New York Democrats Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Nydia Velazquez are joining Michelle Obama’s campaign to get healthy food options available to the 23.5 million Americans who live in areas lacking fresh fruits and vegetables. Last week, Gillibrand and Velazaquez introduced legislation that would allocate $1 billion to build 2,100 new grocery stores nationwide in poorly served neighborhoods. The bill, dubbed the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, would add to the nearly $400 million the White House has proposed for a similar initiative in FY2011.
The Gillibrand-Velazquez money would target “food desert” communities nationwide, where it would offer start-up grants and loans to new fresh-food outlets. Gillibrand argues that, besides increasing access to healthy food for neighborhoods that need it most, the bill would also create 200,000 jobs. “By building new grocery stores in underserved areas across the state we can give people the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives, save billions in health care costs, and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs,” Gillibrand declared in a statement trumpeting the bill.
She also noted Michelle Obama’s help in crafting the bill, which echoes recommendations the first lady has made in her childhood obesity campaign. Last month, Obama moved her campaign past talking to families about eating healthy and into talking to food makers about marketing healthy foods for families to eat. “This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy,” she told the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy.”
Nearly four million New Yorkers—mostly low-income people of color—live in food deserts; communities with little access to fresh produce have higher incidents of diet-related illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The initiative would put 350 new grocery stores in New York State—as many as 273 in New York City alone—and would generate an estimated 26,000 jobs throughout the five boroughs.