Technical questions concern whether a supplemental benefit should be incorporated into Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card benefits, or whether it should use some type of paper coupon system. If the EBT cards are used, would a single card be re-programmed to have separate accounts for restricted and unrestricted food benefits, or would a client carry two EBT cards?
The Farm Bill included language promoting a pilot program. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is hosting an upcoming symposium on the topic, on Oct. 16, in Alexandria, VA. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in July released a report (.pdf), describing some of the options:
Changing individuals’ eating habits is difficult, given the many factors that influence food choices. However, the pilot projects authorized in the recent Farm Bill provide FNS with a unique opportunity to test whether financial incentives would help low-income Americans purchase and consume more of the foods that contribute to a healthy diet. Although research has found that financial incentives and nutrition education both show promise, not enough is known about the costs and long-term effectiveness of these approaches, either alone or in combination. Moreover, the financial incentives studied included coupons. Incentives using the current EBT technology, although technically feasible, are largely untested at this point. Also, the success of efforts to improve dietary intake may hinge in part on the availability of targeted foods, which may be limited in certain areas, such as small stores in large urban areas. Little is known about efforts to increase access to healthy foods. Only by testing these approaches, either alone or in combination, can the costs of such a program be estimated.Here is a partial illustration of just one of several mechanisms explored in the GAO report.