Priority Policy

Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Increasing healthy food access through community investments

More than 23 million Americans live in a food desert—an area that lacks grocery stores, supermarkets, or farmers markets—circumstances which make it harder for people to obtain fresh, affordable foods. The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) is a public-private partnership that provides grants and loans to finance the construction and development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in these underserved areas. HFFI is jointly administered at the federal level by USDA, HHS, and the Treasury Department. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized $125 million for HFFI and permanently established the program under USDA. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized HFFI and expands the definition of eligible HFFI investments beyond retail stores to “food enterprises” that can broaden investments in particularly underserved or food insecure communities.

Low-income urban and rural communities tend to have both poor access to healthy food and disproportionately higher rates of obesity and related diseases; some studies have shown an association between greater supermarket availability and lower prevalence of obesity. Since 2011, more than $220 million in federal funding has been distributed through HFFI. Between 2011 and 2015, HFFI funding has helped support or develop nearly 1,000 grocery stores nationwide.


The following healthy food financing recommendations are from State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, 2018 produced by Trust for America’s Health and RWJF.

• Congress and the Administration should invest in the Healthy Food Financing Initiative in the Administration for Children and Families to ensure that underserved communities have access to grocery stores.

• States and localities should ensure the availability of healthy food retailers in underserved communities.

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The national HFFI is modeled on the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative which leveraged $30 million in state grants into $190 million in total investments. The program financed 88 projects that created or retained more than 5,000 jobs. Pennsylvania’s program inspired similar programs in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Texas.

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Grocery stores =  local communitY ANCHORS

The southeast section of Newport News, Virginia became a food desert when the area’s only grocery store closed in 2014. The nearest supermarket was a Walmart separated from the neighborhood by an eight-lane road. With help from the community development financial institution Virginia Community Capital, a new full-service grocery store opened in the area. Jim’s Local Market offers affordable and healthy food and provides 26 full-time jobs, most of which have been filled by local residents.

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Mandela Foods Cooperative

As an HFFI grantee, Mandela Foods Cooperative established its first grocery co-op in West Oakland, California and distributed more than 650,000 pounds of fresh produce between 2013 and 2016. Nearly half of that produce—46 percent—came from small family farms within 200 miles of Oakland, helping keep farmers on the land and increasing their income by more than $300,000. Mandela Foods Cooperative has generated more than $5.5 million in new revenue for the Oakland community since 2010.

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Fast Facts

6.5 M

6.5 million children live in a food desert.

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HFFI’s public-private partnership model has leveraged $220 million in federal funding into an estimated $1 billion in additional private investments, resources, loans and tax incentives.

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37 states have used public HFFI funding to bring more grocery stores and healthy food retailers to their neighborhoods and alleviate food deserts.

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Originally posted in August 2018.