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 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 make funding available through a shared set of goals and objectives.

HHS

Through the CED program, HHS awards competitive grants to Community Development Corporations to support projects that finance grocery stores, farmers markets, and other sources of fresh nutritious food. These projects 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. As of 2015, the total amount of funding awarded under the CED-HFFI program is over $44.5 million.

USDA and Treasury

USDA supports 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. The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes $125 million for HFFI to make nutritious food more accessible, and the President’s most recent budget proposal includes a request of $13 million for this work. The initiative provides financial and technical assistance to eligible fresh, healthy food retailers for the purposes of market planning and promotion efforts, as well as infrastructure and operational improvements designed to stimulate demand among low-income consumers for healthy foods and to increase the availability and accessibility of locally and regionally produced foods in underserved areas. The USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative also coordinates work on local food investments, including distribution, which is a key element of increasing healthy food access.

Through the U.S. Department of Treasury, The Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund provides flexible financial assistance and specialized training and technical assistance to CDFIs that invest in businesses that provide healthy food options. In fiscal year 2015, the CDFI Fund awarded $22 million in HFFI Financial Assistance to CDFIs, which will be used to finance businesses providing healthy food options. Treasury’s New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Program provides tax credit allocation authority to certified Community Development Entities. For more details about the CDFI Fund and the HFFI, see the Fact Sheet.

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

Visit the 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. 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.

Last Reviewed: April 27, 2016