Press Release

Gillibrand, Velázquez, Quinn Join White House Push To Bring Fresh Food To New York’s Underserved Communities

Apr 12, 2010

New York, NY – To help three million New Yorkers living in so-called “food desert” neighborhoods that have little or no access to fresh, nutritious foods, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) were joined today by New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan), UFCW Local 1500 President Bruce Both, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum, and PolicyLink Founder & CEO Angela Glover Blackwell to launch the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. With food insecurity and obesity rates on the rise, the new legislation authored by Sen. Gillibrand, and being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Velázquez, would invest $1 billion through loans and grants to help build approximately 2,100 new grocery stores in high need areas across the country, including an estimated 273 stores in New York City. The initiative would create an estimated 200,000 new jobs nationally, including an estimated 26,000 in the City. President Obama has already dedicated $345 million in his FY2011 budget for a similar proposal.

To combat rising rates of obesity and food insecurity, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative would provide start-up grant and loan investments in some of the most marginalized communities in order to expand access to fresh food and create sustainable, good-paying jobs. Gillibrand is working on the legislation in coordination with First Lady Michelle Obama, who included the initiative as part of her “Let’s Move” agenda to combat childhood obesity.

“Obesity and diabetes rates are reaching crisis proportions in our country and it is time to take aggressive action,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Millions of New Yorkers do not have access to fresh, healthy food.  By building new grocery stores in underserved areas across the state we can give people the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives, save billions in health care costs, and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.  I am proud to work with President Obama and First Lady Michele Obama on their efforts to combat obesity in America.  We cannot back down from this fight.”

“Low income communities face higher incidences of obesity and diabetes and a big part of the problem is the lack of access to healthy foods,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY). “This initiative is about empowering families to make healthier food choices so they live longer.”

“The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will work to address one of the biggest challenges for New Yorkers who want a healthier diet – the lack of nutritious food options in many communities,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.  “This is a problem that the City Council has been working to address, most recently collaborating with Mayor Bloomberg on our FRESH initiative.  Our program was the first time any city in the country has used zoning to support supermarket expansion, and it’s already bringing two new stores to the Bronx.  The Fresh Food Financing Program will take the goals of our local program and bring it to the next level, and I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and Representative Velázquez for their leadership on this critical issue.”

 “By dedicating $345 million dollars to bringing fresh and healthy foods to underserved areas, we have taken a giant step towards improving the lives of millions of New Yorkers,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.  “I commend Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Velázquez for their advocacy on this important issue, and I look forward to continuing the fight to create a healthier New York.”

 “It’s not enough to educate communities about the importance of making healthy food choices –we have to give communities access to healthy food that is truely affordable,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. This initiative will bring fresh, nutritious food to underserved communities, improve the health of children and families, and create jobs in a difficult economic time.  I thank Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Velazquez for sponsoring this critically important bill.”

“My office launched the ‘Go Green’ initiative because we heard firsthand from many communities that they needed a helping hand when it came to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But despite valiant efforts from elected officials at every level of government, too many New Yorkers are still not getting the nutrition they need because their neighborhoods are simply underserved by food retailers,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer.  “This bill may be the nudge that finally allows grocery stores to open shop in our city’s food deserts, and create thousands of jobs in the process.  I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and Congressmember Velázquez for introducing legislation that will make a difference in the health and well-being of New Yorkers across the city.”

“Access to fresh and healthy food is incredibly important,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin(D-Manhattan). “In underserved neighborhoods such as Chinatown and the Lower East Side, in my district, and across the City, residents have nowhere to buy fresh produce. It is parents who need to teach our children about eating healthy, but how can we do that without good food in the neighborhood? Hopefully this initiative will help change that.”

“As Chairman of the Governor’s Council on Food Policy, I commend Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on the critical public health issue of the growing epidemic of obesity and diet-related diseases in our communities,” said New York State Dept of Agriculture & Markets Commissioner, Patrick Hooker.  “Promoting and enabling a thriving retail food infrastructure that provides local, fresh, affordable, nutritious food to our underserved communities is one of the top priorities of the New York State Council on Food Policy.  The Senator’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative not only provides the needed mechanisms to address this priority, but also provides renewed optimism at this time of economic hardship in New York.   We look forward to working with the Senator and Governor, and the local food markets and food producers throughout the State to create a healthier, more economically secure New York State. “

 “I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for continuing her work to address the serious need for supermarkets in New York’s underserved areas and I support her efforts,” said UFCW Local 1500 President Bruce Both.

