Food desert bill enjoys bipartisan support

Mario's West Side Market, located near a food desert and across the street from a Starbucks, Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, McDonald's, and Jack in the Box. (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

While campaigning in his North Las Vegas district, Assemblyman William McCurdy said one of the top issues raised by his constituents was the lack of grocery stores and fresh food. On Friday McCurdy’s bill to address that problem saw its first hearing.

Using money from the state general fund, the bill, AB 326, would create “The Nevada Fresh Food Financing Initiative Account,” a $10 million dollar revolving loan program to attract investments in grocery stores in food deserts within Nevada.

The United States Department of Agriculture identifies food deserts in 40 census tracts in Nevada, and within those census tracts 150,000 Nevadan’s meet the criteria of living in low income food deserts— an area where a significant number (at least 500 people) or at least 33 percent of the population is greater than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store for an urban area. Of those Nevadans living in food deserts, 89 percent live in urban centers and 11 percent live in rural areas.

“We are going to do a lot of good,” said McCurdy. “This is not a silver bullet but it is a very major step forward in a direction that is going to alleviate and provide fresh options for a lot of our constituents across the state.”

Any person who operates or wishes to operate a grocery store in an under-served community in Nevada would be eligible for a loan to finance the establishment or expansion of a fresh food grocery store.

The purpose of the bill is to provide access to healthy food options, expand employment opportunities in under-served communities, and to encourage economic growth.

McCurdy is one of six primary sponsors of the bill, including two Republicans, Assemblymen Jim Wheeler, who represents part of Lyon, Douglas and Storey counties, and Tom Roberts, whose district is on the northwest edge of the Las Vegas metro area. Both districts contain census tracts identified as food deserts.

The bill is modeled after Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), McCurdy said. Since it was created in 2004, the initiative has financed 88 grocery stores in communities across Pennsylvania, and program supporters say it has revitalized local economies with the creation and retention of 5,000 jobs. Small businesses benefited most. Almost all of the stores funded through the initiative are independent, locally owned businesses that range from natural foods cooperatives to small greengrocers to full-service supermarkets.

The Nevada Fresh Food Financing Initiative Account would be administered by the state treasurer, who could then apply for gifts, grants, and donations from any source. All income and interest earned by the account would remain in The Nevada Fresh Food Financing Initiative Account and help maintain the program.

“This is a bill that we’re looking to bring forward to offer a little support, just as much as we can as a state, to those who are in need,” McCurdy said.

Overall the bill saw broad support, Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen, who represents a large swath of rural Nye County, parts which are classified as a food desert, said he appreciated the bill.

“I just want to put on the record that I live more than 10 miles away from a grocery store so I appreciate this,” Hafen said.

Urban municipalities came out in united support of the bill including, the City of North Las Vegas, the City of Las Vegas, and the City of Henderson, all of which have their own food deserts.

“We are actively working to eliminate a food desert that exists in our Pittman neighborhood, one of the community’s oldest neighborhoods, so we are in strong support of AB 326,” said David Cherry, a spokesman for the City of Henderson.

The Boulder Highway Strip in Henderson, the area around Nellis AFB, and multiple areas in North Las Vegas meet the Agriculture Department’s criteria for being food deserts, which often overlap with significant percentages of residents without access to a vehicle.

McCurdy’s district is in North Las Vegas— a city with a high rate of poverty and a high concentration of minority communities who live in food deserts.

“It’s no secret that my district is a very low-income area,” said McCurdy in a previous interview with the Current. “Historically there wasn’t an appetite to set up a business there. It doesn’t have the market they’re looking for. So what has to happen is that you have to be very proactive in creating legislation that would make it more appetizing for them to come.”

Local business, the Governor’s Council on Food Security, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, the Nevada American Heart Association, the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, Three Square and other food security and religious groups also spoke in support of the bill. No one spoke in opposition.

 

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

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