HFFI Bill Would Expand Healthy Food Access, Revitalize Communities

Across the country, nearly 40 million Americans live in rural and urban neighborhoods where easy access to affordable, high-quality, and healthy food is out of reach. A new bill, introduced by Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Dwight Evans (D-PA), addresses this critical issue by bolstering an existing program that has demonstrated success in improving access to healthy foods and spurring economic revitalization in underserved communities. The “Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act” would reauthorize the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) program at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Rural Development, originally established at the agency in the Agricultural Act of 2014.

In 2009, PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and Reinvestment Fund joined forces on a national campaign that, together with diverse partners and stakeholders, led to the launch of the HFFI program at the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services in 2011. Building on the success, HFFI’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill came with strong bipartisan support, officially establishing HFFI at USDA and authorizing up to $125 million for the program. In January 2017, USDA announced the selection of Reinvestment Fund to serve as HFFI’s National Fund Manager.

To date, HFFI has invested $220 million in grants and loans to more than 35 states to improve access to healthy food, create and preserve jobs, and revitalize communities. The program’s public-private partnership model has enabled grantees to leverage over $1 billion in additional resources to expand healthy food businesses such as grocery stores, food hubs, co-ops and other enterprises that increase the supply of and the demand for healthy foods in low-income, underserved rural and urban communities. 

HFFI reauthorization and expansion would build on these past successes, as well as broaden and deepen the program’s impact, by targeting areas of the country that still struggle with healthy food access. Rural communities, small towns, and urban areas would benefit from the program’s investments expanding healthy food-related small businesses, strengthening farm to retailer and consumer infrastructure, and supporting local and regional food system development.  

We applaud the ongoing leadership and commitment of Representatives Fudge and Evans, each of whom have served as long-standing champions of HFFI and improving healthy food access.  Representative Fudge played a key leadership role in ensuring funding was authorized for HFFI in the 2014 Farm Bill legislation, and Representative Evans served an instrumental role to launch the highly successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which served as the original model for the federal HFFI program. 

Innovative programs like HFFI represent critical steps forward to ensure that all communities not only have access to healthy, affordable food, but also benefit from quality jobs, business development opportunities, and other resources needed to create healthy, thriving communities of opportunity.  

Trump’s State of the Union Address Reveals Tremendous Misalignment Between Talk and Action

Last night, during the annual State of the Union address, Trump began his speech with strong statements regarding the desire to be one united country — words that contradict his actions. In the last year we have seen DACA revoked, startling race baiting comments after Charlottesville, the slashing of major funding streams that provide a safety net for millions of Americans, the suspension of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule which promotes fair housing choice and increased opportunity for all residents, the repeal of the Clean Water Rule, and the elimination of various committees and processes that advance greater equity and protect the well-being of our citizens. These actions DO NOT align with a desire for a unified country.

The theme of misalignment between the rhetoric and the practice and/or impact continued throughout the rest of his address. For example, in addition to unity, Trump also spoke at length regarding the economy and touted the recently passed tax bill as providing relief for "hard-working" Americans; when in actuality, the true impact of the tax bill is harmful to many Americans and has already stunted the development of desperately needed affordable housing and community development as outlined in a recent New York Times article.

Lastly, Trump touted his plans for a much-anticipated infrastructure investment, calling for an investment that will "give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve;" but the proposal shared thus far reveals that Trump's plan inherently promotes economic and regional inequality by:

  • Ignoring people and communities which are most in need of this investment;
  • Providing another windfall for the Administration's wealthy comrades by encouraging the privatization of public systems;
  • Favoring funding mechanisms which are not feasible for the infrastructure investments needed in low-income communities and communities of color; and
  • Providing for minimal federal investment and shifting the cost burden to working families with increases in local and state taxes.

Despite this Administration's divisive and inequitable agenda, we know that millions of Americans are indeed advocating for a more unified State of the Union. We know that the most important thing one can do to strengthen our democracy is to remain engaged, seek understanding and common ground with people with different points of view, and vote for candidates who truly believe in a just and fair society. At PolicyLink, we remain inspired by the courageous actions of so many who work to advance equitable policies and practices, so that all can participate and prosper and reach their full potential.

It takes cash to get lead out of schools

When will California make it a priority to protect our children from the toxic lead contamination in many schools’ water? From the looks of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, this threat to students’ health and academic potential remains dangerously underfunded. Read full article on The Sacramento Bee.

