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Have you seen the price of milk lately? Fresh, healthy grocery items are already costlier than many packaged, processed foods. And inflation is making it worse, especially for those with limited means.

But now, thousands of shoppers in two states are eligible to receive virtually unlimited coupons to get milk and dairy products for free, for an entire year. It’s the ultimate in rolling rewards – buy milk, get a coupon, use your coupon to get free milk, get another coupon, and repeat.

It’s all part of a government-funded pilot program for SNAP recipients called “Add Milk!” ShopRite has just expanded the number of participating stores in New Jersey to eight, after introducing the program to select stores back in June. Jubilee Market in Waco, Texas was the program’s inaugural participant when it launched last year.

Add Milk! is the brainchild of Baylor University’s Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. The idea is “encourage healthy milk consumption” among shoppers who receive federal benefits as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Each grocer is operating the coupon program in slightly different ways, in something of an A/B test to see which method is most effective in encouraging dairy purchases. Both will last for a year, and both require the purchase of any size 1% or fat-free fluid cow’s milk. At the checkout, when a SNAP EBT card is scanned, a Catalina coupon will print, equal to the whole dollar value of the milk product purchased. In Texas, that coupon can be used on another shopping trip, to purchase virtually any SNAP-eligible grocery items. In New Jersey, the coupon is eligible on the purchase of any dairy products that list cow’s milk or cream as a first ingredient, like yogurt or cheese, or more milk.

“This innovative program is an excellent example of collaborative action with our partners that uses incentives to encourage SNAP households to purchase and consume more milk – a win-win for promoting healthy diets and supporting American agriculture,” Stacy Dean, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, said in a statement.

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Baylor says 90% of Americans don’t meet the recommended amounts for dairy consumption. And rising dairy prices may discourage SNAP recipients from using their limited benefit dollars to buy milk and other dairy products.

Since 2014, the USDA has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in competitive grants to various programs designed to encourage SNAP recipients to make healthier purchases – and address critics who wonder why those receiving government benefits are allowed to use them to buy junk food. “Research confirms that the food purchases of SNAP participants are similar to those of most Americans,” the agency explains in an online FAQ. But through various programs like Add Milk!, the agency says it “helps enable SNAP participants to make healthy choices and achieve dietary improvements that promote good health.”

In addition to helping SNAP recipients make healthier choices at the grocery store, there’s also the matter of helping them to make smarter financial choices at the grocery store. A report from the market research firm IRI last year found that SNAP shoppers are less likely to use coupons or take advantage of price promotions than the average non-SNAP recipient is.

“Lower income households buy on need and can’t wait for a sale,” the report noted. They also can’t necessarily afford to stock up when there are coupons available or when there’s a “10 for $10”-type promotion – they stick to buying what they need when they need it, even if it costs them more in the long run. Therefore, “SNAP shoppers are not as deal-driven,” IRI concluded.

So the Add Milk! program is a way to encourage participants to shop both healthier and smarter, stretching their dollars by choosing more nutritious foods.

“Milk is one of our healthiest, safest, and most sustainable beverages – and it is essential for a child’s development,” Dr. Lori Kanitz, Project Director at the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, said in a statement. “The Add Milk! Healthy Fluid Milk Incentive program could not come at a better time. With families feeling the pinch of rising prices and the lingering effects of the pandemic, the USDA’s commitment to keeping kids healthy through the Add Milk! program makes milk more affordable for those who need it most.”

So if you’re not a part of the SNAP program, this is one Catalina coupon you won’t need to watch for. But if Add Milk! can teach more shoppers the benefits of eating healthy and using coupons, then rising grocery prices may become just a little less burdensome for those who are affected the most.

Image source: Add Milk!

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