About 60% of taxpayer-funded coupons go unused; some go to the wrong people

Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 8:11 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - More than half of the state-funded coupons to help people buy fruits and vegetables were not used last year, according to data from the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative.

The nonprofit, which runs the Double Up Food Bucks Program, uses taxpayer dollars and private donations to create an incentive for those using SNAP to buy fruits and vegetables. The incentive is a $1 coupon for every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables.

Data from the group shows it gave out more than $5.4 Million in coupons during 2021. About $2.3 Million were redeemed during the same time period, about 42%. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) gave the program COVID-19 relief funds worth $1.4 Million through the CARES Act.

In 2020, data shows the group had a similar percentage of $1 coupons redeemed at select grocery stores and farmers markets across Iowa.

Jami Haberl, who is the executive director for the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, said the group believes that is a pretty high use rate for coupons because people often lose or forget about a piece of paper.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team also found not all of those coupons ended up going to the correct people. The Hy-Vee on Wilson Avenue gave us nine Food Buck coupons even though we weren’t on SNAP after asking a question about my receipt.

Haberl said it is working with the grocery store to add more training for employees to make sure only those on food stamps get the coupon. She also said the nonprofit collects data and sends secret shoppers to make sure the program is working correctly.

Haberl told us it couldn’t share those findings with us due to privacy agreements.

Jacqueline Buchman, who is the general manager at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said she believes her agency could use the money more efficiently. She said her pantry, and likely others, could consistently offer fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned goods.

Buchman said the pantry saw an increase in food insecurity since the 2020 Derecho and inflation is increasing the need.

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