Partnering with Grocery Stores to Uplift Philadelphia Communities

By Lauren Vague Stager, Uplift Workforce Solutions

"We ARE here as a group!" is one of the phrases that stuck out as I sat in the classroom of the Uplift Workforce Solutions training center. In early January 2018, the fifth cohort of the program began.  There are 29 people in the group, all with one thing in common: they are all formerly incarcerated. 

Mass incarceration is a pervasive issue, and its devastating effects cannot be overstated.  Getting locked up is just the beginning of the nightmare of incarceration. But what happens when someone is released?  The litany of consequences do not end when someone gets out of jail or prison. It is difficult to get identification, most don't have money or a job, and many people don't even have a place to stay. The Department of Justice estimates that over 10,000 people are released from state and federal lockups each week. In Pennsylvania, over 18,000 are released from prison each year. Here at Uplift Workforce Solutions, we know that in many ways, a re-entering citizen's situation will not change until they have their own source of sustainable and legally secured income. Uplift partners with Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and Brown's Super Stores so that we can provide guaranteed employment to re-entering citizens in Philadelphia. We are generously supported by the Nerney Family Foundation and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.  The promise of a job, not just a training program that will help you get a job, is a game changing step.

The program is six weeks, and the subject matter is combined life skills and grocery-specific training, so that both hard and soft skills are assessed and developed over the course of the program.   We have built a simulated supermarket complete with functioning cash registers in our classroom at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, and upon successful completion of the program the participants are placed in a position at either a ShopRite or Fresh Grocer supermarket.

I saw three of the four cohorts complete and graduate from the program last year, the room filling with joy as the participants finish the program knowing that they are all starting a job within the next week. Throughout the program, it has become clear how much the participants and I have in common. Many of the experiences shared by the classes are universal. The cohort spoke about trying to make sure they were a positive part of their children's lives, recognizing when they had done wrong, trying to prove themselves, learning to be comfortable in their own skin, and planning for retirement.  We all have the same hopes and dreams, but trying to achieve our hopes and dreams can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. At Uplift Workforce Solutions, we are reminding our participants of their hopes and dreams, and providing them a job on the way to achieving them.

Uplift is a national non profit organization that focuses on creating access to food, access to healthcare, access to capital and access to jobs in underserved communities. To learn more you can go to http://upliftsolutions.org/ or contact the author, Lauren Vague, at lauren.vague@upliftsolutions.org.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.

Trump Administration Undermines Workers' Safety Net

Earlier this week the Trump Administration announced a major shift in policy related to one of the nation’s key safety net components, the Medicaid program.  On Thursday, the Administration issued guidance to states which will allow them to compel people to work or train for work in order to be eligible for Medicaid’s health benefits. In the 50-year history of the program, there has been no such requirement as the country has recognized its responsibility to ensure that ALL of its citizens are able to live HEALTHY and productive lives. 

The Administration defends its actions by alleging that work requirements will enable individuals covered by Medicaid to “break the chains of poverty” and “live up to their highest potential.” However, several studies confirm that work requirements do not help people escape poverty, but rather often lead to individuals and families being worse off and risking their health or family’s well-being by having to decide between working or going without health insurance and needed medical care.

At PolicyLink, all of our work is grounded in the conviction that equity – just and fair inclusion – must drive policy decisions.  We believe that an equitable economy is one in which everyone can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. A just society requires that everyone have the opportunity to thrive and do well.  A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, estimates that 60 percent of the Medicaid recipients whom the federal government considers to be able-bodied adults are already working. These individuals are often working in low-wage jobs and rely upon Medicaid for their well-being and economic security.  With this extreme policy shift, the Trump Administration is ensuring that those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum will be left behind, and handicapped in their pursuit of a better life.  Instead of working to ensure that every American has access to health care and is able to pursue greater opportunities, this Administration continues to advance an agenda which is an all out assault on those members of our society who are most in need.  

The Fierce Urgency of Now

January brings us three months closer to Equity Summit 2018, where thousands will convene to set an equity agenda for the nation. The 15th of this month marks what would have been Dr. King’s 89th birthday, and 2018 is also the 50th anniversary of his Poor People’s Campaign, which advocated economic justice for all people.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose transformative leadership forever changed America’s consciousness around issues of civil and human rights, we reflect on his words and message, which continue to inspire movement-building and mobilized action

Dr. King’s condemnation of racism and economic inequality resonates strongly today, as the nation continues to grapple with discrimination, the degradation of human rights and civil liberties, institutional violence, and poverty.

His words continue to evoke a sense of social and political exigency that can be felt in today’s sociopolitical climate.
 
