$400 million proposal for USDA, HHS, and Treasury funds to improve food access
As part of her upcoming child obesity campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama has been emphasizing the need to combat food deserts, those areas in which there is no or low access to fresh and healthy foods. In President Obama's 2011 budget, there's an attempt to directly address this issue, with funds allocated specifically to increase the availability of fresh foods through financial programs that encourage more groceries and food retailers to be located in underserved areas.
"We need to make healthy food options more affordable and accessible...and we need to do this in all communities: Urban, rural, everywhere," Mrs. Obama said, when speaking about her soon-to-be launched campaign last week at the YMCA in Alexandria, Virginia. "There is nothing that will frustrate a parent more than to say that you've got to buy more fruits and vegetables -- but to still see the cost out of kilter and see those goals out of reach."
In the 2011 budget, USDA has a line item for $50 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities.
And from the Treasury Department, there's $250 million to expand job-creating investments and access to credit in disadvantaged communities through the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which will help local financial institutions offer affordable loans to small businesses and nonprofit developers in communities that lack access to affordable credit. According to the official budget description, the funding "will also be coordinated with resources in other agencies to support the Administration’s place-based initiatives. New initiatives will expand financing for access to healthy foods."
Health and Human Services adds in an additional $100 million under its rubric of program components, which will also be aimed at the Healthy Foods Financing Initiative.
Taken together, these investments could be the start at an attempt at creating a national version of Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), a state program that combines public and private money to finance supermarkets that plan to operate in under served communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financial institutions. Founded in 2004, the FFFI has expanded access to healthy food for 400,000 state residents, as well as created nearly 5,000 jobs.
Among the First Lady's guests at President Obama's State of the Union address was Jeffrey Brown, a New Jersey grocer who has done significant work to combat food deserts, and who is one of the people who's worked hard to get FFFI growing. Last summer, White House officials toured one of Brown's West Philadelphia's supermarkets, which is one of four located in low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and a model operation for the FFFI.
It remains to be seen, of course, if these proposals make it into the final version of the 2011 budget, but it's part of a coordinated effort by the Obama administration to deal with food access--and to combat child obesity.
Related: Mrs. Obama discusses her obesity project on the Today show (video). The First Lady met with lawmakers and Cabinet Secretaries at the White House to discuss the campaign. A video of Mrs. Obama's YMCA event event is here, and the full transcript of the First Lady's remarks is here. Mrs. Obama addressed the US Conference of Mayors on the subject of child obesity. During his State of the Union address, President Obama focused the national spotlight on Mrs. Obama's upcoming campaign. Read about Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's report on combating obesity here. A post about the Healthy Kids Fair at the White House is here. *Getty photo