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Sen. Warner highlights bill to eradicate food deserts

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) met with constituents, business owners, and local elected leaders at Honor Capital’s “Save-A-Lot” Supermarket in Danville to highlight bipartisan legislation he introduced earlier this month to help more people in low-income and low-access areas in Virginia and across the country access fresh, healthy food.

mark warnerThe Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act is the first comprehensive food deserts legislation to be introduced in the United States Senate. The bill seeks to eradicate food deserts in both rural and urban areas by incentivizing food service providers such as grocers, retailers, and nonprofits—through a system of tax credits and grants—to go into these communities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an estimated 37 million Americans live in a food desert. Today’s event was held in a community where nearly 14,000 people lack convenient access to healthy food options.

“More than one million Virginians find themselves in low-income areas with no reliable source of healthy food, placing themselves at higher risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” said Sen. Warner. “Every person should have access to affordable and nutritious food regardless of where they live. By incentivizing food producers and sellers to go into communities where food access is a problem, we can help guarantee that fresh fruits and vegetables are available in the places where they are needed most.”

USDA defines a food desert as an area where a grocery store is not available within a mile in urban communities or 10 miles in rural areas. This bill expands on that definition by adding U.S. census tracts with a poverty rate of 20% (or higher) or a median family income of less than 80% of the median for the state or metro area. The legislation also defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35% of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items.

The list of organizations supporting the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act includes: Bread for the World, Environmental Working Group, Feeding America, Food Marketing Institute, Food Policy Action, Food Research and Action Center, the Food Trust, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Grocers Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Reinvestment Fund, and Share Our Strength.

In order to qualify for a tax credit or grant for servicing qualifying food deserts, business and nonprofits must be certified as a “Special Access Food Provider (SAFP) by the Treasury Department and USDA. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act qualifies as SAFPs those businesses and nonprofits who service food deserts through the following:

  • New Store Construction: Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15% tax credit (of the property plan and construction) after receiving certification from a regional CDE and Treasury/USDA as an SAFP.
  • Retrofitting Existing Structures: Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10% tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
  • Food Banks: Food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts, will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15% of their construction costs, after certification as an SAFP.
  • Temporary Access Merchants: Temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501©(3)s will receive grants for 10% of their service costs for that year.

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for initiatives that promote healthy eating and physical wellness. As Governor, he spearheaded the Healthy Virginia initiative, which encouraged policies and practices that promoted good nutrition and regular physical activity in schools and state government. As Senator, he introduced legislation to allow the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports to solicit private funds to expands on its efforts on exercise, nutrition, and wellness.

To read the full text of the bill, click here. A summary can also be found here.

For a map of areas in the United States that would qualify to be served as food deserts under this bill, click here.

 

Population of Virginians living in food deserts as defined in this bill*

City or County Population
Albemarle 3765
Amelia 5777
Amherst 10217
Augusta 6689
Bath 4731
Bedford City 6222
Bland 3901
Bristol 13982
Brunswick 8041
Buchanan 4029
Buckingham 8400
Buena Vista 6650
Campbell 8756
Carroll 4767
Charlotte 12586
Chesapeake 12198
Chesterfield 14188
Colonial Heights 2629
Covington 3098
Cumberland 10052
Danville 13980
Dinwiddie 5720
Essex 8026
Fairfax 5280
Floyd 15279
Franklin 25439
Franklin City 3812
Frederick 10874
Fredericksburg 7567
Goochland 4263
Grayson 5277
Halifax 32142
Hampton 29365
Harrisonburg 15330
Henrico 37342
Henry 26005
Highland 2321
Hopewell 12120
James City 4014
King and Queen 3881
Lynchburg 38672
Manassas 7678
Manassas Park 6248
Martinsville 6166
Mecklenburg 15154
Montgomery 27237
Newport News 24016
Norfolk 35038
Norton 3958
Nottoway 9783
Orange 13756
Petersburg 15759
Pittsylvania 18926
Portsmouth 9507
Prince Edward 10624
Prince George 8543
Prince William 57728
Radford 12260
Richmond City 60545
Roanoke City 41329
Rockbridge 15873
Rockingham 11530
Salem 10424
Scott 7959
Shenandoah 9068
Smyth 3913
Southampton 7958
Spotsylvania 31964
Stafford 12818
Suffolk 4795
Sussex 6377
Tazewell 12740
Virginia Beach 35279
Warren 5562
Washington 3812
Waynesboro 5240
Winchester 5066
Wise 9566
Wythe 6773
Total: 1,048,359

*The last year for which data is available is 2015.

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