Gillibrand seeks funding to boost healthy food initiative

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York announced legislation Monday aimed at combating food deserts in New York, areas where most residents have limited or no access to grocery stores with healthy food options.

Gillibrand made a couple of stops around the state, including in the Capital Region, to discuss her efforts to boost funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a federal program authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The program provides grocers with loans and grants to open stores in underserved communities across the nation. In New York, four food retailers have used HFFI assistance in Troy, Rochester, Buffalo and Brooklyn.

Gillibrand said it’s a deeply effective program, but that it is chronically underfunded and unable to help every neighborhood in need.

She’s calling for $25 million in funding for the program to be included in this year’s government funding bill. The senator is also introducing the Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act, which would provide $50 million in mandatory federal funding for the program every year, if passed.

“When communities have access to fresh, healthy, nutritious foods, it enriches them and makes them stronger,” Gillibrand said. “But when we look at many communities across the country, people do not have access to the healthy nutritious foods that they need. Food deserts are far too common, they disproportionately impact communities of color, and barriers to food access have become even more with COVID and inflation.”

To give you an idea of ​​how many people are battling hunger, the state controller released a report last spring, saying approximately one in 10 New York households experienced food insecurity at some point between 2019 and 2021.

Gillibrand noted Monday that increased funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative could create more job opportunities as grocers expand their locations.