The failure of the House to pass the farm bill last week further delays expansion of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The goal of the HFFI program is to improve access to healthy food in underserved areas and revitalize low-income communities by providing loans and grants to fresh, healthy food retailers to overcome the various barriers to entry in underserved urban, suburban, and rural areas through a three-pronged federal approach via the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services (HHS).

There are a number of federal programs that target key points along the food supply chain but as well‐respected state and local healthy food efforts have shown in recent years, none of these federal programs alone can support the range of interventions required to address the many factors contributing to food deserts. More than 29 million people, 250,000 in South Carolina, live in food deserts and do not have access to a supermarket. This is a prevalent issue in low-income, minority, and rural communities. The proposed farm bill would expand HFFI to provide assistance and opportunity for the creation and support of sustainable agriculture activities.

Since 2009, Treasury and HHS have distributed over $477 million in grants and tax credits across the country to increase access to healthy food for underserved communities; to date, funding has been restricted to wholesale and retail outlets. This is a program that has created an estimated 500 grocery stores, provided healthy food access for more than 7 million people, and created nearly 20,000 direct, long-term, full-time equivalent jobs and nearly 25,000 new construction jobs. A program that works to reduce obesity rates and other chronic diet-related diseases through a healthy diet.

HFFI plays a critical role in addressing our nation’s food deserts. So what’s next? Experts expect some version of the farm bill to pass, but will HFFI expansion be included? Its initial inclusion in both the Senate and House bills is a sign that Congress values efforts to improve access to healthy food. We will continue to work alongside Policy Link, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund to ensure these values remain a priority and that HFFI for agriculture is not cut from the final bill. We urge you to contact your legislator and show your support for healthy food access.

In 2011, CLF received one of twelve inaugural HFFI awards from U.S. Treasury CDFI Fund in the amount of $500,000 to increase food access to underserved communities in South Carolina. CLF has leveraged this commitment to secure additional funding from local, state, and national partners.

For more information on CLF’s healthy food financing program, please contact Anna Hamilton at anna@sccommunityloanfund.org.