Marketplace Scratch Pad

Food financing

Scott Jagow Feb 19, 2010

The Obama administration unveiled the details of a new program today that’s designed to tackle the problem of food “deserts.” Not desserts. Deserts.

Michelle Obama and administration officials including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were in Philadelphia to announce The Healthy Food Financing Initiative:

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will promote a range of interventions that expand access to nutritious foods, including developing and equipping grocery stores and other small businesses and retailers selling healthy food in communities that currently lack these options. Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called “food deserts” and are often found in economically distressed areas, are typically served by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh produce. Lack of healthy, affordable food options can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The administration hopes to eliminate food deserts within 7 years through a mix of tax credits, low-rate loans and grants to attract investors and businesses from the private sector. Projects will include building or expanding grocery stores in poor communities and getting fresh produce in smaller outlets like convenience stores. The USDA has created a Food Atlas, which shows where the food deserts are located. The Treasury, the Agriculture Department and Health and Human Services are collaborating on the initiative:

“It’s been a tough year for America, but for our middle class and distressed communities it’s been a tough decade,” said Secretary Geithner. “We’re here to make sure that in America, where a child grows up doesn’t determine whether they have access to a better–healthier–future. By introducing powerful incentives for private investors to take a chance on projects – like a new, healthier grocery store – we can make that difference for America’s children, while creating new jobs and services in their communities.”

Geithner and the First Lady visited a Fresh Grocer in North Philly that just opened in December. A state initiative similar to the Obama plan helped make the store possible:

“This is one of the proudest moments of my life to have the first lady standing behind my mission,” said Burns, owner the area’s 10 Fresh Grocer stores (eight in Philadelphia, one in Upper Darby and one in Wilmington) after the visit. “She’s a mom. She food shops. She gets it.”

Burns described his story as “the thread of the community. It gives healthy alternatives at affordable prices.”

Neighborhood resident Fred Tookes challenged Burns’s view of the store. He claimed that whites had management positions while African Americans held the lower level jobs. “People can’t afford to shop here,” said Tookes. “People get excited about all of the hoopla. But, when Mrs. Obama leaves today, nothing is gonna change.”

Do you agree — that nothing’s gonna change? Or do you see this as the kind of thing the government should be doing?

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