By: Kimberly Reed Date: 2/19/10
Today, my two worlds of professional experience — food and finance — collided in the name of bettering America’s communities when First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new multi-year “Healthy Food Financing Initiative.” You might wonder how food and finance intersect for me.
Three years ago, I was the head the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund. As its Director, I was (and continue to remain) dedicated to expanding the capacity of financial institutions to provide credit, capital, and financial services to underserved populations and communities. Now, as the Executive Director of the International Food Information Council Foundation, I am focused on effectively communicating science-based information on health, food safety, and nutrition for the public good. In both roles, I have supported more opportunities — be it through good nutrition and food safety skills or job creation or access to affordable capital and financial services — in America’s neediest communities.
At an event today in Philadelphia, the First Lady toured “The Fresh Grocer” at Progress Plaza — which was made possible by investments through the CDFI Fund’s programs. I was delighted to see the First Lady stand with the current CDFI Fund Director Donna Gambrell — a wonderful person who, along with all of the CDFI Fund staff, serve the Fund with distinction — and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and the Reinvestment Fund to highlight the importance of having affordable, healthful foods available in underserved urban and rural communities, particularly through the development or equipping of grocery stores and food retailers.
As outlined in President’s 2011 Budget, the “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” proposal would — through a partnership of the Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services — make available over $400 million in financial and technical assistance to CDFIs, other nonprofits, public agencies, and businesses with sound strategies for addressing the healthful food needs of communities. These groups would use the grants and tax credits to attract private sector investment to increase affordable financing for grocery store development; supplies and equipment to improve food production technology; improvements and modernization of food distribution mechanisms and infrastructure; and the development of outreach and training programs to bring healthful food options to even more communities. And, this investment also would create new jobs.
Coming from rural West Virginia, I know it is important for ALL of our nation’s communities and families to have access to healthful food choices. The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23.5 million people live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. There are another 2.3 million people who live in low-income rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket, of which 1.1 million are low-income.
In addition to highlighting the First Lady’s event from today, I also want to note that the International Food Information Council Foundation recently sent letters to Members of the President’s new Task Force on Childhood Obesity to offer the Foundation’s support and resources. Childhood obesity has been a key focus since the Foundation’s founding in 1991, and we have extensive consumer research, an established network of more than 350 nutrition and food safety experts, helpful web sites www.foodinsight.org and www.kidnetic.com, and consumer-friendly information for effective strategies to improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities.
Specifically, the Foundation sent letters to Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Melody Barnes (Task Force Chair); Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; and Assistant to the President and Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Susan Sher. The Foundation applauds the First Lady’s Let’s Move national public awareness effort and we will continue to help children become more active and eat more healthfully.