Earlier this week, the Missouri Senate Economic Development Committee heard Senate Bill 790 which would provide state tax credits to grocery stores that open in food deserts across our state. According to USDA, a food desert is a low-income tract where a substantial number or substantial share of residents does not have easy access to a supermarket or large grocery store. There are about 100 food deserts throughout the state of Missouri, in both rural and urban areas. The topic of food deserts has been researched and discussed by many policy, nutrition and political experts and there are many differing opinions on how to address them. Tax credits to grocery stores is just one of those possibilities. In Missouri, there has been a long history of using tax credits to encourage job growth, support the economy and invest in communities, thus why creating a tax credit for grocery stores in a food desert is a viable option for our state. Providing a tax credit to a grocery store in a food desert will not only provide more access for healthy food for Missourians but it can also help to stimulate the economy, increase the tax base, support farmers and open a gathering place for a community.
Besides submitting testimony in support of SB 790, Empower Missouri advocates for other ways that have been shown to increase food access and decrease food deserts. They include:
- A private-public initiative like what was done in Kansas through the creation of the Kansas Healthy Food Initiative. As their website states, “KHFI provides technical assistance for those seeking to strengthen access to healthy foods, as well as financing through a mix of loans and grants to develop new or renovate healthy food retail in underserved communities throughout Kansas”. It was started by the Kansas Health Foundation, and is a partnership between a mix of public and private partners including: K-State Research and Extension, NetWork Kansas, and IFF (a community development financial institution), with strategic guidance provided by The Food Trust.
- An increase in state money for school and child care facilities to allow them to purchase and accrue locally grown fresh food like what Michigan has done through their 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms Program. Michigan provides schools and early childhood education centers with a match incentive of up to 10 cents per meal to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes to improve the nutrition of Michigan children as well as invest in Michigan agriculture.
- And finally, Empower Missouri supports an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and supports the work of Missouri Fight for $15. Paying people a living wage allows them to be able to purchase healthier ( which is often times more expensive) food in which to feed their families.
Empower Missouri will continue to monitor Senate Bill 790 as well as talk to and advocate for other ways to increase healthy food access in our state. If you want to join us in our work, join our Food Security Coalition by CLICKING HERE (you can find a coalition sign-up at the bottom of this webpage).