Testifying in Support of Grocery Access Investment
Last week I was honored to represent my nonprofit and low income families across Texas in support of the Texas Grocery Access bill before the state house subcommittee on economic development. Recognizing the impact that access to healthy foods and produce would have on obesity rates statewide, the American Heart Association incorporated this bill into their campaign for the current legislative session. It was a wonderful experience and they wrote a great feature about the bill and our testimonies:
On Thursday, March 19, Texans representing a variety of businesses and populations in Texas testified on behalf of HB 1485, the Texas Grocery Access Investment Act, in a hearing held by the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development. Only a day after a large Advocating for Heart day during which youth advocates and volunteers from around the state advocated their legislators on behalf of decreasing childhood obesity and increasing access to healthy food in Texas, the Committee heard compelling testimonies in support of HB 1485.
This bill, introduced by Representative Eddie Rodriguez of Austin and Representative Patricia Harless of Houston, would create the Texas Grocery Access Investment Fund within the Texas Department of Agriculture, to provide grants and low interest loans to grocery store operators to open new stores, or renovate or expand stores, in low and moderate-income or remote rural areas throughout Texas that do not have access to healthy foods. The goal is to improve the health of Texans who lack access to healthy food by addressing the lack of grocery stores in underserved communities, while boosting the local economy in these communities.
Tania Noelle Boughton of Dallas, founder of the “Check the Light before You Bite!” educational program for children, testified that even if children know how to choose healthy food and are able to choose it at school, they have little chance to grow up healthy if they are not able to access healthy food at home. By incentivizing business owners to open grocery stores in underserved communities, Texas could help these children fight obesity and drive down high health care costs.
Amber Cooney of Austin, Director of Development and Communications at PeopleFund, described how assistance from Community Development Financial Institutions such as PeopleFund can help grocers overcome the barriers to entry in underserved communities. Improving access to healthy food in low-income communities in both rural and urban settings goes beyond improving diet and health outcomes—bringing new food outlets into underserved areas can provide an economic stimulus in communities that need it most. Grocery stores often serve as anchors, spurring local economic development by creating new jobs, revitalizing commercial districts, improving nearby housing values, and generating additional sales tax.
Other witnesses testifying in support of the bill included: Dan Gillotte, Chief Executive Grocer, Wheatsville Co-op, Austin, Houston City Council Member Stephen Costello, Jenny Ayer, Children at Risk, Dr. Deanna Hoelscher, University of Texas School of Public Health, and Director of the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.