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‘Nutritious food should be an expectation, not luxury’

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If nutritious foods are the building blocks of healthy bodies, then it’s clear that places to buy affordable, wholesome groceries must be the cornerstone of our neighborhoods. But for too many families in our community, and many others across America, healthy food is out of reach where they live.

Many in Indianapolis know this hardship all too well. In many neighborhoods, a trip to a grocery store, where folks can buy fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and other staples, is an unnecessarily difficult journey. It often requires long walks on narrow sidewalks through all kinds of weather, multiple bus rides and lots of time. Many who live there simply settle for a shorter trip to the corner store or gas station, where the food selection is much more limited, and usually a lot less healthy.

Food deserts — named for their scarcity of easily accessible nutritious food — are prevalent in Indianapolis. Research shows that around 200,000 Indianapolis residents, located across our city, live in food deserts. Nationally, this figure balloons to 29 million people. 

Trends across the country and in our city show that most food deserts are often in neighborhoods where families are struggling, and opportunity is limited. Public health outcomes are also lower, with higher rates of obesity and other diet-related chronic health problems. In addition, the lack of good nutrition negatively affects school and work performance. 

Quite simply, food deserts seem designed to keep people trapped in poor health and generational poverty. 

In the coming weeks, I plan to reintroduce the Food Deserts Act in Congress. This legislation would authorize the United States Department of Agriculture to create a state-operated, revolving fund that will issue low interest loans for new and existing grocery stores. The bill will ensure nutrition assistance programs, like SNAP, WIC and EBT, can be utilized at grocers who have applied for financing through the fund.  

And the legislation will also require recipients of these loans to provide healthy options, including staples like milk and bread, at affordable rates, and that the grocers be run by a small business, nonprofit or a municipality. 

This approach is important because we can’t always count on big-box retailers to move into food deserts, and this bill is not intended to attract those stores. By providing incentives to local organizations and small business owners who are already in these neighborhoods, we’ll be shrinking food deserts and ensuring the economic benefits stay local. 

I’m putting the finishing touches on this legislation and look forward to introducing it soon. I will work hard to get it passed, ideally with support on both sides of the aisle, because ensuring healthy families shouldn’t be a partisan issue. 

As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” and it’s imperative we work together to tackle this big problem— with all levels of government, private philanthropy, nonprofits and our neighbors. And thankfully, we’re already seeing progress on this goal. I’m pleased with local efforts that are yielding results, including recent funds passed by the City of Indianapolis to address this issue and the multitude of creative community programs that have come to life in wake of grocers like Double 8 and Marsh leaving our communities.  

Accessible, nutritious food should be an expectation, not a luxury, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and our community to put an end to food deserts.

Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.

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