Bill would increase access to healthful food

People living in underserved communities would have greater access to healthful, affordable food under a bill discussed in an Agriculture Committee hearing Feb. 14.

LB1123, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, would provide funds dedicated to developing easily accessible sources of healthful food in areas designated as food deserts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These areas are characterized by limited access to healthful food retailers and are located in either high-poverty or low-income neighborhoods.

“We must address the existence of food deserts in the state,” Council said. “We need to take steps to ameliorate the problem as much as we can.”

The bill would designate $300,000 to finance healthful food initiatives. To access the funds, organizations would file an application with the Rural Development Commission. Eligible projects would include:
• new construction of retail grocery structures;
• grocery store renovations, expansions and infrastructure upgrades;
• establishment of farmers’ markets, food consumer cooperatives, community gardening projects, mobile markets and delivery projects; and
• other projects that create or improve healthful food outlets.

Mary Balluff, division chief of community health and nutrition at the Douglas County Health Department, testified in support of the bill, saying that providing broader access to healthful food is a proven method of fighting many common obesity-related diseases.

“These practices improve health as it relates to obesity and its related diseases,” Balluff said. “The monetary investment to change the behaviors of store owners and consumers is minimal.”

John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union president, also testified in support. He said the bill would help producers as well as consumers.

“There is a lot of need even in the heart of very productive agricultural communities,” Hansen said. “This provides the opportunity for new, diversified markets.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action.

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