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

Five Reasons Not to Miss Equity Summit 2018

Join us at Equity Summit 2018, taking place in Chicago on April 11-13! 

True to our vision of a more just and inclusive future for America, the Summit speakers and programming have been carefully curated so that attendees feel emboldened to step into their power, activate their imaginations, and help set the national agenda.
 
With just under five months to go, Equity Summit 2018 may just be our most powerful Summit yet! Here’s why! 

1. Powerful Movement Voices
 

In this present moment of challenge and uncertainty, there are key voices from across the movements for equity and justice who continue to instill hope for a brighter future. Equity Summit 2018 will host some of today’s most esteemed policymakers, thought leaders, and advocates, setting the stage for continued movement and solutions building at the Summit and beyond. They include:

As you can see, these individuals represent a diverse intersection of communities and issues that are crucial to unlocking our nation's promise. To see additional speakers confirmed for Equity Summit 2018, go here!

2. Dynamic Discussions and Strategic Spaces
 
If you've attended previous Equity Summits, you likely know that plenaries are the cornerstones of our programming. Featuring conversations with visionary leaders, these plenaries are both inspiring and instructive, establishing the tone for ongoing discussion, and motivating attendees to push the boundaries of their work. Plenaries at Equity Summit 2018 include “Our Power: Radical Imagination Fueling Change”; “Our Future: The Leading Edge of the Equity Movement”; and “Our Nation: Transformative Solidarity in a Divided Nation.”
 
In addition to the plenaries, Summit attendees will have access to workshops that offer opportunities to engage in smaller group settings with experts who are pioneering change within specific issue areas. Immigration reform, protecting renters’ rights, climate resilience, alternatives to policing, and decriminalizing poverty are just a few of the topics that will be explored in the workshops available at Equity Summit 2018. Find an overview of our programming here.
 
3. Chicago’s Transformative History
 
The city of Chicago has a rich legacy of activism and action around some of the most urgent civil and human rights issues of our time. Throughout its history, Chicago has left an indelible mark on the nation — including its status as a destination city during the Great Migration, association with the activism of Pullman porters, and the pivotal role of South Chicago’s Mexican-American community in organizing the United Steel Workers in the 1940’s. Chicago also served as the site of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the Chicago Freedom Movement (which is largely credited with inspiring the 1968 Fair Housing Act), and is where organizations like Advancing Justice-Chicago, Asian American Alliance and the Association of Asian Construction Enterprises (AACE) fought for the inclusion of Asian Americans in the city’s Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program in the early 2000’s. Of course, Chicago is also where a promising community organizer named Barack Obama launched his political career, eventually becoming America’s first Black president.
 
Today, the city continues to be an epicenter for revolutionary organizing and movement building led by grassroots leaders like BYP100 National Director (and Equity Summit 2018 speaker) Charlene Carruthers, and other  Chicago-born-and-bred leaders and artist-activists like Common, Jesse Williams, John Legend, Hebru Brantley, Chance The Rapper, and others. 

For information on where to stay in Chicago, visit here

4. The Moment and the Momentum

Next April marks the 50th anniversaries of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and the subsequent Chicago uprising. April 12th will also be three years since the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore law enforcement, an incident that further ignited the local and national movements for police and criminal justice reform — two of the key issues to be explored as part of the Summit’s Just Society Workshop Series.
 
Most urgently, 2018 kicks off the midterm election season, which, according to Vox, would be “the first nationwide referendum” on the current presidency. With Equity Summit 2018 happening at such a crucial time — and with civic leaders like Voto Latino Executive Director Maria Teresa Kumar and NAACP President Derrick Johnson among our key speakers — attendees will have the chance to connect and share strategies for maximizing civic engagement, ensuring that the issues impacting America’s diverse communities and demographics are adequately represented.
   
5. Your Voice and Leadership
 
We believe that solidarity across social movements, cultures, races, and ethnicities is essential to resistance and the antidote to oppression, hate, and racism. We also believe that the key to a better, more prosperous tomorrow for America lies in the work being driven by people like you, whose tireless efforts on the ground represent the best of what’s working in our cities and communities. As champions for just and fair inclusion, your participation at Equity Summit 2018 will ensure that those closest to the nation’s challenges remain central to finding the solutions.
 
Whether you are a youth activist, grassroots/community organizer, elected official, or nonprofit leader, your voice and contributions matter. Register today and join the cross-section of leaders at Equity Summit 2018 who are radically shaping the nation's future and our collective role in it.
 
