Healthy Food Financing Initiative

January 18, 2011
Community Economic Development (CED)
Prospective Grantees
Q's and A's
desert, food, healthy, hffi

heart with carrotHealthy Food Financing Initiative

What is the Healthy Food Financing Initiative?

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) supports projects that increase access to healthy, affordable food in communities that currently lack these options.  Through a range of programs at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Treasury, and Health and Human Services (HHS), HFFI will expand the availability of nutritious food, including developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets selling healthy food.  Residents of these communities, which are sometimes called “food deserts,” typically rely on fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer little or no fresh food.  Healthy food options are hard to find in these communities or are unaffordable. 

For more information, read HHS’ News Release, “Obama Administration Details Healthy Food Financing Initiative.” 

What is a food desert?  How do I locate one?

Food deserts are communities, particularly low-income areas, in which residents do not live in close proximity to affordable and healthy food retailers.  Healthy food options in these communities are hard to find or are unaffordable.

Using the census tract as a unit of analysis for identifying food deserts, USDA, Treasury and HHS will give funding priority to projects and interventions that establish healthy retail outlets in HFFI defined food deserts.  USDA, Treasury and HHS have defined a food desert as a census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy food retail outlet. 

There are food deserts in all communities including urban, rural and Tribal.  USDA’s Economic Research Service’s Food Atlas can be used to find county-level information about food choices, health and well-being, and community characteristics.  

How is the federal government helping to solve the problems of food deserts? 

HFFI brings the expertise and resources of the USDA, Treasury and HHS together to give stakeholders a full range of tools to increase access to healthy foods.  These three federal partners will make funding available through a shared set of goals and objectives. 

USDA’s  proposed 2011 budget includes a funding level of $50 million that will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion, and other programs designed to create healthy food options in food deserts across the country:

  • $35 million in FY 2011 discretionary funding is to remain available until September 30, 2012 for financial and technical assistance; and  
  • $15 million in funds will support technical or financial assistance and such resources will come from a set aside of up to 10 percent of the funds made available through selected Rural Development and Agricultural Marketing Service programs.

Treasury has dedicated $275 million to support private sector financing of healthy foods options in distressed urban and rural communities:

  • Through the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) and financial assistance to Treasury-certified community development financial institutions (CDFIs), Treasury has a proven track record in expanding access to nutritious foods by catalyzing private sector investment.  The budget requests $250 million in authority for the NMTC and $25 million for financial assistance to CDFIs.

HHS may commit up to $20 million in Community Economic Development (CED) program funds for community-based efforts to improve the economic and physical health of people in distressed areas:

  • Through the CED program, HHS will award competitive grants to Community Development Corporations to support projects that finance grocery stores, farmers markets, and other sources of fresh nutritious food.  These projects will serve the dual purposes of facilitating access to healthy food options while creating job and business development opportunities in low-income communities, particularly since grocery stores often serve as anchor institutions in commercial centers.

How does HFFI define “healthy food?” 

HFFI seeks to increase access to whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat free or low-fat dairy, and lean meats that are perishable (fresh, refrigerated, or frozen) or canned as well as nutrient-dense foods and beverages encouraged by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Who can receive funding?

Many types of organizations are eligible for funding and/or technical assistance, including the following:

  • Businesses
  • Local and Tribal governments
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Cooperatives and universities
  • State Department of Agriculture
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Treasury-certified Community Development Financial Institutions and Community Development Entities,
  • Community Development Corporations 

Why do food deserts deserve focused attention?

As requested in the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, USDA’s ERS, studied food deserts and issued their findings to Congress in the report “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding their Consequences.”  Area-based measures of access show that 23.5 million people live in low-income areas that are more than one mile from a supermarket.  People living in these communities often lack access to healthy, affordable food.  Complete study results can be found on the ERS website

The 2010 White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity found that limited access to healthy choices can lead to poor diets and higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases.  In addition, limited access to affordable food choices can lead to higher levels of food insecurity, increasing the number of low- and moderate-income families without access to enough food to sustain a healthy and active life.  There is a growing, though incomplete, body of research that finds an association between food insecurity and obesity, suggesting that hunger and obesity may be two sides of the same coin.  Complete report results can be found on the Let’s Move! website.

Where can my community go to find more information on how to combat food deserts?

Please refer to the “White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation."  Section IV of the report focuses on “Access to Healthy, Affordable Food” and provides multiple recommendations and strategies for combating food deserts.


Where can I find more information about applying for a grant to engage in this effort?

The Community Economic Development program is a key component of the HFFI Initiative with proposed support of up to $20 million in grants. The CED program is administered in the Office of Community Services (OCS). Read more.

In addition, Department of the Treasury has grant opportunities available through the New Markets Tax Credit Program.

Please check the “Let’s Move” website to learn more about grant opportunities.