March 8, 2019

The Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust together tackle local food deserts in Pennsylvania—low-income neighborhoods with severely limited access to fresh produce locally. With an understanding that low-income communities have more buying power than most retailers think, they appealed to elected officials, making the case for joining together to address the grocery gap.

The partnership, which includes the Urban Affairs Coalition, secured $30 million from the state for what they called the Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI). These funds were matched with $145 million in other private and public capital to provide loans and grants for predevelopment, acquisition, equipment and construction costs, as well as for start-up costs such as employee recruitment and training. To date, the program has provided more than $85 million in financing to support 88 new or refurbished stores across Pennsylvania. These stores are expected to bring 5,023 jobs and 1.67 million square feet of food retail space.

A Harvard Innovations in American Government finalist in 2008, the Fresh Food Financing Initiative has been replicated in New York and New Jersey and with plans for similar programs as far away as Colorado, Illinois, California, and Louisiana. First Lady Michelle Obama has made improving access to healthy food at affordable prices one of the cornerstones of her campaign to combat childhood obesity. And President Obama has proposed $345 million to fund a Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in the 2011 Federal budget. If funded, HFFI will combine federal dollars with private capital through the use of tax credits, grants and loan guarantees, to improve access to healthier foods nationwide.

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* This profile originally appeared on the blog of the Project on Social Innovation, an initiative of Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, which was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and was retired in 2012.

** Explore More from the Project on Social Innovation