Bipartisan legislation would provide grocers, retailers, nonprofits with incentives to service food-scarce communities
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) have collectively introduced the first comprehensive legislation in the U.S. Senate to target food deserts by incentivizing food service providers such as grocers, retailers and nonprofits to help eradicate these areas. The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act creates a system of tax credits and grants for businesses and nonprofits who serve these low-income and low-access urban and rural areas. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an estimated 37 million Americans live in a food desert.
“Living in the breadbasket of our nation, we can often forget how prevalent hunger and the lack of access to healthy food in our own communities can be,” said Senator Moran. “However, hunger and food insecurity are very real and threaten nearly one in six Kansans. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would incentivize food providers to establish themselves in communities where people lack access to healthy, affordable food by encouraging the construction and establishment of grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets. All Kansans and Americans, regardless of where they live, deserve access to healthy food.”
“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 Senator Warner. “Every person should have access to affordable and nutritious food regardless of where they live. By incentivizing food producers 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 percent (or higher) or a median family income of less than 80 percent 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 percent of its selection dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy and deli items.
“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,” Bread for the World Director of Government Relations Eric Mitchell said.
“Independent retail supermarkets and the wholesalers that supply them play a vital role in the communities they serve through access to food items and as a contributor to the local economy. The National Grocers Association has long supported the bipartisan efforts to find solutions to address the lack of food access in rural and urban areas and working towards strong private-public partnerships to address the barriers to entry faced by grocers in these underserved communities. We thank Senators Warner, Moran, Casey, and Capito for their efforts on the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and look forward to working with Congress to move this important piece of legislation forward,” National Grocers Association SVP of Government Relations and Public Affairs Greg Ferrara said.
Senator Moran, co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, has long been an advocate for making certain all Americans have access to healthy and nutritious food. He previously chaired the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which allocates funding for food programs that reduce hunger in rural and urban communities. He remains a member of that subcommittee.
The full list of organizations supporting the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act includes: Bread for the World, Feeding America, Food Marketing Institute, Food Policy Action, Food Research and Action Center, Food Trust, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Grocers Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors, 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 percent 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 percent 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 15 percent grant in lieu of taxes, 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 in lieu of taxes in the amount of 10 percent of their service costs for that year.