A number of communities of color throughout the country don’t have easy access to a quality, full-service grocery store. But, there is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the support of Congressional Black Caucus, that attempts to remedy that.
On Nov. 6, U.S. Reps. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) and Donald McEachin (D-Va.), both members of the CBC, co-introduced “The Healthy Food Access for All Americans” (HFAAA) along with Reps. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). The bill establishes a system of tax credits and grants for businesses and non-profits serving low-income and low-access urban and rural areas. The bill is trying to eliminate food deserts, which are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as urban areas where residents don’t have a one-mile access to a quality grocery store and in rural areas, a 10-mile access.
“I truly believe when we change the narrative as it relates to healthy food options and provide greater access to nutritious food choices we can move the needle in terms of getting rid of food deserts, something I’ve focused a great deal of my time on throughout my entire career,” Evans, who represents a large portion of Philadelphia, said. “This bill is an example of a way to utilize the tax code to incentive food merchants to help close the grocery store gap and change behaviors. We know diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and others have a direct correlation to the foods we eat and to critical nutrients missing from our diets.”
McEachin, who represents a Richmond-based district, agreed with Evans. “Every person, regardless of where he or she lives, deserves access to nutritious, affordable food, yet thousands of families in my congressional district live in areas where food access if a problem,” he said.
The USDA has published statistics indicating 37 million Americans live in a food desert.
In order to qualify for the grants, about a third of a grocery store’s selections must include fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items. New stores will get a one-time 15 percent tax credit while existing stores that improve their offerings will receive a one-time 10 percent tax credit.
In the U.S. Senate, there is a companion bill with a similar name, “The Healthy Food Access for All American Act” that is being pushed by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
In the District of Columbia, Wards 7 and 8 combined have three grocery stores with a population of 150,000 people. In central Prince George’s County, the Capitol Heights-Seat Pleasant-Fairmount Heights area hasn’t had a major full-service grocery store in it since Safeway left Addison Plaza in Seat Pleasant in July 2016.
Chloe Marshall, chairman of the Food Justice Coalition in Prince George’s County, told the AFRO she supports the House bill.
“We want to support this bill,” Marshall said. “I think it could be a benefit to the [Capitol Heights] area. This area needs more grocery stores and more accessible grocery store options.”
In the District, D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) has introduced legislation that addresses food deserts in his ward and the neighboring Ward 8. The primary bill is “The East End Health Care Desert, Retail Desert and Food Desert Act of 2017” that is set to be sent to the council as a result of action that took place on Nov. 29 in the Committee on Finance and Revenue, with “The East End Grocery and Retail Incentive Program Tax Abatement Act of 2017” and “The East End Surplus Allocation Equitable Incentive Act of 2017” also being considered as a three-part package. The bills are scheduled to have a first vote before the full Council on Dec. 5.