SEATTLE — Next year Seattle will triple the number of participants in its healthy foods program, allowing thousands more people to receive fruit and vegetable vouchers.
More than 6,000 Seattle residents will be able to enroll in the program in 2020, up from 2,000 residents this year. Those residents will receive a monthly $40 voucher to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating stores.
“Overall, it might seem to some of us that it’s not a ton of money,” said Sharon Lerman, food policy and programs manager for the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment. “But for people struggling to make ends meet, that $40 a month can be the difference between them being able to eat fruits and vegetables and feed them to their kids and family or not. And we hear that again and again from customers.”
She believes the program expansion becomes even more important after the Trump administration announced it would tighten work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. This will cause thousands in Washington to lose their benefits.
Nearly 77,000 Seattle residents and 929,000 Washington residents benefit from the SNAP, according to the city.
The changes apply to adults between 18 and 49 years old who are not disabled and do not have children. States can currently waive the work requirements to help address areas with high unemployment, though these changes will make those waivers more limited.
Fresh Bucks do not come with a work requirement, Lerman said.
“We know that many working people in Seattle are struggling to make ends meet, so the idea of a work requirement is absolutely counter to everything we stand for as a city government,” she said.
Residents who make 80% or less of the area median income are eligible for Fresh Bucks. For a family of four, that’s $88,250 per year.
A lottery determines who receives the vouchers. Residents can apply from March 2-31 online or by phone. Ten organizations will also help enroll underserved communities.
Eliza Guan of InterIm Community Development Association helped sign up seniors Thursday in the International District. Several hundred showed up.
“Not only does it provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the residents that live in Chinatown, but it also gives them the opportunity to come out of their apartment buildings, meet new friends and go to the store together, which is a great experience,” she said.