Florida Healthy Food Financing Initiative
Report 23-09, October 2023
- Approximately 13.5% of Floridians live in census tracts that are designated as both low-income and low-access (LILA), meaning that a significant share of residents live more than 1 mile (urban) or 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket. The primary concern with LILA census tracts is that some residents may be unable to regularly obtain healthy foods because either the foods are not available where they live or they do not have access to transportation to travel to places that sell healthy food.
- The 2016 Legislature created the Florida Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) to provide financial assistance for the rehabilitation or expansion of grocery retail outlets located in LILA census tracts. To administer the HFFI program, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) received a onetime appropriation of $500,000 and contracted with the Florida Community Loan Fund (FCLF) to administer the program. FCLF disbursed the $500,000 to three recipients between December 2017 and April 2020: Evans Center, Fresh Choice Market, and Highpoint Clinic Food Rx.
- OPPAGA found that DACS’ contract with FCLF and program rules did not establish criteria that supported statutory goals, including creation of a revolving loan fund. Instead, FCLF implemented a program that included interest-only forgivable loans. In addition, DACS and FCLF conducted limited program monitoring.
- While food access improved across the three communities where entities received HFFI program funding, economic viability of the recipients and value to local communities varied. Evans Center offered several services in an area with low healthy food accessibility, but these services were not sustainable without continuing grants and donations and the center closed due to financial challenges. Fresh Choice Market offers a variety of food products in a previously underserved community, but customer feedback was mixed. The Highpoint Clinic Food Rx Pharmacy benefits from co-locating with Evara Health Clinic; however, while the program has positive evaluations, only a small number of patients redeem vouchers for healthy food and the patient withdrawal rate is high.
- Should the Legislature wish to fund the Healthy Food Financing Initiative again, it may wish to consider several options that could improve program operations and effectiveness, including modifying program rules and allowing additional funding strategies and uses of program funding.
low-income, low-access, census tract, food desert, financial assistance, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Florida Community Loan Fund, food access, Evans Center, Fresh Choice Market, Highpoint Clinic Food Rx. revolving loan