Financing program for healthful food outlets stalls

A bill that would have created a financing program to improve access to healthful foods in underserved communities failed to receive enough votes to pass on final reading May 12.

LB200, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, would have directed the Rural Development Commission to create a financing program to increase access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other nutritional foods in low-income areas that have limited access to healthful food retailers.

Projects eligible for financing would have included new construction of grocery retail structures, grocery store renovation, expansion and infrastructure upgrades, establishment of farmers markets, community gardens, mobile markets and delivery projects that would increase capacity of food retailers to obtain fresh produce.

Qualifying applicants would have been required to provide regular offerings of fruits and vegetables and accept benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Applicants also would have been required to demonstrate how their projects would be implemented, a need for public financing, how incurred debt would be repaid, the extent to which the project would provide new markets for Nebraska-grown food items and the degree to which the project would have a positive economic impact on the underserved community.

The bill would have created the Nebraska Healthy Foods Financing Initiative Cash Fund, which would have been funded with annual transfers of $150,000 from the general fund. To provide additional monies to offset the general fund transfers, the bill would have reduced the maximum tax credits offered under the Community Development Assistance Act from $350,000 to $200,000.

Senators voted 22-18 on final reading, three votes shy of the number needed to pass LB200.

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