Bill Aims to Fight Obesity & Increase Nutrition in Lower Income Urban & Rural Areas
(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Shavonda Sumter, Patrick J. Diegnan, Carmelo G. Garcia and Charles Mainor to increase the availability of healthy, nutritious foods in lower income, urban and rural communities.
The bill (A-4505), 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.”
Under the bill, funding would be provided to a grantee (non-profit organization) to distribute money to small food retailers.
“Programs like this are often called a ‘Healthy Corner Store Initiative’ for a reason,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “They provide much-needed, nutritious foods locally, which is important, especially in communities where residents rely heavily on public transportation.”
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.
“Low-income neighborhoods often lack full-service grocery stores or farmers’ markets where residents can buy healthy fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This often forces them to rely on frozen and preservative-laden foods that are available at corner stores and convenience stores. We’re aiming to change that.”
Monies from the fund may be used for:
1) salary and associated administrative costs towards providing education, advice, or other assistance to small food retailers;
2) 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;
3) materials and supplies for nutrition education and healthy food promotion; and
4) 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.
“It’s well-known that obesity rates in our country are typically higher among lower-income families and part of the problem is the lack of access to affordable, healthier foods,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “This bill aims to help reverse that trend.”
“Access to a vehicle is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not a family can access affordable and nutritious food,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “In low income areas, this obviously comes into play and has a negative impact on the health of residents. We need to increase their options.”
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:
1) be a nonprofit entity;
2) demonstrate it has a well-defined public health-driven goal;
3) 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;
4) collect and provide data and information for program monitoring, accountability, and evaluation purposes; and
5) establish defined goals, standards, and accountability mechanisms to ensure that expenditures from the fund are appropriate and consistent with the bill’s purposes.
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 was approved by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.