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As our nation struggles with an increasingly hungry and obese population, access to healthy, affordable food remains one of the biggest obstacles to reducing obesity. More than 24 million Americans live in “food deserts,” defined as either urban areas lacking access to a supermarket within one mile, or rural areas lacking similar access within 10 miles.
To address this growing economic and health problem facing America, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress today introduced legislation to create a national initiative to expand access to healthful, fresh food choices in underserved communities. The bill takes a market-based solution to address the fact that high start-up costs and limited access to credit often prevent local grocery operators from opening new outlets in food deserts, even though many that have opened in these communities have been commercially successful.The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, introduced today by U.S. Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), encourages supermarkets and other fresh food retailers to open new stores or expand their fresh food offerings in underserved communities through flexible grant and loan financing. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the Senate today as well.The Healthy Food Financing Initiative would have a major economic impact by creating and retaining good-paying, steady jobs; revitalizing communities by developing and renovating neighborhood retailers; and generating local tax revenue by strengthening commercial corridors. On average, a 50,000 square foot supermarket creates 250 full-time jobs, associated construction work and expanded opportunities for American farmers.“The Healthy Food Financing Initiative is a public-private solution to help address one of the most severe public health issues facing America, the growing obesity epidemic,” said Schwartz, who has championed this initiative since 2009 and serves as vice chair of the New Democrat Coalition’s Health Care Task Force. “By establishing healthier food options in underserved areas, millions of Americans will have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives, saving billions in health care costs. This is a vitally needed effort from a public-health standpoint, and just as importantly from an economic perspective. This initiative would stimulate local economic development, strengthen and revitalize neighborhoods, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work.”“Families from communities across the country, which have been hit hardest by the economic downturn not only struggle to find jobs, but also with the option of healthy foods for their families, “said Burgess, who serves as Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and is Chairman of the Congressional Health Care Caucus. “The availability of healthy food options is vital to help curb preventable diseases and increase the quality of life in some of our country’s most vulnerable populations. This legislation intertwines two of these basic needs: secure jobs and healthy food options, and will benefit not only these communities, but our country as a whole.”“More and more Americans are suffering from dietary diseases – like obesity and diabetes – because they don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy foods in their communities,” said Blumenauer, who recently released a report entitled Growing Opportunities: Family Farm Values for Reforming the Farm Bill. “A nationwide Healthy Food Financing Initiative would make low-interest loans available to bring quality grocery stores and farmers’ markets to underserved neighborhoods. This initiative helps support local businesses and jobs and will give families the opportunity to make healthier choices when it comes to food.”“Obesity and diabetes rates are reaching crisis proportions in our country and it is time to take aggressive action,” said Gillibrand, who, as the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, is helping lead the fight in the Senate to combat child obesity and promote good health. “Millions of New Yorkers do not have access to fresh, healthy food. By building new grocery stores in underserved areas across the state we can give people the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives, save billions in health care costs, and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.”“Supermarkets and grocery stores represent more than healthy food choices – they are also about creating jobs, supporting community businesses and revitalizing neighborhoods,” said Judith Bell, PolicyLink’s President. “The bills introduced today represent a powerful next phase in the effort to create equitable access to healthy food across America.”The Healthy Food Financing Initiative is based on the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which has helped create public-private partnerships to maintain or expand access to healthful, fresh food in more than 30 communities.