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New Program to Fund Food Retail Outlets in Food Deserts

As reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Congress included $32 million in funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in the recently passed “megabus” appropriations bill for FY 2012. The initiative aims to fund food retail outlets in food deserts.

HFFI will provide 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 will help create new permanent jobs and combat obesity and its associated diseases by providing healthier foods to more Americans.

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.

Of the FY 2012 funding for HFFI, $22 million will come through the Department of Treasury and the remaining $10 million through the Department of Health and Human Services. The $22 million from the Department of Treasury will be awarded to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) who will in turn lend to retail food outlets expanding food access in food deserts. The appropriations bill reserves at least ten percent of the Treasury funds for efforts in “persistent poverty counties,” or counties “that [have] had 20 percent or more of [their] population living in poverty over the past 30 years” based on the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses.

The $10 million in funding for Health and Human Services will go through its Community Economic Development Program.