“I want to thank Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Velázquez for proposing a solution to a troublesome problem that exists not only in New York City, but across the country,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.  “Too many of our neighborhoods don’t have access to a grocery store, leaving them with limited choices, higher prices and limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables.  The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will not only bring new options for healthy foods to neighborhoods, but also jobs that will provide family sustaining wages and benefits.”

“We have a health crisis in this country, in terms of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, that is disproportionately impacting low-income people and communities of color,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder & CEO of national research and action institute PolicyLink. “Nationally, only 8 percent of African Americans currently live in a census tract with a supermarket, and far too many Blacks and Latinos reside in areas underserved by a grocery store. To ensure that people are eating healthy diets, we must push to make healthier choices available in their neighborhoods. With the announcement of this new legislation, we are taking a pro-active step towards expanding fresh food access and creating jobs in communities that have struggled without both for far too long.”

The Food Desert Problem

Residents in many low-income communities lack consistent and reasonable access to nutritious and non-processed food. In both rural and urban communities throughout the state, a lack of access to healthy food can create large hindrances to maintaining a nutritious diet. These high need communities have been called “food deserts” because of the relative lack of healthy and fresh options. 

High need neighborhoods in New York City include Harlem, Washington Heights, the South Bronx, Williamsbridge/Wakefield, portions of Pelham Parkway, Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, East New York, Sunset Park, St. George, and Stapleton.

This is especially concerning in light of the exploding rates of obesity, diabetes and heart illness across the nation.  

  • Obesity – According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 34 percent of American adults are obese. In 2008, CDC estimated that 24.4% of New York adults were obese.  In New York City, 21.5% of the population, and 55% of adults, are overweight or obese (New York Department of Health Report 2009). A recent report by the Centers for Disease and Control estimates that obesity creates nearly $150 billion a year in increased healthcare costs and lost productivity for our nation.
  • Diabetes – In 2007, the American Diabetic Association estimated that 23.6 million people, or 7.8% of the US population, had diabetes. An estimated 530,000 New York City residents have been diagnosed with diabetes, and an additional estimated 260,000 may have diabetes but not know it, according to the NYS Department of Health.
  • Cardiovascular illness – According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular illness is the leading cause of death in America. The NYS DOH estimates cardiovascular illness kills 70,000 New Yorkers a year. In 2006, 22,000 New York City residents died from heart disease and an additional 1,700 from strokes.  

The USDA has found that 23.5 million people lack access to a supermarket within a mile of their home. According to the New York City Department of City Planning, approximately 3 million New York City residents live in high need neighborhoods that lack reliable access to fresh and healthy food.

 Results by borough:

  • Bronx – 75% of community districts fall short of the average city ratio
  • Brooklyn – 83% of community districts fall short of the city average
  • Queens – 50% of community districts fall short of the city average
  • Manhattan – 25% of districts fall short of the city average
  • Staten Island – 0% of districts fall short of the city average (car ownership is higher)

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Modeled after a highly successful program in Pennsylvania, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative would give priority to states and localities that have already begun efforts to build new grocery stores in food desert areas. New York City and State are well positioned to begin receiving funds almost immediately. Under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn, New York City recently enacted zoning and land-use changes designed to encourage the development of fresh food retail. New York State has also already established a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) to administer $10 million in loans and grants for new grocery stores.

The CDFI will work with local and state partners in order to identify areas in need of healthy food options, and support projects to bring fresh food to those areas. The projects will be financed through a mix of loans and one-time grants to help businesses start up or expand their operations. While exact amounts may vary, grants will likely range from $30,000 up to $250,000, and loans will range from $50,000 to $5 million.

The legislation sets requirements for the types of projects that are eligible for funding. The legislation also defines underserved areas as those areas which are located in low or moderate income census tracts, and are poorly served by fresh food retail. Minority and female owned businesses will be given priority in funding, along with projects that would provide wages and benefits equal or better to that of comparable businesses in the same area and include local hiring agreements.

Jobs and Community Development

            The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will create and retain hundreds and thousands of jobs at a cost of just over $5,000 per job. An analysis by The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), the Community Development Financial Institution in Pennsylvania, estimates that a $2 billion ($1 billion government/$1 billion private matching funds) program would create over 2,128 grocery store projects in underserved communities across the nation; provide healthy food access for over 15 million people; and create almost 90,000 direct, long-term, full-time equivalent jobs and nearly 100,000 new construction jobs.