U.S. Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz (PA-13) introduced legislation today to support a national Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a market-based approach to bring jobs and investment to underserved communities where healthy food options are scarce or unaffordable.
Rep. Schwartz's bill would authorize $125 million to continue the HFFI to help make more grocery stores, farmers markets, food cooperatives and other options accessible by providing one time start-up grants and affordable loan financing. This targeted investment will spur economic development, create private sector jobs in Pennsylvania and across the country, and help combat obesity, which costs the U.S. health care system $190 billion annually.
"More than 25 million Americans lack access to healthy foods and this crisis demands aggressive action. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will expand food options in underserved areas, improve the health of children and families, and spark local economic development," Congresswoman Schwartz said. "As we continue to reinvigorate our economy, this public-private partnership will create good-paying jobs, help people live longer and healthier lives, and strengthen our neighborhoods."
Modeled after the successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, the HFFI is a public-private partnership that expands investment in underserved communities, known as "food deserts," by providing flexible grant and loan financing. Since 2011, the HFFI has supported a wide range of innovative projects in rural, urban, and suburban communities. On average, a 50,000 square foot supermarket creates 250 full-time jobs, associated construction work, and expanded opportunities for American farmers. A 10,000 square foot supermarket creates 25 full- and part-time jobs.
Congresswoman Schwartz's bill is a companion measure to legislation (S 821) U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced in the Senate.
"When we connect farm-fresh food with communities that have little or no access to affordable, local produce, we can help children and families lead healthier lives, and strengthen our economy," Senator Gillibrand said. "Our legislation would open new grocery stores and other retail options where we need them most to create new jobs, eliminate food deserts, and provide families with access to fresh, healthy foods."
"Barriers to healthy food have worsened the growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health problems in low income communities, both urban and rural. A multi-state study found that adults with no supermarkets within a mile of their homes are 25 to 46 percent less likely to have a healthy diet than those with supermarkets near their homes," said Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), an original co-sponsor of Rep. Schwartz's bill. "The Healthy Food Financing Initiative seeks to address this imbalance. Through public-private initiatives, it would leverage millions of dollars in private capital at the national level to increase access to healthy food retail. With better options, we build up communities and give underserved residents the nutritional building blocks they need to maintain a healthier lifestyle."
Congresswoman Schwartz's legislation has support from more than 90 organizations nationwide, including the American Heart Association, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, the American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the NAACP, and the American Public Health Association.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 24 million Americans live in "food deserts," defined as either urban areas without access to a supermarket within one mile, or rural areas lacking similar access within ten miles. This lack of access to healthy foods has exacerbated the growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health problems in these communities.