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.