Food deserts are the often underreported scourge of America, impacting over 23.5 million Americans in some way. In areas that have high levels of food insecurity, low income individuals are not able to provide their families with proper food or meet adequate nutrition standards. This leads to higher obesity rates and increases the risk for serious medical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
There are several ways to reverse the growing trend of food deserts. The number one tool is awareness/education on the issue. Public knowledge can be very effective in mobilizing the efforts to combat food insecurity.
The federal government is looking at different options. The Agriculture Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) has dedicated over $125 million per year to improving access to nutritious food. Part of this is the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which has given over $500 million in recent years to encourage chains and small businesses to build new stores in underserved areas, especially stores that focus on providing fresh fruits and vegetables.
Although this action has been slow to implement (only 602 grocery stores from a group of major retailers have been built or renovated in food deserts since 2014), state and local governments are beginning to follow the federal government’s lead.
A bill was recently pre-filed in the Missouri House which, if passed, would authorize a tax credit for the establishment of full-service stores in food deserts.
This is similar to Alabama, where earlier this year the state legislature passed its own Healthy Food Financing Act. The legislation does not yet have the funding, but the framework is in place for future financial assistance.
Other states have introduced similar legislation or will include grocery store incentives as part of their state budgets.
Cincinnati, Ohio is creating new incentives through their Grocery Attraction Pilot Program, which is designed to assist greatly in property improvements to reduce operating expenses for grocery stores, and by waiving the annual city food service permit fee for up to five years.
Baltimore, Maryland, where one in four residents lives in what can be classified as a food desert, approved a measure which would give grocery stores an 80 percent tax break that would offset the large operating costs of being located in disadvantaged areas that typically produce less shoppers per day.
It will take creativity and dedication from our leaders and the general public in order to get more of these programs off the ground in the United States.
Whether you know someone who is affected by this public health problem or not, we must all do our part to ensure better access to nutritious food for all.
What isn’t helping the cause are the actions of activists who have consistently attempted to block affordable options at the grocery stores. This “Digestive Elite” advocates for policies which raise the cost of food for families. Lower income families depend on affordable nutritious food items such as eggs, which supply a quality source of protein, but these activists consistently attempt to hurt agricultural production.
Join us in the fight to keep America free and fed. Support those who are working to eliminate food deserts, not those who wish to limit our food resources.