Gov. Charlie Baker has included $1 million in funding for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program in the fiscal 2018 capital plan, expanding low income families’ access to healthy groceries.
The Massachusetts Food Trust would provide loans, grants, and technical assistance to support new and expanded healthy food retailers and local food enterprises in low and moderate income communities. Research shows that access to grocery stores is linked to lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases.
Baker announced the details of the state’s $2.26 billion capital plan at an event held in Chelsea on Thursday. The plan focuses on maintaining and modernizing government assets and will lead to more than $4 billion in investments beginning July 1.
Senior staff in the Baker administration confirmed that the Massachusetts Food Trust Program is a top priority and that they are excited and committed to getting the program launched this year.
A 2017 analysis revealed that lack of available grocery stores in Massachusetts impacts 2.8 million residents, or nearly 40 percent of the state’s population, including more than 700,000 children. Communities hit hardest include small, rural towns and Gateway Cities, such as Chelsea, Springfield, Taunton, Everett, Revere, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Brockton, and Chicopee.
The Massachusetts Food Trust will use public seed funds to spur significant private investment, drive economic growth, and create strong local job opportunities. Projects eligible for funding include grocery stores, corner stores, farmers’ markets, mobile markets, community kitchens, food co-ops, food truck commissaries, indoor and outdoor greenhouses, and food distribution hubs.
“This is a huge victory,” said Allyson Perron Drag, the American Heart Association’s senior government relations director in Massachusetts. “We know that we still have work to do to ensure the successful launch and implementation of this program.”
The American Heart Association is also asking lawmakers to include $100,000 in the fiscal 2018 budget for the Massachusetts Food Trust. The AHA has been working on this issue with the Massachusetts Public Health Association, in addition to many other partners.
Maddie Ribble, policy director at the Massachusetts Public Health Association, called Baker’s action “a crucial down payment to…creating a healthier and more equitable Massachusetts.”
“Finding a place to buy healthy, affordable food nearby is a problem faced by far too many Massachusetts residents – negatively impacting quality of life, health, and job opportunities in urban and rural communities across the Commonwealth,” said Ribble.