Assembly Panel Approves Greenwald, Coughlin, Jones & Mukherji Bill Creating "Food Desert Elimination Act" Improving Community Access to Healthy Food Options

Measure is One of Multiple Anti-Hunger Bills Advanced Thursday in the Assembly

(TRENTON) – A part of a collaborative effort to address the pervasive problem of hunger throughout New Jersey, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Louis Greenwald, Craig Coughlin, Patricia Egan Jones and Raj Mukherji to provide tax credits to supermarkets and grocery stores that locate to communities deemed “food deserts” by the State Department of Agriculture was advanced by the Assembly Human Services panel.

“Roughly 2 percent of all U.S. households live more than one mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car. This amounts to thousands of people that have limited access to fresh food and healthy eating options for themselves and their families,” said Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “Healthy food options and fresh produce should not be a privilege for only a few. No family should go hungry because of the lack of a supermarket near their home.”

The committee convened Thursday afternoon to discuss and vote on 14 measures aimed at reducing food insecurity among New Jersey families.

“One in nine residents in the state is food insecure and, in New Jersey, 41 cities can be classified as ‘food deserts’, said Speaker Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “To fight hunger effectively, we must address all possible sources of food insecurities for New Jersey families. This is one of them. We need grocery stores and supermarket chains to expand into these areas, and stay in these areas to provide fresh food and produce to the community. Tax incentives will help us achieve that goal.”

The bill (A-4700) establishes economic and financial incentives to supermarkets and grocery stores that retain sites in urban food desert communities. Food deserts are geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance.

“Access to public transportation may help residents overcome the difficulties posed by distance, but economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities,” said Jones (D-Camden, Gloucester). “In some areas of the state, grocery stores are so few and far between that a resident’s food shopping trip may require taking several buses or trains to and from. It’s unacceptable. Every family should have convenient access to fresh, healthy and affordable food in their communities.”

“Limited access to healthy and affordable food presents many challenges to New Jersey’s families, especially those who have to meet specific dietary needs,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “For residents living in the state’s densely populated urban communities, the lack of food stores can have a significant impact on nutrition, and overall health of families. We can end hunger by improving access to food for everyone.”

The bill establishes the Food Desert Elimination Program under the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. The authority, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, would designate the physical boundaries of urban food desert communities in the state. The Food Desert Elimination Program would allow a property tax credit for a taxpayer who opens the first supermarket or grocery store in a food desert community after the bill.

The bill will now be considered for a floor vote by the full Assembly.