HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania businesses that have worked to maintain access to fresh, healthy food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic now have access to $10 million through the Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund.
The statewide initiative is funded through the CARES Act.
Eligible businesses include for-profit, nonprofit or cooperative entities impacted by COVID-19, including convenience stores, corner stores, grocery stores, neighborhood markets, bodegas, food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets, on-farm markets, urban farms, and food aggregation centers with a direct connection to direct-to-consumer retail outlets.
"Pennsylvania's food retailers stepped up to the plate to protect those putting food on the shelf, to think outside of the box to protect the most vulnerable, and to make investments to support those using assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC to support their families," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. "I will be forever grateful to those who have worked hard to ensure food is always accessible through this pandemic; our front-line workers in grocery stores and farmers markets are among Pennsylvania's heroes."
Grant funds will be distributed to eligible applicants for COVID-19-related costs incurred between March 1 and Nov. 20, such as:
- Higher operating costs related to cleaning and social distancing requirements;
- Infrastructure improvements including renovation, new construction, or adaptive reuse directly related to COVID-19;
- Equipment purchases that improve the availability of quality fresh food;
- Inventory (higher cost of goods, higher transportation or delivery costs, or procuring Pennsylvania-grown produce, meat, and dairy products, or loss of product);
- Innovative food access technology such as mobile or pop-up markets, or mobile EBT reader technology;
- Costs to expand access to Pennsylvania grown or processed produce, dairy and meat products or provide stable market access for Pennsylvania farmers that have lost or limited markets; and
- Other one-time or increased expenses incurred related to COVID-19.
To meet eligibility, more than 50 percent of sales must be from staple and perishable foods to consumers and the business must serve customers that live in a low-to-moderate income area. They must also provide access to affordable, high-quality fresh produce; meat and dairy products; and other healthy grocery items for low-to-moderate income shoppers. Finally, they must accept SNAP and WIC to the maximum extent possible.
Wolf's administration noted that in recognition of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 and food apartheid on communities made up of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), particularly Black and African American communities, businesses owned by minorities and serving low-income BIPOC communities will receive priority.
Additional prioritization criteria include businesses located in or serving a USDA-designated food desert; businesses sourcing and selling Pennsylvania-grown or -processed products to the extent practicable; and applicants with supplier diversity and offering increased business opportunities for minority business enterprises, women business enterprises, service-disabled veteran business enterprises, veteran business enterprises, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender business enterprises; and disability-owned business enterprises.
"This pandemic has revealed many things, one of the most prevalent has been about where our food comes from — how it gets from the farm to those who need it. This relief fund is about strengthening the local food system and improving food security and nutrition," said Russell Redding, Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture. "We need to stimulate local economies, increase market opportunities for Pennsylvania farmers, create jobs, and contribute to better health by improving access to fresh, local foods — we need to feed Pennsylvania, now and in the years to come. And that is all a part of this initiative."
The program is administered by the Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Department of Community and Economic Development. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 14.