Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces Legislation to Eradicate Food Deserts | Congressman Tim Ryan
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Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces Legislation to Eradicate Food Deserts

March 13, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC – Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-OH), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), and Roger Marshall (R-KS) introduced bipartisan legislation to incentivize food service providers such as grocers, retailers, and nonprofits to help eradicate food deserts.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 20 million Americans live in food deserts, or areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. The Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act sets up a system of tax credits and grants for businesses and nonprofits who serve low-income and low-access urban and rural areas.

“Our food system is broken and ineffective. In a country where obesity and diabetes rates are skyrocketing, and where over 20 million people live in food deserts, we cannot allow the status quo to continue. As March marks National Nutrition Month, it’s a stark reminder that we must find new ways for all Americans to have access to fresh, healthy food. This legislation takes a big step in the right direction towards accomplishing that goal, and I’m proud to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress to get this done. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes economic sense to tackle a food system that is at the root of so much of our sky-high healthcare costs,” said Congressman Ryan.

“Access to healthy, nutritious food should not be dependent on geography,” said Congressman McEachin. “I am committed to addressing hunger and food insecurity, which is why I am proud to reintroduce the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act with Congressman Ryan. This bicameral, bipartisan legislation will create a system of tax credits and grants to help increase the supply of healthy food in underserved communities. We must do everything we can to eliminate food deserts in Virginia and across the country.”

“Today more than 12 million children identify as food insecure, that’s unacceptable,” Rep. Marshall said. “We need these children enjoying our Kansas commodities like nutritious beef, grain, and milk, not suffering from preventable health conditions like diabetes or obesity. This month is National Nutrition Month, and absolutely no better time for Congress to pass HFAAA and band together to ensure that families across the country have access to quality food on their dinner table.”

Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced companion legislation in the Senate today.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

The full list of organizations HFAAA includes: Bread for the World, Food Marketing Institute, Food Policy Action, the Food Trust, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and National Grocers Association.

“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, The Food Trust.

“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 Andrew Harig, Senior Director, Food Marketing Institute. 

“The Local Initiatives Support Corporation supports the Healthy Food Access Act, which provides assistance for businesses and nonprofits that increase healthy food options in food deserts. We know that increasing access to healthy food improves food options for low-income families and spurs economic development in these areas. This legislation will provide needed resources to ensure that families have access to healthy food, no matter where they live,” said Matt Josephs, Senior Vice President, LISC.

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:  New grocery stores in a food desert will receive a one-time 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 retrofits an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a one-time 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, are eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs, after certification as an SAFP. 
  • Temporary Access Merchants: Mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks that are 501©(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their service costs for that year. 

To read the full text of the bill, click here.

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