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House bill would help grocery stores bring more healthy food to underserved communities

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There’s a bill sitting in the Michigan House of Representatives that, if passed, would help grocery stores in underserved communities open, expand or renovate to bring more healthy foods to those neighborhoods.

The “Healthy Foods Assistance Act,” or House Bill 5180, would direct funds through a public private partnership with the Michigan Good Food Fund to support a grant and low-interest loan program that would help stores expand capacity. The Michigan Good Food Fund is a $30 million public-private partnership loan and grant fund created to finance healthy food production, distribution, processing and retail projects that benefit underserved communities throughout Michigan.

The need is great.

According to recent study from the Food Trust and published in Food For Every Child, 17.9 percent of Michigan’s residents lack reliable access to healthy foods; this includes both rural and urban areas. The problem is widespread. More than 1.8 million Michigan residents, including an estimated 300,000 children, live in lower-income communities with limited supermarket access.

House Bill 5180, introduced by both Democratic and Republican representatives, has found wide support within the community, including the American Heart Association, a partner in the effort.

American Heart Association campaign manager, Ted O’Dell, is helping to support House Bill 5180

Ted O’Dell

Ted O’Dell, campaign manager with the American Heart Association, describes the collaboration as a valuable way to put $5.6 million into the Michigan Good Food Fund, which will be available for growers, producers, distributors and retailers who can offer additional fresh fruits, produce, or proteins.

He says the grant also can be used for farmers who want to hire an additional employee or are in need of additional equipment. It’s also useful for mom and pop stores that would like to provide healthier alternatives.

“We’re looking at opportunities to make the healthy choice the easier choice,” O’Dell says. “Let’s encourage those people who are already in business to offer more fresh fruits, produce and proteins. We’re not trying to reinvent the market system. We’re trying to enhance it.”

Mike Maisner

Mike Maisner

Mike Maisner, vice president of active communities for the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and chair of Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan (HKHM) coalition, provided a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture in support of House Bill 5180.

“For children, the situation is more alarming when we consider that 32.6 percent of Michigan’s youth ages 10-17 are considered overweight or obese,” he wrote. “The lack of access to healthy food is clearly a contributing factor to this major health dilemma, which is leading to the early onset of diabetes, heart disease and other preventable chronic diseases. As a result, it is imperative that we address this issue immediately.”

As of this writing, House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton) has included a placeholder to fund healthy food access legislation in the budget bill her committee reported to the full Appropriations Committee.

“The underlying goal is to fight childhood obesity in Michigan because it is an epidemic,” O’Dell says. “We’re finding (the legislation is) a piece of machinery with a lot of moving parts. Not only does it bring healthier food to people, it creates job growth and helps the economy. From the farmer to the guy shipping this stuff to the people selling it. For us, it’s easy to advocate for because it’s nonpartisan.”

The bill is sponsored by David Pagel (R-Berrien Springs),  Mike Callton (R-Nashville), Sarah Roberts (D-St. Claire Shores), Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Brett Roberts (R-Charlotte),  and Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw).

Additionally, throughout April and May, a series of legislative coffee hours will be held to support House Bill 5180.

Coffee Hours

Rep. Adam Zemke

April 9

10-11 am

Brewed Awakenings

725 E. Michigan Ave.

Saline

55th district

April 23

10-11 am

The Espresso Bar (Located above Literati bookstore)

124 E. Washington

Ann Arbor

55th District 

Rep. Henry Yanez 

April 18

6 – 7:30 pm

Tim Hortons

29030 Van Dyke Rd.

Warren

25th District

Rep. Brian Banks

April 18

8:30 – 9:30 am

May 2

8:30 – 9:30 am

Big Boy restaurant

20710 Mack

Grosse Pointe Woods

1st District

May 16

8:30 – 9:30 am

McDonald’s

16950 Harper Ave.

Detroit 

Rep. Kristy Pagan

April 23

10:00 am

April 25

7:00 pm

May 23

7:00 pm

Panera Bread

41950 Ford Rd.

Canton

21st District

May 28

10:00 am

Leo’s Coney Island

9624 Bellville Rd.

Bellville

21st District

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