Late last month, in a major step toward closing the grocery gap in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Council passed the Food, Environmental, and Economic Development (“FEED”) DC Act of 2010.
The grocery gap — in which low-income and minority communities often have far less access to full-service grocery stores than higher-income communities have — is a culprit of many diet-related chronic diseases plaguing District residents. And it represents promising opportunities for economic development.
The FEED DC Act aims to capture those opportunities while also enabling more District residents to eat a healthy diet. According to Councilmember Cheh’s office, the Act has three goals: (1) to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods; (2) to encourage green technology in food stores; and (3) to create good jobs in areas with very high levels of unemployment.
In creating incentives to draw full-service grocery stores to low-income “food deserts,” The FEED DC Act brings to the District the kind of innovation that is taking hold in Pennsylvania, New York City, New Orleans, and a growing number of other cities and states. FEED DC also sets up the District to take advantage of potential federal funds that President Obama called for in his proposed Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
FEED DC builds on the District’s existing Supermarket Tax Exemption (and more narrowly targets that exemption) to create a package of incentives and assistance for new grocery store developments and for grocery store renovations in lower-income parts of the city. In addition to setting up the structure for grants and loans to eligible grocery store projects, the bill designates a “grocery ambassador” in the Deputy Mayor’s office to help grocers navigate through the bureaucratic hurdles of opening new stores. And it directs the D.C. Department of the Environment to develop and promote energy efficiency resources to help grocers lower their operating costs.
FEED DC also provides assistance for smaller retailers seeking to sell healthy foods in food desert areas. These can include: existing corner stores seeking to sell fresh produce and healthy foods; farmers’ markets; and other small retailers such as fruit and vegetable vendors. Thanks to the D.C. Council, the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) has $300,000 in its budget this year to fund healthy food retail projects. These funds will be used to help corner stores, farmers markets, and other small food retailers sell healthy foods in underserved, low-income areas, as directed by the FEED-DC Act. DSLBD also will work with a variety of local stakeholders to create a plan for a commercial fruit and vegetable distribution system for corner stores and other small retailers.