Spatial and Temporal Variation in the Value of the Women, Infants, and Children Program's Fruit and Vegetable Voucher

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Increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among children and low-income households is a public health policy priority in the United States. We investigate temporal and spatial price patterns for fresh fruits and vegetables to evaluate the extent to which the value of the fruit and vegetable Cash-Value-Voucher (CVV) of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) may be affected by unequal price levels and changes in price levels across the United States. Our findings show that price differences over space and time have real and consequential impacts on the purchasing power of the CVV. A WIC Program participant in the highest-cost Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) can buy significantly fewer fruits and vegetables than a participant who receives the same benefit in the lowest-cost MSA. Further, we find that the value of the CVV has substantially declined across all MSAs since 2009. We discuss the nutritional implications of the variation in the value of the CVV and evaluate potential mechanisms that could be implemented to maintain equal CVV benefits across time and space.

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