A bipartisan push to increase access to healthy foods is making its way through the General Assembly. The proposal would create the Grocery Investment Fund, to help get new businesses off the ground in areas that need them.
In Danville a group of veterans wanted to open a grocery store to provide fresh food in an underserved area. But the finances weren’t easy.
“They went to so many banks and were told no, no, no time and time again,” explains Robin Gahan with the American Heart Association. “The grocery industry is a tougher one and there are some hurdles to getting those independent operators to be in that community and successful.”
Gahan says grocery stores are vital to a community’s health. So her organization is proposing a loan program.
The state would make a one time payment, and private businesses would chip in three times more. Then a community bank would control the pot of money and lend it out to small grocers who meet the right criteria.
Gahan estimates the fund could be used for up to ten projects at a time, and could presumably be used again and again.
Despite previous attempts, the program hasn’t passed Virginia’s legislature. Some conservatives say it’s not the state’s role to support businesses that couldn’t succeed on their own.
But Senator Bill Stanley, a Republican from the Martinsville area, says it could be an important tool for both rural and urban areas that struggle.
“When you put a grocery store in its like an anchor chain. And small businesses grow around it. It creates jobs, it creates tax revenue,” Stanley says.
The Senate budget includes a one time investment of $2.5 million to get the program off the ground, but the House budget doesn’t include any funding. The difference will be resolved later this session.