WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Bob Casey (D-PA) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to increase access to grocery stores in areas designated as “food deserts” by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act would benefit low-income rural and urban communities that have limited or no access to nutritious food by providing incentives to food service providers such as grocers, retailers, and nonprofits who expand access to nutritious foods in underserved communities.
“Families in Virginia must be able to count on reliable access to healthy and affordable foods no matter where they live,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will increase the availability of dependable nutritious food for more than one million Virginians, and support grocery markets and non-profits in their efforts to serve the communities that need them the most.”
“Living in the breadbasket of our nation, it is easy to forget that chronic hunger is still prevalent in many of our own communities,” said Sen. Moran. “It is estimated that food insecurity threatens nearly 1 in 6 Kansans, and yet many grocery stores in both rural and urban communities are struggling to stay open. Our bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would incentivize food providers to establish and renovate grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets in communities that traditionally lack affordable and convenient food options. All Kansans and Americans, regardless of where they live, deserve access to healthy food.”
“Individuals and families living in rural communities – like many of those in West Virginia – often have a very difficult time accessing fresh and nutritious foods,” Sen. Capito said. “This legislation will help improve access to groceries and healthy foods across West Virginia and make it easier for businesses and non-profit organizations to serve our rural communities.”
“All Americans, no matter where they live, should have access to affordable and nutritious food,” said Sen. Casey. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to help combat food deserts by incentivizing food service providers to reach new communities. We must swiftly pass this measure so that we can address the seriousness of hunger and food insecurity across the country.”
“Locally owned, independent grocers are the bedrock of their communities, spurring economic growth and providing access to healthy and affordable food choices. On behalf of our members, the National Grocers Association applauds Senator Warner for his efforts to work towards a solution that tackles the barriers to entry faced by grocers in rural and urban communities that are without a supermarket. We look forward to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis to move this important piece of legislation forward,” said Greg Ferrara, Executive Vice President of the National Grocers Association.
“Feeding America commends Senator Warner for confronting the unfortunate fact that the burdens faced by the 40 million Americans living with hunger are even worse for those who live in food deserts. Our network of 200 member food banks understands that areas without affordable, healthy food options have higher rates of food insecurity exacerbated by the lack access to adequate transportation to the nearest food pantry or grocery market. Feeding America supports the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and believes it is a critical step to give nonprofits and retailers support to increase food access in underserved areas,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America.
“Everyone deserves access to fresh produce and a place to shop for groceries in their community. This legislation will create jobs, improve health, and prevent hunger by supporting the development of food banks, grocery stores and farmers markets in low-income, underserved areas,” said Yael Lehmann, President and CEO of The Food Trust.
“Grocery stores and healthy, affordable food options are out of reach for many of the neighbors we help in the Richmond community. Imagine having to take a 45-minute bus, one way, just to get groceries for your family. There is no one solution for food deserts; to tackle this issue will require collaboration across the non-profit, for-profit and government sectors. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act is a significant step in the right direction. By empowering hunger-relief organizations like Feed More to improve access to nutritious food in low-income communities, we will be able to provide these neighbors with a hand up in their times of need,” said Doug Pick, President and CEO of Feed More.
“Bread for the World is encouraged to see a bipartisan effort to address food deserts and improve access to nutritious food in low-income and underserved communities in America. Hunger costs the U.S. economy at least $160 billion in poor health outcomes and additional health care costs every year. This bill is an important step to reduce hunger and improve health across the country,” said Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations of Bread for the World.
“Grocery stores and supermarkets play a vital role in the health and welfare of the communities we serve. Developing a successful enterprise that can thrive financially and socially in the long-term is a multi-tiered process that requires community support, economic investment and creative partnerships. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act is an important and common sense approach to addressing the problem of underserved communities and expanding access to healthy food choices. It establishes incentives to bring together the elements necessary to create successful operations and expand healthy food options, while recognizing the opportunities presented by technology and the changing nature of the marketplace. The HFAAA is an important step in addressing the issue of underserved populations and food deserts; Food Marketing institute is pleased to support this effort,”said Andy Harig, Senior Director of Sustainability, Tax, and Trade, Food Marketing Institute.
“To end childhood hunger in America, we must ensure that low-income families have access to healthy, affordable food options. Ending food deserts will help more families put food on the table and help children get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy, educated and strong. Share Our Strength supports The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and thanks Sens. Warner, Moran, Casey, Capito and Rep. Ryan for their leadership on this issue,” said Billy Shore, Founder and Executive Chair of Share our Strength.
Currently, an estimated 37 million Americans live in food deserts – areas with no grocery stores within one or more miles in urban regions, and ten or more miles in rural regions. Individuals who live in communities with low-access to healthy food options are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
The HFAAA Act – which defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35 percent of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items – would spark investment in food deserts across the country that have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income of less than 80 percent of the median for the state or metro area. It would grant tax credits or grants to food providers who service low-access communities and attain a “Special Access Food Provider” (SAFP) certification through the Treasury Department. Incentives would be awarded based on the following structure:
- New Store Construction – Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15 percent tax credit after receiving certification.
- Retrofitting Existing Structures – Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10 percent tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
- Food Banks – Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs.
- Temporary Access Merchants – Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501(c)(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their annual operating costs.
Sen. Warner has long advocated for the healthy eating and physical wellness of families. Earlier this year, he called for USDA to ensure sustained funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) amidst the government shutdown.
The full text of the bill is available here and a summary can also be found here. The legislation was previously introduced in the 115th Congress. A similar bill is being introduced in the House by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS).