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WASHINGTON -- Starting next fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to launch a new pilot program that offers incentives for low-income Americans to purchase more fruits and vegetables under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Massachusetts will operate the Healthy Incentives Pilot and enroll 7,500 randomly selected SNAP households, which will receive financial incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables. For every dollar participants spend on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP electronic benefit transfer cards, 30 cents will be added to their benefit balance, thus cutting the cost of fruits and vegetables by almost one-third, said USDA. "This pilot project will empower low-income Americans to eat more nutritious food and has the potential to strengthen the SNAP program that serves as a critical safety net to the most vulnerable in our society," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an Aug. 19 press statement. “Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially in the place of higher-calorie foods, can help move America towards healthier lifestyles and a healthier future.” The state's Hampden County was selected to test the program and Cambridge, MA-based Abt Associates Inc. will evaluate the impact of the pilot in increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and improving the diets of participants.

The firm also will weigh the impact of the pilot program on the state, retailers and the possibility of expanding it nationwide, said USDA.

SNAP, the largest of USDA’s federal assistance programs, helps more than 40 million Americans each month. “It's time to move forward with innovative approaches like HIP to get Americans eating more healthily,” Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition, & Consumer Services division, said in the press statement.