FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2015
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 260 today to create the Healthy Food Financing Act of Alabama.
The bill had strong bi-partisan support, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R – Jasper) and carried in the House by State Rep. James E. Buskey (D – Mobile). It will establish a statewide revolving loan fund program that will provide incentives to grocers and other fresh food retailers encouraging them to develop, renovate or expand in communities with limited access to fresh, healthy food. Such robust efforts to reduce obesity in the state, including addressing the issue of food access.
“Alabama is now on a path to improving the health of our fellow residents and our economy thanks to the Healthy Food Financing Act,” said State Sen. Reed. “We have seized a tremendous opportunity to expand fresh, healthy food for people in every county in Alabama and to help grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to expand their business and create local jobs. This has been an important issue to me and I am proud of what we have done.”
“Every family should be able to access fresh, healthy food options in their community,” said State Rep. Buskey. “In some parts of Mobile and other communities across our state, this is more of a dream than a reality. I am pleased that the Healthy Food Financing Act will help make this a reality for more of Alabama’s children and families.”
According to a report, Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Alabama, commissioned by VOICES for Alabama’s Children and conducted by a national food access organization, The Food Trust, every county in the state of Alabama has at least one neighborhood with limited access to grocers and other fresh food retailers. The report showed over 1.8 million Alabamians, including nearly half a million Alabama children are impacted.
“We applaud and thank Alabama lawmakers for helping bring fresh, healthy food options closer to home for nearly half a million children” said VOICES for Alabama’s Children executive director, Melanie R. Bridgeforth, MSW. “The Healthy Food Financing Act is a win for Alabama children and it will help reverse startling health trends, create new jobs and boost local economies across the state. We are overjoyed that lawmakers recognize the health and economic benefits this policy will bring to our state.”
The lack of access to healthy food has serious consequences to the overall health and life expectancy of residents living in underserved communities. Consequences include severe and costly obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Alabama has the highest rate of diabetes in adults and the third-highest rate of obesity in children. The state spends billions of dollars each year treating diet-related diseases. Reversing this epidemic could position the state to save over $3 billion in obesity-related health care costs by 2020.
The revolving loan fund will be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
“This proven program has the potential to not only improve the health of Alabama’s children and adults, but also to improve the health of local economies, said ADECA Director Jim Byard, Jr. “In Pennsylvania, 88 fresh food retail projects were funded resulting in 5,000 new or retained jobs. Alabama can experience similar results and this authorizing legislation is a big first step toward that goal.”
In May 2013, VOICES for Alabama’s Children, the American Heart Association launched a campaign in Alabama to raise awareness about the growing concern of childhood obesity and its relationship to food access and to urge decision makers to prioritize implementing a statewide healthy food financing initiative – one solution to address the issue. More information about healthy food access in Alabama can be viewed here.
“Passage of the Healthy Food Financing Act positions Alabama to be a leader in the south by tackling obesity-related health diseases with a proactive and proven policy solution,” said American Heart Association volunteer and registered nutritionist, Mim Gaines. “Alabama has the third highest childhood obesity rate in the country and we applaud the state’s lawmakers for recognizing the importance of providing children and families with healthier food options right in their own communities and for their leadership in taking steps to make this become a reality.”
Healthy food financing initiatives also provide economic and financial resources to help spur grocery store development in communities with limited access to healthy food.
“Alabama grocers across this state are thrilled that this bill will soon make it possible for them to expand in areas where they are needed the most,” said Ellie Taylor, Alabama Grocers Association president. “Grocery stores play a vital role in Alabama communities and want to be part of the solution, but startup costs for a new or expanding an existing store can be daunting to retailers who must be able to sustain their business. The Healthy Food Financing Act will provide a small economic boost that will offset these costs and will also encourage additional economic activity by generating food traffic and attracting complementary services and stores such as banks, pharmacies and restaurants.”
Opening and expanding grocery stores and other retailers that provide fresh, healthy foods in communities with low access can increase the number of venues for farmers to sell local products. In addition, farmers markets and other healthy food retailers of local food are also eligible for funding through healthy food financing.
“Farmers are committed to growing healthy, nutritious food for Alabama families,” said Alabama Farmers Federation director, state legislative programs-Senate, Matthew Durdin. “Agriculture is Alabama’s number one industry, generating $70.4 billion in economic impact and providing almost 600,000 jobs. Unfortunately, some Alabamians don’t have access to that bounty. We are pleased to support this effort to increase the availability of fresh, healthy food in Alabama communities.”
VOICES for Alabama’s Children is a statewide nonprofit that works to ensure the well-being of Alabama’s children through research, public awareness, and advocacy. For more information, see www.alavoices.org.