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What is the ROI from integrating nutrition incentive programs into EBT?

Evaluating the cost of EBT nutrition incentive program integration

Challenge

Fruits and vegetables are a core part of a healthy diet, but many families struggle to afford them. One way states and the federal government have tried to make it easier for families to eat healthy is by offering nutrition incentive programs. These programs, available to families on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are usually structured as a match on purchases. For example, if a participating family spends $5 of SNAP funds on fruits and vegetables, they’ll get an extra $5 to spend on fruits and vegetables on their next shopping trip. That incentive is usually offered as a coupon or a token that the family gets at the register. FNS is now offering pilot grants for 3 states—Colorado, Washington, and Louisiana—to integrate nutrition incentive programs into their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems, so that SNAP families would have their nutrition incentives loaded onto their EBT cards.

Westat is conducting an evaluation examining the cost of this integration, including documenting costs in each pilot state and estimating what the cost would be to extend this integration nationwide. We will also be estimating the return on investment (ROI) of integrated nutrition incentive programs and comparing it to the ROI of current nutrition incentive programs.

Solutions

Westat’s in-depth experience with nutrition incentive programs means we are ideally suited to complete this study. We previously conducted an impact analysis of the state and nonprofit nutrition incentive programs not integrated with EBT, while members of our team also conducted earlier evaluations of Massachusetts’ integrated nutrition incentive program.

Westat has experience working with the complex administrative data produced by these types of pilots. We have established relationships with the states from prior studies, and we can coordinate across the multiple entities—including state agencies, food retailers, EBT processors, and third-party processors—to gather clear and complete data. Our cost experts, meanwhile, can understand these data and produce robust estimates of total cost and estimates of nationwide cost and return on investment.

Results

With this study, Westat will help policymakers understand the cost of EBT integration, not only in the short-term but continuing costs of operation. These estimates, in turn, will inform policy decisions, as FNS decides how to structure funding for nutrition incentive programs going forward. Nonprofits, states, and the federal government are all united in the commitment to improving the availability of healthy foods for SNAP families. With this study, Westat will help them determine how to do so efficiently and for the largest number of people.

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