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VA Voters Favor State Fund to Bring Grocers to Underserved

A new poll shows strong support for a state fund designed to bring grocery stores to Virginia food deserts. (American Heart Association)
A new poll shows strong support for a state fund designed to bring grocery stores to Virginia food deserts. (American Heart Association)
August 25, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. – A new poll finds Virginia voters strongly support a state fund to help bring grocery stores to underserved communities.

Allie Atkeson, campaign manager of the Voices for Healthy Kids program with the American Heart Association, says the program found voters are especially concerned about the half million Virginia children who live in low-income communities with limited supermarket access.

She says more than 4 out of 5 of the voters support the creation of the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund.

"Eighty-two percent of voters support a state program to make healthy foods available to more of Virginia's children by giving low-interest loans and grants to business to open grocery stores in Virginia," she states.

More than 1.5 million Virginians live in low-income areas without easy access to a supermarket. According to the American Heart Association, they suffer higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

The Virginia Grocery Investment Fund had some support during the last General Assembly. A broad coalition of backers hope to turn that into solid funding during the next session.

Atkeson says a neighborhood grocery store wouldn't cure all dietary problems by itself. But she says a similar grocery investment fund in Pennsylvania already has resulted in scores of new stores opening, and that seems to have contributed to real improvements in health.

"People who live in communities without a grocery store suffer from disproportionately high rates of diet-related disease,” she points out. “Philadelphia actually found that the rate of childhood obesity declined by 6.6 percent after the implementation of the program."

Grocery stores in small towns and poor city neighborhoods often survive on extremely thin profit margins.

Atkeson says loans for new refrigeration or an energy upgrade can mean life or death for one of those stores. And she says it also can mean new jobs in those places.

"Over the years, grocery stores have left communities due to factors unrelated to customer demand,” she explains. “The fund is not intended to artificially prop up a grocery store, and the creation of grocery stores in these communities can help with a greater community revitalization effort."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA