(TRENTON) – To assist food insecure New Jerseyans, Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Gary Schaer and Pamela Lampitt have sponsored legislation to increase the availability of healthy, nutritious foods in lower income, urban and rural communities. The bill was approved Monday by the full Assembly by a 61-15-1 vote.
The bill (A-2164), known as the “Healthy Small Food Retailer Act,” would assist small food retailers operating in low and moderate income urban and rural communities in New Jersey by providing funds for retailers to increase the availability and sales of fresh and nutritious food.
“This bill is designed to boost the availability of fresh produce and other healthy foods, at affordable prices, to residents in neighborhoods that are typically underserved in this area,” said Wimberly (Bergen/Passaic). “Ultimately, our goal is to improve the health and wellness of community residents in low-income and urban areas.”
“Significant challenges are faced by urban and rural communities where access to nutritious food and fresh produce is limited,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “A poor diet can lead to chronic illness and other lifelong consequences. This program can help provide these residents with healthier food options and improve their overall health.”
“Not all communities have the luxury of having a supermarket that is easily accessible by foot or via public transportation,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “These families deserve better options than just conveniences stores, which often have limited healthy options and tend to be pricier than grocery stores.”
Under the bill, funding would be provided to a grantee (non-profit organization) to distribute money to small food retailers.
The bill requires the Department of Health (DOH) to develop a “Healthy Corner Store Program” to increase the availability and sales of fresh produce and nutritious, healthy food by small food retailers in rural and urban low and moderate income areas, and to establish a “Healthy Small Food Retailer Fund” to support the program. Monies from the fund may be used for:
• salary and associated administrative costs towards providing education, advice, or other assistance to small food retailers;
• refrigeration, display shelving, or other equipment necessary for a retailer to keep stock of healthy foods and fresh produce, up to $5,000 per retailer;
• materials and supplies for nutrition education and healthy food promotion; and
• mini-grants of up to $100 per retailer to meet initial expenses incurred with participation in the program. No less than 10 percent of the fund would be reserved for the grantee’s administrative and operational costs.
DOH may select one or more grantee to administer the program and distribute funding to small food retailers. The DOH would develop an application process and create eligibility guidelines for any organization applying to be a grantee. To qualify for funding, an applicant is required to:
• be a nonprofit entity;
• demonstrate it has a well-defined public health-driven goal;
• provide assistance to small food retailers located in low or moderate income areas that accept, agree to accept, or apply to accept, as appropriate, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children benefits;
• collect and provide data and information for program monitoring, accountability, and evaluation purposes; and
• establish defined goals, standards, and accountability mechanisms to ensure that expenditures from the fund are appropriate and consistent with the bill’s purpose .
DOH would be required to develop specific participation standards for a small food retailer, and consideration would be made for the level of need in the area to be served. Monitoring and accountability mechanisms would be put into place and grantees must submit a report to DOH, by March 1 of each year. In turn, DOH would submit an annual report to the Legislature and to the Governor, and provide recommendations about the program as necessary.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.