TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez and Senator James Beach that would assist small food retailers operating in New Jersey cleared the Senate today.
“Access to fresh produce and healthy food is a luxury many of us take for granted,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (Camden/Gloucester). “Low-income and urban communities in our state suffer from food deserts. When full-service supermarkets do not operate in these communities residents have to rely on small corner stores as their primary source of grocery shopping. These stores offer very limited, if any, healthy food options but do offer a vast selection of processed foods, making it nearly impossible to have a healthy diet. Helping these small food retailers expand their offerings would ensure everyone in New Jersey has access to nutritious foods.”
The bill, S-1312, would require the Department of Health (DOH) to develop a “Healthy Corner Store Program” to increase the availability of fresh produce and healthy food in small food retailers in rural and urban areas, and low and moderate income areas. The DOH would also be required to establish a “Healthy Small Food Retailer Fund” to support the program.
The bill would provide funding to a grantee that would distribute the funds to qualified small food retailers that sell a limited selection of food and other products, such as a corner store or a convenience store. Small food retailers would have to meet specific participation standards, in order to receive assistance.
“No one should lack access to fresh produce and healthy food,” said Senator Beach (Burlington/Camden). “This bill would ensure that nutritious food can be found at corner stores in communities that lack access to supermarkets, promoting healthy diets and wellness throughout New Jersey.”
The “Healthy Small Food Retailer Fund” would appropriate $2 million in funds from the General Fund and would be credited annually from money available from the General Fund by request of the DOH.
Money from the fund may be used for salary and associated administrative costs towards providing education, advice, or other assistance to small food retailers, equipment necessary for a retailer to keep stock of healthy foods and fresh produce, materials and supplies for nutrition education and healthy food promotion and mini-grants for retailers to meet initial expenses incurred with participation in the program.
The bill would require a grantee to submit a report to the DOH by March 1 of every year which would include information concerning the overall geographic distribution of the funding, the amount of funding allocated to each retailer, the health impacts associated with the program and an evaluation of any data collected from participants.
The DOH would submit an annual report to the legislature and the governor.
The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 36-1.