By Emerald Atkins
According to a study by Feeding America, nearly 18% of people living in Charlottesville are struggling with food insecurity, defined by the USDA as when “consistent access to adequate food is limited by lack of money and other resources”. This is similar to the concept of a food desert, where urban residents are more than a mile from grocers carrying fresh food. (Ten miles for rural residents.) The lack of healthy food options lead to higher incidents of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, which is devastating to communities in terms of increased medical costs and quality of life lost.
An estimated 37 million Americans live in similar circumstances nationwide.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan bill was re-introduced in the U.S. Senate in an effort to help alleviate these conditions: the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act. Senator Mark Warner is helming the legislative project.
So, what is it?
The HFAAA aims to encourage food providers to service low access communities (food deserts). For the purposes of the legislation, a provision requires that said food deserts qualify by having a residential poverty rate of 20% or higher, or have a median family income tract of less than 80% of the median for the state or metro area, where applicable.
Among other things, food providers can be food banks or grocery markets, with the latter defined as a retail sales store with at least 35% of its inventory (or forecasted inventory) dedicated to selling fresh produce, deli, poultry, and dairy items. After submitting applications to the Treasury Department and being designated as a certified “Special Access Food Provider (SAFP),” providers whom service low access communities would receive specified tax credits or grants for servicing food deserts based on the following structure:
- Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501©(3)s) will receive grants for 10% of their annual operating costs.
- Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a one-time grant for 15% of their construction costs.
- Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a one-time 15% tax credit after receiving certification.
- Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a one-time 10% tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
Assuming that the HFAAA Act passes and becomes law, will the above tax incentives be sufficient to draw retailers into food deserts? Will the grants be enough to help food banks and temporary access merchants improve on their existing work to provide fresh food? Only time will tell. Regardless, Senator Warner and his associates are to be applauded for their efforts.