With Federal Help, Bill Seeks to End California’s Food Deserts
Converting food deserts into oases is the goal of the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative – and of legislation by Assembly Speaker John Perez.
Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, is carrying a measure that would create the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative that, contingent on federal money appearing, would attempt to eradicate the state’s food deserts and steer Californians away from food swamps.
Food deserts are areas, usually low income, with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.
Perez’s bill, AB 2720, says “access to healthy food items is a basic human right.” Being deprived of that access “may result in higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases,” the bill contends.
September has been declared National Food Desert Awareness Month by the National Center for Public Research.
The 2008 federal Food, Conservation and Energy Act required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study food deserts. The USDA’s conclusion:
“A small percentage of consumers are constrained in their ability to access affordable nutritious food because they live far from a supermarket or large grocery store and do not have easy access to transportation.”
More specifically, 2.3 million American households without a vehicle live more than one mile from a grocery store. Another 3.4 million households without vehicles are between one half mile and one mile from a grocery store.
There are 11.5 million low income Americans living in low-income areas who are at least one mile from a supermarket.
Some food deserts are also food swamps. A food swamp is an area where the high calorie foods such as those sold at convenience stores and fast food outlets overwhelm the healthy food options.
The Healthy Food Financing Initiative proposes spending $400 million nationwide as seed money then use matching private or state dollars to expand healthy food options in current urban and rural food deserts by increasing the number of grocery stores in those areas.
In seven years, the goal is to erase all food deserts, attacking up to one-fifth of them with the program’s first year of funding.
Perez’s bill creates an account for that federal money, should California receive any.
It also calls on the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the state Department of Public Health to make recommendations on how best to improve access to healthier food in California’s food deserts.
Because there are no general fund costs for the state and his advocacy for nutrition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite not yet taking a public position on the bill, could sign it into law.
August 27 is the 58th day of the new fiscal year for which no budget has been enacted. The Legislature is required by the constitution to send the governor a spending plan by June 15, two weeks before the start of the fiscal year.
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