Press Release

In Rochester, Gillibrand Announces Legislation To End Food Deserts; Bill Would Provide $50 Million In Funding Annually To Incentivize Grocery Stores To Establish Locations In Underserved Communities

Jan 26, 2024

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Thurston Road YMCA Neighborhood Center to announce her Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act, legislation that would help end food deserts. Food deserts are areas where a significant portion of residents don’t have easy access to a grocery store and affordable, nutritious food. Instead, they are forced to rely on corner and convenience stores, which often sell little to no fresh produce, meat or dairy and whose prices are higher than those of a typical supermarket. 

Gillibrand’s legislation would provide $50 million annually in mandatory federal funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). HFFI is a USDA program that offers loans and grants to incentivize grocery stores to establish locations in areas like the 19th Ward, where residents lack easy access to fresh food retailers. She is also calling for $25 million for HFFI to be included in the upcoming government funding bill. 

Gillibrand was joined by VP of Urban Services for the YMCA of Greater Rochester George Warren; Chief Impact Officer of Foodlink Mitch Gruber; Congressman Joe Morelle; City of Rochester Mayor Malik Evans; Monroe County Executive Adam Bello; and Assemblymember Demond Meeks.

An easily accessible grocery store is a basic necessity, but for years, residents of the 19th Ward and other underserved communities in Rochester haven’t had consistent access to one,” said Senator Gillibrand. “That means that they have to travel miles outside their neighborhood just to buy staple groceries, and for residents without a car, that can mean a multi-hour journey by foot or public transit. It’s unacceptable. USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative is a critical public-private partnership that provides grocers with financial incentives to establish locations in these underserved communities, and for years, the program has successfully brought fresh food to areas that need it. But HFFI doesn’t have enough funding to help every neighborhood in need, so I’m calling for $25 million for the program to be included in this year’s government funding bill. I’m also introducing a bill to provide $50 million in mandatory federal funding for HFFI every single year going forward. I look forward to getting it passed in this year’s Farm Bill and starting the process of ending food deserts for good.” 

“Food insecurity is an issue so many in our community are facing and we have been working with our local partners to help alleviate by offerings fresh produce and hot meals to the residents in here in the 19th Ward and across the communities we serve,” said Ernie Lamour, President & CEO, YMCA of Greater Rochester. “Funding for critical programs like the ones we offer allows us to continue to show up for our community how and when they need us.” 

“In order to end food insecurity in communities like Rochester, we need to develop creative, alternative food retail options for residents who live in underserved neighborhoods. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative is the most useful tool to create a more diverse, efficient and sustainable food retail landscape. We thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and strongly support the expansion of HFFI,” said Mitch Gruber, Chief Impact Officer of Foodlink.

“Access to affordable, healthy food options is essential for a person’s overall well-being. But sadly, too many people struggle to meet this basic human need,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “To reduce hunger, we need to invest in the infrastructure and programs necessary to eliminate food deserts—which means breaking down the barriers that prevent someone from being able to access healthy meals. I’m grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this important issue and I look forward to our continued work together to strengthen the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, reduce food insecurity, and uplift our community.”

“Gradual disinvestment in city neighborhoods has drastically impacted the basic services and quality of life that our citizens need and deserve,” said Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans. “That includes a dire reduction of convenient and reliable access to healthy foods for many of our residents, so we are very grateful that Senator Gillibrand is spearheading incentives to establish grocery stores in our underserved communities.”

“Food insecurity can have serious consequences for the health and well-being of communities. Food deserts disproportionately impact low-income neighborhoods, further compounding existing health disparities,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “Investment from the Healthy Food Financing Initiative proposed by Senator Gillibrand can help those neighbors most in need to gain access to affordable, healthy food.”

“Food deserts have a devastating impact on residents and families, even in districts that have been disproportionately affected by this public health crisis. Underserved communities often experience higher rates of obesity and chronic diseases due to a lack of affordable and healthy food options. Our residents and families deserve access to fresh, nutritious foods. Senator Gillibrand has demonstrated her commitment to combating food deserts throughout our state. Her legislation will provide incentives for grocery stores to open locations in disadvantaged communities by setting aside $50 million in mandatory federal funding every year. Thank you Senator Gillibrand for advocating for this critical funding to support the children and families in the state of New York,” said Assemblyman Demond Meeks, 137th District.

“When grocery stores leave city neighborhoods, it’s our underserved populations who suffer the most,” said Senator Jeremy Cooney, 56th District“It’s these same communities who often face transportation barriers, making what should be a quick visit to the store an all-day headache. I thank Senator Gillibrand for prioritizing the needs of Rochester’s families and ensuring they have better access to this most basic need.”

In New York State, HFFI has provided financial or technical assistance to 4 fresh food retailers in Troy, Rochester, Buffalo, and Brooklyn, as well as dozens more nationwide. Foodlink, the Rochester-based regional food bank, has received technical assistance through HFFI to support initial development of a full-service grocery store within the city. A full list of recipients is available here

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Senate appropriators calling for $25 million for HFFI in the upcoming government funding bill is available here.