Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Island Harvest Food Bank on Long Island 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. She is also calling for $25 million for HFFI to be included in the upcoming government funding bill.
Gillibrand was joined by President and CEO of Island Harvest Randi Shubin Dresner, New York State Senator Mario Mattera and Suffolk County Legislator Jason Richberg.
“An easily accessible grocery store is a basic necessity, but for years, some residents of Suffolk County 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.”
“Having consistent access to a variety of fresh food at affordable prices is essential to reducing the number of people who are presently food insecure while helping to lessen the incidents of certain chronic health conditions that result from poor diets and limited access to healthy food,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, president & CEO, Island Harvest Food Bank. “We support Senator Gillibrand’s call for increased funding for the USDA’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative and applaud her tireless efforts in addressing the continuing public health crisis of hunger and food insecurity in America.”
“In recent years, ‘food deserts’ have become a growing issue on Long Island and throughout the state,” said Suffolk County Legislature Minority Leader Jason Richberg. “Full-scale supermarkets are scarce in some parts of my district, so I know first-hand that access to fresh food is essential to the overall health and well-being of a community. The long-term effects of communities not having easy access to fresh produce and other healthy foods is one of the main reasons that low-income populations suffer from statistically higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions. Thank you to Senator Gillibrand for your support and advocacy on this incredibly important issue.”
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.