HONOLULU– Last week, Governor David Ige signed two bills to expand access to healthy food and beverages across the state. Senate Bill 549, now Act 138, ensures that healthier beverages like water, milk, or 100% fruit juice are the default drinks offered in all restaurant children’s meals, instead of soda or other sugary drinks. Senate Bill 390, now Act 153, doubles the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits—also known as SNAP, or food stamps—when they are used to purchase fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

Hawai‘i will become the second state in the nation to pass “Healthy by Default” statewide legislation, following California. Act 138 takes effect on January 1, 2020, where restaurants and food establishments that serve meals to children will be required to provide either unflavored milk, non-dairy milk, water or sparkling water, or 100% fruit or vegetable juice as the default beverage option. Customers will still be able to purchase sodas, sugar-added juices, and other sugary drinks upon request.  

“Hawaii’s keiki will now automatically receive a healthy beverage with their meal,” said Jessica Yamauchi, Hawai‘i Public Health Institute’s executive director.  “By making the healthier choice the easy choice, we are protecting our children from the long-term problems associated with sugar-sweetened beverages, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay.”

In addition, Act 153 takes effect on July 1, 2019, and creates the Double Up Food Bucks program, which will provide a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $10 per visit, per day, to SNAP beneficiaries who purchase locally-grown fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets, grocery stores, and community-supported agriculture projects. Modeled after the national program designed by the Fair Food Network and pilot-tested on Hawai‘i island, the incentive program expands access to healthy food for low-income residents and supports local farmers.

“DA BUX: Double Up Food Bucks on Hawai‘i Island has had a strong record of success, " said The Food Basket's Executive Director Kristin Frost Albrecht. “The statewide expansion will put healthier food on the table for our low-income families, support our local farmers, and allow dollars to stay in our local communities.”

Funding for this program will be initiated by a $100,000 appropriation from the State, plus an additional $1 million in matching funds from local foundations, health plans, businesses, farmers markets, and community food system nonprofit organizations. A USDA Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program grant has also been submitted that, if awarded, would provide an additional $1 million in federal funds, which would bring total funding for the program to $2.1 million.  Grant recipients will be notified by September 30, 2019.