Healthy Food Financing Initiative

What is the Healthy Food Financing Initiative?

heart with carrotIn 2010, the Obama Administration announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which brings grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America. Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called “food deserts,” typically rely on fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh food. Through programs at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Treasury and Health and Human Services (HHS), HFFI is an over $400 million initiative that expands access to nutritious food in these communities through efforts such as developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores and farmers markets selling healthy food.

What is a food desert? How do I locate one?

Food deserts are communities, particularly low-income areas, in which residents do not live in close proximity to affordable and healthy food retailers. Healthy food options in these communities are hard to find or are unaffordable. There are food deserts in urban, rural and tribal communities.

To help community leaders identify the food deserts in their area, USDA launched a Food Environment Atlas. This online tool allows for the identification of counties where, for example, more than 40 percent of the residents have low incomes and live more than one mile from a grocery store. Nationwide, USDA estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. Of the 23.5 million, 11.5 million are low-income individuals in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Of the 2.3 million people living in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket, 1.1 million are low-income.

The 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity found that limited access to healthy choices can lead to poor diets and higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases. In addition, limited access to affordable food choices can lead to higher levels of food insecurity, increasing the number of low- and moderate-income families without access to enough food to sustain a healthy and active life. There is a growing, though incomplete, body of research that finds an association between food insecurity and obesity, suggesting that hunger and obesity may be two sides of the same coin.

How is the federal government helping to solve the problems of food deserts? 

HFFI brings the expertise and resources of the USDA, Treasury and HHS together to give stakeholders a full range of tools to increase access to healthy foods. These three federal partners will make funding available through a shared set of goals and objectives. 

USDA’s proposed 2011 budget includes a funding level of $50 million that will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion and other programs designed to create healthy food options in food deserts across the country:

  • $35 million in FY 2011 discretionary funding is to remain available until September 30, 2012 for financial and technical assistance
  • $15 million in funds will support technical or financial assistance and such resources will come from a set aside of up to 10 percent of the funds made available through selected Rural Development and Agricultural Marketing Service programs.

Treasury has dedicated $275 million to support private sector financing of healthy foods options in distressed urban and rural communities:

  • Through the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) and financial assistance to Treasury-certified community development financial institutions (CDFIs), Treasury has a proven track record in expanding access to nutritious foods by catalyzing private sector investment. The budget requests $250 million in authority for the NMTC and $25 million for financial assistance to CDFIs.

HHS may commit up to $20 million in Community Economic Development (CED) program funds for community-based efforts to improve the economic and physical health of people in distressed areas:

  • Through the CED program, HHS will award competitive grants to Community Development Corporations to support projects that finance grocery stores, farmers markets and other sources of fresh nutritious food. These projects will serve the dual purposes of facilitating access to healthy food options while creating job and business development opportunities in low-income communities, particularly since grocery stores often serve as anchor institutions in commercial centers.

Where can my community go to find more information on how to combat food deserts?

Visit the new Healthy Food Access Portal, which supports communities seeking to launch healthy food retail projects across the country. Find resources designed to improve healthy food access in communities, build local economies, and enhance public health.

Section IV of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report focuses on access to healthy, affordable food, and provides multiple recommendations and strategies for combating food deserts.

Where can I find more information about applying for a grant to engage in this effort?

The Community Economic Development program is a key component of the HFFI Initiative with proposed support of up to $20 million in grants. The CED program is administered by ACF's Office of Community Services. Learn more about CED-HFFI projects:

The Department of the Treasury also has grant opportunities available through the New Markets Tax Credit Program.

Who can receive funding?

Many types of organizations are eligible for funding and/or technical assistance, including the following:

  • Businesses
  • Local and tribal governments
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Cooperatives and universities
  • State Department of Agriculture
  • Colleges and universities
  • Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institutions and Community Development Entities
  • Community Development Corporations