Each week, grocery shopping in 20 percent of households in America is harder than it needs to be. That’s because people in these communities—more than 29 million across the country—lack access to grocery stores and the healthy produce, lean proteins and whole grains that come along with them. Whether they’re in big cities or small towns, these families are forced to rely on understocked convenience stores or take inconvenient, hours-long trips to buy the food that keeps us all happy and healthy.
Healthy food financing programs can help change all that. These critical loan and grant financing programs helps healthy food retailers overcome the higher initial barriers to entry into low-income and underserved communities—barriers like land acquisition financing, construction and workforce development.
The Pennsylvania Story
In 2004, Pennsylvania established the nation’s first “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” program. The public-private partnership was formed around a win-win strategy: (1) to improve health by bringing more grocery stores and healthy corner stores into underserved urban and rural areas; and (2) to create jobs through economic development projects. The program funded 88 food retail projects and created over 5,000 jobs in urban and rural communities from 2004-10.
Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, the program expired nearly a decade ago. While an incredible amount of progress has been made to increase access to healthy foods, recent studies show that over 500,000 children still live in areas where it is difficult to travel to a grocery store. Recognizing this fact, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced to re-establish the fresh food financing program. The legislation, Senate Bill 1100, is pending before the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee for consideration. The American Heart Association is working in conjunction with many partners to educate lawmakers on the importance of this program along with seeking funding in the state budget to ensure Pennsylvania remains at the forefront of improving access to nutritious food.