Sen. Warner highlights bill to eradicate food deserts

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 CountyPopulation
Albemarle3765
Amelia5777
Amherst10217
Augusta6689
Bath4731
Bedford City6222
Bland3901
Bristol13982
Brunswick8041
Buchanan4029
Buckingham8400
Buena Vista6650
Campbell8756
Carroll4767
Charlotte12586
Chesapeake12198
Chesterfield14188
Colonial Heights2629
Covington3098
Cumberland10052
Danville13980
Dinwiddie5720
Essex8026
Fairfax5280
Floyd15279
Franklin25439
Franklin City3812
Frederick10874
Fredericksburg7567
Goochland4263
Grayson5277
Halifax32142
Hampton29365
Harrisonburg15330
Henrico37342
Henry26005
Highland2321
Hopewell12120
James City4014
King and Queen3881
Lynchburg38672
Manassas7678
Manassas Park6248
Martinsville6166
Mecklenburg15154
Montgomery27237
Newport News24016
Norfolk35038
Norton3958
Nottoway9783
Orange13756
Petersburg15759
Pittsylvania18926
Portsmouth9507
Prince Edward10624
Prince George8543
Prince William57728
Radford12260
Richmond City60545
Roanoke City41329
Rockbridge15873
Rockingham11530
Salem10424
Scott7959
Shenandoah9068
Smyth3913
Southampton7958
Spotsylvania31964
Stafford12818
Suffolk4795
Sussex6377
Tazewell12740
Virginia Beach35279
Warren5562
Washington3812
Waynesboro5240
Winchester5066
Wise9566
Wythe6773
Total:1,048,359

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


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