Get news and updates on Equity Summit 2018 in real time. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #EquitySummit2018! You can also sign up here to receive PolicyLink email alerts.

Denise Fairchild: Building a Movement for an Equitable Clean Energy Economy

By Courtney Hutchision

This hurricane season — one of the most virulent in decades — has made it impossible to ignore the disparate impact that our shifting climate has on low-income communities and communities of color. At the same time, the current administration is attempting to roll back environmental protections, and double down on fossil fuels that will only exacerbate the nation’s environmental woes. 

Too often, these interconnected realms of environment, energy, economy, and social justice remain siloed, making it difficult for advocates to see their common ground and common struggle. In Energy Democracy: Advancing Equity in Clean Energy Solutions, president & CEO of Emerald Cities Collaborative Denise Fairchild, along with co-editor Al Weinrub, weave together the insight of leading experts from across sectors, putting forth a holistic, systems-changing vision of an equitable energy future. 

Fairchild, whose organization advances environmental solutions that support an equitable economy, spoke with America’s Tomorrow about “energy democracy” and how advocates working in the environmental, racial justice, and economic sectors can help America move toward a more equitable energy future. 

Many of our readers are familiar with environmental racism and the ways in which pollution and climate threat have a disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color. The notion of “energy democracy” goes beyond disparate impact, however, to re-envision who owns the fuel economy and how it is used. Can you give us an overview of what you mean by energy democracy? 

Energy democracy is an emerging concept that pushes us beyond the movement for 100 percent  renewable energy toward a system that is not only clean but also non-exploitative and democratic. Essentially, we’re asking the question: how do we move to a clean energy future while keeping racial, social, and economic justice at the forefront? This means that our clean energy future should not exploit or harm the environment and our natural resources, and it should not exploit or damage the communities that have been negatively impacted by our past and current energy choices. It also means we need to focus on the use value of renewable energy, not its commodification. We do not want to move into renewable energy and just see the same old patterns of monopolization and concentration of wealth and ownership in the hands of the few. The energy democracy draws on a more indigenous tradition that sees our energy resources as part of the commons — it belongs to everyone and it should benefit everyone. That doesn’t just mean equitable distribution of the energy itself, but equitable distribution of the jobs created in the new energy economy, the resources needed to capitalize economically on renewable energy sources, and the investments that could be made to rebuild under-resourced communities. Right now, the renewable energy economy — though better for the environment — is poised to be just as extractive for low-income communities and communities of color. These populations are more likely to rent and hence have little to no control over whether their buildings use renewable energy sources. Purchasing solar panels are expensive and require a credit score in many instances, putting them out of reach for those who have historically been underserved by banking systems. So there’s a legacy of divestment that has taken place in our communities that’s impacted our bankability, our credit, and our housing, and that bleeds over into whether or not we’re going to be able to participate in and benefit from a clean energy future.

What led you to write this book? 
We wrote the book to build a movement, to be perfectly honest. We knew there were strands of this work taking place, but we wanted to nurture this fairly nascent movement to tie the strands together. We know that a clean energy economy will drive the 21st century economy. Just like agriculture economy gave way to the industrial economy, we are now in an economic transition and it’s imperative that we ensure that communities of color and low-income communities, which have been on the margins of economic life in the past, are full beneficiaries in this new economy. 

In this book, we lay out how people can join the movement at the policy level, because in every state across the country, state government and public utilities are in conversations about what the new energy future will look like. This is probably the last time in the next 50 to 100 years that we will have the opportunity to change our energy infrastructure in a way that benefits the communities that matter to us, so we need to be in those conversations and bring that racial justice and social justice frame. We also provide examples of how people can join the movement at the organizing and leadership level, and make the case for building capacity and knowledge around these issues across multiple sectors in social justice. Advocates sometimes have difficulty seeing how energy relates to racial or economic justice, but at the end of the day it’s about people who have to take their kids to the hospital again and again for asthma because of where polluting sources are placed, or household budgets stretched tight because of rising utility bills. There are so many communities out there finding new, equitable solutions and doing it their own way, and we wanted to create a resource that brought all that together. 

The book has some truly bold and transformative ideas, such as changing the constitutional definition of private property, building collectively-owned utilities, or challenging global trade agreements. Given that the current administration has sought to scale back environmental protections and reinforce a capitalistic and extractionist energy economy, where do you see opportunities for the energy democracy movement to push for reform? 

