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Maryland Fresh Food Financing Initiative
 
Maryland’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) is aimed at increasing access to healthy foods in underserved areas. Authorized and funded by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014, the program was created to provide flexible financing through the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Neighborhood BusinessWorks (NBW) program for the start-up, rehabilitation or expansion of businesses and nonprofits offering healthy food options, with a particular emphasis on those retailers that will source fresh food from Maryland farmers. To be eligible for assistance, projects seeking financing must be located in a food desert area within the agency’s designated Priority Funding Areas. Nonprofit organizations and small businesses, including corner markets and "micro-enterprises" with fewer than six employees, are also encouraged to apply for funding.
 
The Maryland FFFI will be administered by a designated community-based lending intermediary selected through a competitive process. The lending intermediary must be either a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) working in Maryland communities, a local government or quasi-public agency, and priority will be given to lending intermediaries that are working in jurisdictions with existing healthy food access initiatives. In addition to originating loans, the lending intermediary is expected to provide technical assistance to applicants. More than one intermediary may be selected to administer the program.  
 
  • Please see the Maryland Fresh Food Financing Initiative website for the following forms: Food Desert Area Designation Application, Intermediary Partner Application, and Fresh Food Financing Application.
  • Click here for list of current Designated Sustainable Communities. 
 
Background and Advocacy
 
In December 2011, Advocates for Children and Youth, the Maryland Retailers Association, and The Food Trust convened leaders from the grocery industry, state and local governments, community development, public health, and civic sectors to serve on the Maryland Fresh Food Retail Task Force. The task force developed 10 public policy recommendations to improve access to healthy, affordable food retail in underserved areas throughout the state. High on the list of recommendations was the need to develop a new or expand an existing financing program by providing grants and loans to support the development, renovation and expansion of grocery stores and other stores in underserved communities that provide fresh and healthy food choices.
 
Drawing on the task force recommendations, the Maryland DHCD asked The Reinvestment Fund in 2013 to conduct a market study to gain a deeper understanding of the extent of the supermarket access in Maryland and highlight areas of opportunity for healthy food retailers in underserved communities.
 
 
These policy advocacy efforts culminated in the Maryland state legislature passing legislation (HB 451) in 2014 to encourage vendors to make local fruits and vegetables more available in underserved neighborhoods.  Now named the Maryland Fresh Food Financing Initiative, the bill expanded the purpose of the Neighborhood Business Development Program (NBDP) to include helping to create small businesses and other food-related enterprises that provide healthy foods to residents in food deserts.  The legislation also authorizes DHCD to invest in partners who can demonstrate the ability to recruit, capitalize and support the development of a pipeline of food-related enterprises located in underserved communities. 
 
Policy Efforts to Watch: City of Baltimore Supermarket Tax Incentives
 
Building upon the June 2015 release of the 2015 Food Environment Map and Report by the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, City of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, and the Baltimore Development Corporation introduced a bill in September 2015 that aimed to expand access to healthy food options in the city through supermarket tax incentives. Unanimously approved by City Council in December 2015, the bill offers 10-year tax incentives to attract and retain supermarkets located in or nearby designated food desert areas. The bill defines a food desert as an area that meets four criteria: least a quarter of a mile from the nearest supermarket, with a median household income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, with more than 30 percent of households have no vehicle available, and a low healthy food availability index. New or renovating markets that qualify will receive an 80 percent discount on their personal property taxes for 10 years. An earlier version of the bill also proposed expanding the disbursement period for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), enabling recipients to access their benefits over 24 days, instead of the existing 10-day span. 
 
Read these articles to learn more about the new measure:
 
Policy Efforts to Watch: City of Baltimore Food Policy Initiative 
 
The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative (BFPI) is an inter-governmental collaboration with the Department of Planning, Baltimore Office of Sustainability, Baltimore Development Corporation, and the Baltimore City Health Department. The BFPI was launched in 2010 to "improve health outcomes by increasing access to healthy affordable food in Baltimore City’s food deserts." With each agency lending its expertise, the BFPI creates comprehensive strategies that tackle food access from many perspectives, and implements programs and policies with multi-sector support. To date, BFPI has facilitated the implementation of a healthy carryout strategy, local farmer day stalls, and nutrition and fitness activities, and it coordinates existing health and educational resources in the public markets.
 
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