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In his 2011 budget proposal, President Barack Obama has called for over $400 million in investments in new and expanded supermarkets, farmers markets’ and other food stores. A public‐private grant and loan program would significantly reduce the roughly 23 million Americans with limited access to full‐service supermarkets and create thousands of retail and construction jobs in low-income areas. The investment, split among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, includes $250 million in New Market Tax Credit allocations to encourage private investment in underserved communities.
Obama’s backing of such a program was welcome news to PolicyLink, The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund, which have been working for over a year with the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives to develop a national version of the successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative.
“It’s hard to make healthy food choices until you have nearby healthy food options,” said Judith Bell, president of Oakland, Calif.-based national research and action institute PolicyLink. “It is not merely coincidence that low‐income communities of color with poor access to healthy foods are also getting hit worst by the obesity and diabetes crises. The president’s budget signals a strong commitment to bringing healthy food — and good, long‐term jobs — to communities that have been without either for far too long.”
Since the Pennsylvania program began in 2004, the state has invested $30 million in support of $165 million in total project investment. The 78 projects under the program’s umbrella have provided over 400,000 Pennsylvanians with more nutritious food choices in their neighborhoods and have created or preserved 4,860 jobs and 1.5 million square feet of food retail space.
The initiative, championed by State Rep. Dwight Evans, has evolved into a highly successful public‐private partnership between Pennsylvania and private partners. It has also served as a model for similar efforts under development in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana and Colorado, among other states.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D‐Pa.), who introduced an effort to create such a program with a bipartisan resolution in the House last year, has been leading the effort there, along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D‐Ore.) and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D‐N.Y.). In the Senate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is in the forefront of those working on the issue, in concert with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
For more information on the Pennsylvania and national efforts, visit www.trfund.com/financing/realestate/NFFFI.html.