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National food retail financing program passes

The U.S. House has approved $125 million for a national Healthy Food Financing Initiative modeled after the successful program in Pennsylvania.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, D-Pa., in June, was part of the larger Farm Bill that passed Wednesday. The measure would provide start-up grants and affordable loan financing for food retailers, farmers’ markets, cooperatives and others who face obstacles to delivering and selling healthy foods. The measure will help combat obesity, which costs the U.S. healthcare system $190 billion annually, according to a release from Schwartz.


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“The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will make an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of Pennsylvanians and the 24 million Americans who don’t have access to healthy foods. This public-private partnership will create solid, good-paying jobs across Pennsylvania while boosting local economic development and strengthening our neighborhoods,” Schwartz said. “By providing healthier food retail options in urban and rural areas, we can ensure Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives and save billions in health care costs nationwide.”

Modeled after the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, the HFFI is a public-private partnership that expands investment in underserved communities, known as “food deserts,” by providing flexible grant and loan financing. Since 2011, the HFFI has supported a wide range of innovative projects in rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Read more: Store Brands 2014: Desert sun

The Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust, which were instrumental in developing the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, hailed Schwartz's successful effort to win congressional support for the HFFI.

“I applaud Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz on her leadership and support for this innovative effort to improve access to healthy, affordable food for all Americans," said Yael Lehmann, executive director of The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit.

“From supporting the early efforts of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing to advocating for the national HFFI, Representative Schwartz has been a steadfast proponent of efforts to improve healthy food access,” said Don Hinkle-Brown, CEO of the Reinvestment Fund. “We applaud her leadership in endorsing this important legislation that recognizes HFFI as vital to building healthy communities. As we know from our HFFI-supported projects such as Fare and Square in Chester, Pa., HFFI is about more than improving healthy food access, it is about creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”

According to the USDA, more than 24 million Americans live in “food deserts,” defined as either urban areas without access to a supermarket within one mile, or rural areas lacking similar access within 10 miles.

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