Ohio Prioritizes Healthy Food Access

 

Sarah MayDo you know where your next meal will come from? For nearly one in five Cuyahoga County residents, the answer may be no. Cuyahoga County had the highest number of food insecure residents in the state of Ohio in 2012, approximately 238,530 individuals. Cuyahoga County was also home to the largest number of food insecure children in Ohio at 64,800.

Healthy food for familiesOhio is home to many communities with too few places to purchase healthy, affordable food. This food access crisis has put over 2 million lower income residents, including more than 500,000 children, at risk for chronic disease and diet-related death. These communities are also missing the economic benefits grocery stores can bring, including jobs and neighborhood revitalization.

Today at the Statehouse, the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force called upon Ohio’s local and state government leaders to create a culture of support for healthy food retail development in underserved communities. At the news event, the Task Force released a new policy statement, “Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio,” including analysis and success stories published at www.financefund.org.

One of the recommendations calls for state seed funding to establish an Ohio Healthy Food Financing Fund (HFFF) that would provide healthy food retailers with access to flexible financing needed to overcome the barriers associated with locating in underserved communities. Some of those barriers include higher development costs, security concerns, customer transportation needs, and more expensive workforce training. Fortunately, evidence shows that when grocers have assistance with initial start-up costs to overcome these barriers, they will locate in underserved communities and run successful businesses as a result. This one-time funding enables vendors to open, renovate, or expand retail outlets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. When implemented, the Fund will provide underserved Ohio communities (whether urban, rural, small or large) with better access to fresh foods as well as quality employment opportunities and opportunities for revitalization.

With the help of our partners, Cuyahoga County, Greater Cleveland Food Bank, The Hunger Network and others, United Way of Greater Cleveland is combating hunger and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables. United Way 2-1-1 is also helping by connecting people to resources. In 2014, United Way 2-1-1 received 34,206 requests for food assistance from Cuyahoga County residents. Those in need of help accessing food can call 2-1-1 for information and resources 24 hours a day. Despite numerous successes, many in our community lack access to healthy food options particularly fresh fruits and vegetables.

United Way of Greater Cleveland is always looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to our community’s most challenging issues. We work with our partners to connect people to healthy and nutritious meals every day, but that’s not enough. We must also advocate for policy changes that will have a deeper impact in our community and across the state. That is why we support the work of the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force.

About the Healthy Food Financing Task Force

Made up of a cross-section of nearly 50 leaders from the health, business, civic, government, grocery, philanthropic and other nonprofit sectors, the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force worked for a year alongside The Food Trust to identify policy recommendations to support healthy food retail development and expansion in areas in greatest need. The 2014 report, “Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Ohio” identified urban and rural areas across Ohio where healthy food retail development is needed most. Study findings are published at www.financefund.org/news-resources.

 

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