December 8, 2011
On Wednesday, November 30, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA-13) introduced identical bills (S.1926/H.R. 3525) in the Senate and House, respectively, to establish a Healthy Food and Financing Initiative (HFFI) within the USDA. Five Representatives and 10 Senators joined as original cosponsors.
The initiative would authorize a $125 million program providing one-time loan and grant financing to establish, expand, or renovate supermarkets, grocery stores, food cooperatives, farmers markets, and other food retail outlets in underserved low to mid-income communities in rural, suburban, and urban areas across America.
The goal of this legislation is to reduce the number of Americans living in “food deserts,” or areas where there is inadequate access to healthy foods. In addition, HFFI would help create new permanent jobs and combat obesity and its associated diseases by providing healthier foods to more Americans.
The legislation would direct USDA to choose through a competitive process a Community Development Financing Institution (CDFI) as a National Fund Manager that would administer all of the initiative’s funding, identify underserved communities, and leverage additional public funding for the program. The manager will be able to partner with and identify the needs of particular communities. HFFI will be administered through local, regional, and state public-private partnerships that will select and finance eligible healthy, fresh food retail projects so they can overcome the initial hurdles and high start-up costs of establishing a food outlet in underserved communities.
The initiative is modeled after the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which turned $30 million of state seed funding into $190 million of additional investment to open 88 new or improved fresh food retailers since it launched in 2004.
Three organizations- PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund, and The Food Trust – have been advocating since 2009 for the establishment of a national program that finances the development of healthy food retailers in underserved communities in response to the dire lack of healthy food access for many Americans.