WTVY  | Dothan, AL  | Politics, News

"Healthy Foods Retail Act" Filed in Tallahassee

Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott gutted state funding for Florida's farm share program, which helps get leftover fruits and vegetables to needy residents. About the only places many of them can turn to now are their neighborhood markets, but all too often there's no fresh produce for sale.

Some state lawmakers say that's a problem and have filed legislation to get more fruits and vegetables to those who need them most. It's called the "Healthy Foods Retail Act", and if it passes stores in low-income and high-poverty areas could be eligible to take advantage of a new kind of loan.

It's a weekly ritual that began with the onset of the great recession. Every Tuesday, a truck comes in and the bagging begins.

Kayshawn Todd is one of hundreds who turned out at Food Outreach Ministry for a few tomatoes, a loaf of bread, anything to get them through the week.

Most can't afford to even get to the big-box supermarkets, let alone afford the prices.

"You know, vegetables and stuff, they're getting expensive, so if they can't really afford it, they ain't going to buy it, especially, you know, if it's costing too much money," Todd said.

Orlando democratic Senator Gary Siplin has a new proposal to help neighborhood markets. If they serve a low-income area or take food stamps but don't have fresh produce, they could get a state loan.

It's one thing to pick five' but at many neighborhood markets, you can't pick any. That's because produce can be expensive to maintain. You've got to get it shipped in, keep it refrigerated and when it goes bad chuck it and take the financial hit. That's why a loan program could make a big difference.

The money could help the markets get their produce departments up-and-running and the theory goes new customers will come pouring in. Many of them could benefit from healthier eating habits, which Food Outreach's Barbara Henry says ought to be a top priority.

"Fresh fruit is a need here, because we have so many clients that have all types of, you know, sickness and disease."

Like heart disease and obesity, life-threatening problems that could be avoided by spending a bit more green on greens.

The question now is where all that green money will come from. Right now, Florida has a $2 billion budget deficit, making funding the bill quite the challenge.

The legislation's supporters say the state wouldn't have to foot the entire bill for the proposed loan program. The federal government may be able to offer matching dollars if Tallahassee commits a certain amount.


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