Press Release

In Syracuse, 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 22, 2024

Bill Could Help Bring A Grocery Store To Syracuse’s Southside

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Valley Plaza in Syracuse 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 underserved communities, such as Syracuse’s Valley neighborhood, which has lacked a large grocery store since the local Tops supermarket shut down in 2018. She is also calling for $25 million for HFFI to be included in the upcoming government funding bill. 

Gillibrand was joined by founder of Food Access Healthy Neighborhoods Now Rhonda Vesey, Mayor Ben Walsh, Executive Director of Food Bank of Central New York Karen Belcher, and members of the Onondaga County Legislature.

An easily accessible grocery store is a basic necessity, but for years, the residents of Syracuse’s Valley neighborhood 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 a problem that disproportionately affects communities of color across the country, including here in Syracuse. With the Healthy Food Financing Initiative proposed by Senator Gillibrand, it is our hope that Syracuse’s most affected neighborhoods will gain access to affordable grocery stores that offer nutritious options,” said Mayor Ben Walsh.

“We know how vital it is for our neighbors to have fresh, healthy, affordable food to not only meet their day to day needs, but to thrive. We applaud and thank Senator Gillibrand for her support of programs like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and we urge Congress to support a Farm Bill that includes strong investments in nutrition programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program and SNAP, as well as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. No New Yorker should be hungry, and together we can ensure that access to healthy, nutritious foods is available to everyone throughout New York.” – Karen Belcher, Executive Director, Food Bank of Central New York.

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. 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.