DA BUX food program receives $1M in virus aid

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A state food stamp program has temporarily expanded its range of available products for participants struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. David Ige announced Monday that the state’s DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program has received an infusion of $1 million in federal coronavirus relief funds and private donations that will allow users to purchase more diverse products.

The program, which was implemented statewide earlier this year, allows recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to purchase locally produced fruits and vegetables at a 50% discount at participating markets, with a limit of $20 per day.

Thanks to the infusion of $500,000 in federal money, however, the program is expanding to allow recipients to purchase ground beef and eggs, with a limit of $50 per day.

“What this means is you would be able to buy $100 worth of these groceries every day, if you want,” said Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket, which administers the program.

The $500,000 in federal funds matches donations from a partnership of private organizations, including Kamehameha Schools, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Ulupono Initiative and the Stupski Foundation.

Albrecht said the money came at a fortunate time, because the program was close to running out of money thanks to increased participation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the pandemic hit, participation in the program has tripled or even quadrupled,” Albrecht said. “So, as you’d imagine, the money went really quickly. We would have had to end the program.”

Albrecht said she estimated that the program has had approximately 25,000 unique recipients since it was first implemented in January.

She added that nationwide, SNAP participation has increased by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic.

Based on the current usage of the program, Albrecht said the funds should be sufficient to last through December. As it stands, the expansion of the program is set to end on Dec. 29, although the DA BUX program will continue into 2021 with a $20 daily limit restricted to only fruits and vegetables.

“Doing this is a win-win-win for everyone involved,” Ige said during a news conference Monday. “It helps local farmers, it helps local retailers, and it really helps those in need to stretch their dollars and help our local economy at the same time.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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