This work is really about a revolution. It’s going to take long-term collaboration on many fronts: legal, community organizing, and alternative energy solutions. This book provides different frameworks and perspectives on how we win this war, one battle at a time. The struggle around profit, power, and privilege as embedded in our current administration has ramped up the opposition to this movement, but there are reasons to be optimistic. The utility sector and private sector know that the fossil fuel economy is over. Renewable energy technology has become cheaper than fossil fuel and so the business model is going to have to fundamentally change. But just because we have the technology, everyone thinks that will solve all the problems; but this struggle is really about these larger racial justice issues. The new technology makes it so we don’t have to replicate a centralized system, we can have a distributed energy system that’s much more local and can be community-owned and community-run. 

For example, the book showcases a Washington, D.C. community that, concerned about the environment and rising utilities bills, banded together to form an energy cooperative. Using bulk purchasing of solar panels, they helped dozens of households install technology that allows them to fuel their own households and reap the profits made from selling extra energy back to the grid. These organizers formed the DC Solar United Neighborhoods, helping neighborhoods across the city form similar coops and today this model has been replicated in Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. So even in a federal political climate like we have, these changes can happen neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community. 

Advancing Economic Inclusion in Southern Cities


In 2015, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in partnership with PolicyLink, launched Southern Cities for Economic Inclusion, a cohort of seven cities dedicated to advancing economic equity for low-income communities and communities of color. Comprised of city officials and staff, local philanthropy, and business and community partners from Atlanta, Asheville, Charlotte, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Richmond, the group convenes regularly to share best practices and learn from experts. Their next meeting will be in Richmond from October 23-25.

This group explicitly identifies and addresses the unique historical, political, and legal obstacles to achieving economic inclusion in the South; namely, the region’s deeply entrenched legacy of racism and segregation, as well as the structural limitations imposed by state laws that strip cities of the authority to advance economic inclusion policies such as local hiring or inclusive procurement.

Leaders from the seven cities are advancing real solutions by:

  • Establishing an economic agenda that both acknowledges and confronts the legacy of race. City and community leaders in New Orleans and Atlanta have created economic opportunity plans that set a proactive agenda to invest in people of color and others who have been left behind and demonstrate how equity will lead to everyone being better off.  
     
  • Bringing together diverse stakeholders to advance an economic inclusion agenda. In Memphis, Nashville, and elsewhere, anchor institutions such as universities and medical facilities, along with business and other leaders in the private sector, are coming together with city partners to encourage growth in the minority business community and bring new investments into communities without causing displacement. 
     
  • Innovating policies and programs to support minority-owned businesses and connect people to jobs. In Charlotte, Richmond, and Asheville, cities have developed pilot procurement programs and incentives to support minority businesses and to help connect individuals with barriers to employment to good jobs.
     

These projects and initiatives are changing the cultural silence on race in economic development policy and strengthening local positions despite state restrictions on local authority. We applaud these city leaders for their work thus far.  Reaching this point has required creativity in policy design, political deftness, and most of all, resilience.  However, advancing this work will require additional investment and strong partnerships across a wide range of stakeholders, including local and national philanthropy, the private sector, and community-based organizations. We hope you will join us to advance an economically inclusive and prosperous South.

California Leads on Juvenile Justice Reform

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 190, co-authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara — ending the regressive and racially discriminatory practice of charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system.

California and nearly every other state charge parents of youth involved in the juvenile justice system with various fees, including fees for detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing. These fees trap poor families in debt, particularly families of color, and according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Law School Policy Advocacy Clinic, significantly increase the likelihood of recidivism. Though the fees are designed to reimburse local governments for costs related to a child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system, counties often spend as much, if not more, to collect the fees as they take in. 

PolicyLink, working in coalition with state advocacy organizations, co-sponsored and advocated for SB 190, which will prevent California counties from charging juvenile administrative fees. As the first state in the nation to eliminate the fees, the passage of Senate Bill 190 could spark similar reforms in other states. According to PolicyLink senior associate Lewis Brown Jr., “Imposing fees on poor parents who are struggling to make ends meet is not the way to fund our juvenile justice system. Hopefully, Senate Bill 190 is the first step toward eliminating these destabilizing and counterproductive fees throughout the country.” 

We applaud our coalition partners, as well as Senator Mitchell, Senator Lara, and Governor Brown, for their leadership in addressing this important issue. We look forward to working with others to ensure that SB 190 will serve as a model for other states looking to address juvenile, and other types of criminal justice fines and fees.

Click here for information on Senate Bill 190>>>

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