grant for this year was denied.
Kristin Frost Albrecht, Executive Director of the Food Basket discussed the explanation they were given for the grant being denied, “The primary reason for the denial of the grant this year was the lack of a sustainable funding plan at the State level. What the Federal funders want to see in programs like DA BUX that have received multiple federal awards, is support at the local level for the program to be self-sustaining from sources other than federal funds.”
Governor Green’s decision to allocate half a million dollars to DA BUX along with the previous Federal grant from 2021 will enable DA BUX to continue to operate for about 8 more months. To keep DA BUX going after that, additional funds will be needed. While the Governor’s allocation from this year definitely shows important state support, more consistent state funding is necessary to secure the Federal grants and matching philanthropic funds for DA BUX.
In short, it’s vital that some form of funding for DA BUX passes during the 2024 Legislative Session. HFIA, is looking forward to working with The Food Basket, the Hawaii Good Food Alliance, Ulupono Initiative, the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau, and the many other supporters and stakeholders to support this vital program at the Legislature. A critical piece in ensureing that DA BUX funding makes it through the legislature this year will be garnering even more public support. HFIA will be sending out Action Alerts to membership when DA BUX funding bills are being heard so that members can submit testimony in support. We encourage all members and local food supporters to respond and share these to help create long term stability for this win-win-win program.