MONTGOMERY, Ala (EETV) — Alabama is a step closer to ensuring that everyone has access to healthy foods with the rollout of a grant program designed to help retailers open grocery businesses in underserved areas of the state, Gov. Kay Ivey announced.
The Alabama Healthy Food Financing Act will enable retailers to obtain a grant of up to $50,000 to build or open a grocery store, market or other fresh-food outlet in communities where residents do not have immediate access to fresh and healthy foods.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is accepting grant applications for the program until 5 p.m. on Dec. 20.
“It is unbelievable that in Alabama, where we have farms that produce an enormous amount of produce, grains, meats and dairy items, people in some communities cannot buy those products without having to travel long distances,” Ivey said. “Healthy, fresh foods help children properly develop and do better in school and help reduce overall health-care costs that can be attributed to an unhealthy diet. This important program will lead to the opening of markets in some of Alabama’s food deserts, hopefully helping many Alabamians.”
Ivey, then lieutenant governor, was a major proponent of the bi-partisan bill when it was passed by the Legislature in 2015.
“It was a privilege to sponsor the Healthy Food Financing Act - this grant program will encourage economic growth by giving business owners access to additional capital to open or expand grocery stores and food markets in communities that may not have a local grocery option,” said Alabama Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper), sponsor of the 2015 legislation. “In some areas of the state, people have to drive over a dozen miles to reach the nearest grocery store. That’s a huge burden on a family and it’s also a public health challenge for our state. I am optimistic this grant program will bring economic growth and additional grocery stores to areas that desperately need both.”
The program will enable retailers to build, expand or renovate existing buildings for grocery stores, farmers markets, cooperatives or equip food trucks to provide fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods in “food-desert” areas of the state. A food desert, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is an urban area where at least 33 percent of the population lives a mile or more – or 10 miles in rural areas - from a store that offers fresh produce at affordable prices.
“Food deserts exist in many parts of my district and our state,” State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said. “The Healthy Food Financing Program is a real solution to provide access to fresh and healthy foods in areas where it does not exist. I am proud to support this program, and I know it will make a significant difference in rural Alabama.”
The state is making $300,000 available for the program and applicants are required to match the grant amount awarded to them.
“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and other partners in launching this worthwhile program,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “This program offers a tremendous opportunity to improve lives and provide jobs in areas where they are sorely needed.”