Progress-Index: Warner bill expanding access to healthy foods could be oasis in Petersburg's food deserts
by Bill Atkinson
in Progress-Index

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner is the chief patron of bipartisan legislation that creates incentives to increase access to groceries in underserved communities — including Petersburg — commonly referred to as "food deserts" due to their lack of adequate numbers of supermarkets within them.

The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act, introduced Wednesday in the Senate by Warner, D-Virginia, and three other senators, would create tax credits and onetime grants for entities to establish and expand operations that make it easier to get nutritious foods into the stomachs of people who live in urban food deserts — a mile or more from a grocery store. Food deserts that have poverty rates of 20% or higher, or whose median family income is less than 80% than that of the state or metropolitan area, would be covered by HFAAA.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Petersburg's overall poverty rate is 21.6%. Its median family annual income is around $36,000, which is 39% of the Virginia median of almost $93,500.

Additionally, more than 72% of Petersburg's population live in food-desert designated areas,

Under the legislation, food providers serving Petersburg can apply to become a certified Special Access Food Provider, enabling them to receive the following tax credits and grants:

  • a onetime 15% tax credit for building new stores in food deserts;
  • a onetime 10% tax credit for renovating existing stores to increase capacity
  • a onetime grant for 15% of the construction of new permanent facilities for food banks; and
  • grants of 105 covering the annual operating costs for farmers' and mobile markets.

Only two retail grocer chains — Food Lion and Walmart — have markets in Petersburg. The remaining stores are privately owned.

Warner's bill also applies to food deserts in Hopewell, Dinwiddie County and Prince George County.