The Double Up Food Bucks program recently resumed after it was paused because initial funding through the CARES Act was depleted as demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic soared.

Organizers with the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, which administers Double Up Food Bucks, said the program initially received $1 million from the CARES Act earlier this year as part of the federal coronavirus relief package approved by Congress as the pandemic spread across the country. It was supposed to last through the end of this year, but demand was so high those funds ran out in October.

“We really saw redemption rates skyrocket in August and September, and we had utilized all of the funding allocated to us through that CARES Act distribution,” said Aryn McLaren, Double Up Food Bucks Coordinator for Iowa Healthiest State Initiative.

Double Up Food Bucks is an incentive program for Iowans who participate in federal food assistance programs, such as SNAP, or emergency food assistance granted to children over the summer. It matches, dollar for dollar, purchases up to $10 per visit, to get additional fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores, co-ops or farmers markets. 

The exhausting of funds led officials to approach the Feeding Iowa Task Force and Gov. Kim Reynolds about the need for additional funding. As a result, another $1 million was allocated to the program, McLaren said.

“Luckily they were responsive to that request and allocated additional funding that we hope will support the redemption of Double Up Food Bucks that are already out,” McLaren said. “To our knowledge, there’s more than a million dollars of Double Up Food Bucks that have been yet to be redeemed in the state of Iowa.”

Until that funding was allocated, Double Up Food Bucks was suspended for about three weeks. It was reactivated on Nov. 4.

“We had to pause the program … until we were able to secure additional dollars so we could pay for those fruits and vegetables being purchased with Double Up Food Bucks,” said Jami Haberl, executive director of Iowa Healthiest State Initiative. 

Use of Double Up Food Bucks in recent months has been “off the charts,” McLaren said. 

While demand has been up, availability has also increased, she said.

In 2019, there were 20 grocery stores participating in the program. Since July 2020, that has increased to more than 120 grocery stores in 70 of Iowa’s 99 counties, McLaren said.

“So the reach that we have had this second half of this year is far greater than we were able to have in 2019, but due to that ability to reach more Iowans who desperately need the program, the redemption rates are over 500% greater than last year,” she said.

Last year, about $150,000 in Double Up Food Bucks was redeemed. Through the middle of October this year, that number had grown to more than $800,000, McLaren said.

Double Up Food Bucks can be a critical tool in the fight against food insecurity and hunger in Iowa, she said.

“Many times when we think of food insecurity and the common ways to solve that, we’re thinking about just getting additional calories, but we really need to think about the nutritional makeup of those calories and make sure they are supporting long-term health and preventing many of the chronic conditions we're fighting in Iowa,” McLaren said.

She said Iowa has ranked 49th or 50th in the country in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the past five years, and hopefully Double Up Food Bucks can help fill that gap.

“We know if that’s a problem for all Iowans, then it’s going to be an even greater burden to overcome for those who are maybe lacking the financial resources to make that a priority for their family,” McLaren said. “We’re trying to lower that burden and increase the access to healthy and nutritious food.”

The time also has come to explore a greater partnership between private, state and federal dollars to build greater sustainability for the program, McLaren said.

Those dollars can be used to apply for federal dollar-for-dollar matching grants, she said.

When the program first started in 2016, it was run on 100% private donations.

“As the program continues to grow and expand, that becomes maybe an unfeasible model, so now we’re looking at the public-private relationship and how we can leverage that to best support the program,” McLaren said.

For more information on Double Up Food Bucks and how you can help, click here.


Iowa Stops Hunger is a yearlong Business Publications Corp. initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa. Read additional stories on Iowastopshunger.com.