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New Jersey Takes Steps to Eradicate Food Deserts

Law includes helping food retailers respond to shift to e-commerce, including SNAP
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
New Jersey Takes Steps to Eradicate Food Deserts
NJEDA is helping to develop sustainable operations of new grocery stores within designated Food Desert Communities in the Garden State.

The Garden State is bringing much-needed relief to the hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans that are affected by food insecurity. Over the next several years, up to $240 million in funding through the state's Food Desert Relief Act, part of the Economic Recovery Act signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in January 2021, will be available to designated communities. As an important step in this process, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) has released a draft list of New Jersey’s 50 designated Food Desert Communities for public feedback.

The Food Desert Relief Act directs NJEDA to address the food security needs of communities across New Jersey by providing up to $40 million per year for six years in tax credits, loans, grants and/or technical assistance to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches to alleviate food deserts. The act strives to facilitate development, construction and sustainable operations of new grocery stores within designated Food Desert Communities. It also aims to strengthen existing community assets by arming them with the necessary equipment and infrastructure to provide healthier food options. Additionally, it helps food retailers respond to the shift to e-commerce, including for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“We have an obligation as state leaders, and as human beings, to ensure that no New Jerseyan goes to bed hungry, regardless of their socioeconomic status,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. “By crafting one of the most comprehensive food desert designations in the country, we are leading the nation in taking necessary steps to eradicate food deserts and remove the barriers keeping our state’s residents from accessing nutritious food.”

According to recent data from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, 800,000 New Jersey residents face hunger every day. Feeding America noted that 192,580 New Jersey children – one in 10 – face hunger. Furthermore, the number of individuals receiving NJ SNAP benefits rose more than 15%, from 769,331 in September 2020 to 887,467 in September 2021, according to data from the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

In March 2021, NJEDA issued a Request for Information to solicit insight into food security challenges faced by New Jersey communities, including specific obstacles and disparities within areas considered food deserts. The comprehensive designation includes consideration of factors such as food retail environment, demographics, economic indicators and health indicators.

NJEDA is encouraging the public to provide feedback on the Food Desert Community designations by visiting by Feb. 4 or emailing [email protected]. The agency will host listening sessions on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13 to solicit stakeholder input.

“Food insecurity is an ongoing crisis, and gathering public input to solidify the Food Desert Communities designations will help connect residents facing hunger with fresh farm products grown and produced at many of New Jersey’s 10,000 farms,” said NJEDA Secretary Douglas Fisher.

Meanwhile, government agencies recently helped ensure that Atlantic City is no longer a food desert. Murphy and Village Super Market EVP Bill Sumas were among those in attendance to ceremonially break ground in November on a new ShopRite in South Jersey, made possible with nearly $19 million in public funds.

The largest retailer-owned grocery cooperative in the United States, Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp. comprises nearly 50 members that independently own and operate 363 supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Gourmet Garage and Fairway Market banners in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The company is No. 23 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2021 listing of North America’s top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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