The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) Tuesday, March 16, issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking insight into food security challenges faced by communities across the Garden State, including specific obstacles and disparities within communities that are considered “food deserts.”
The NJEDA issued the RFI in conjunction with Governor Phil Murphy’s office and the New Jersey departments of Community Affairs (NJDCA) and Agriculture (NJDA), to gather information and ideas regarding the implementation of the Food Desert Relief Act, part of the NJ Economic Recovery Act of 2020 that Governor Murphy signed into law in January 2021. Responses to the RFI are due no later than 5:00 p.m. on April 12, 2021. The RFI can be found at https://www.njeda.com/bidding/#OET.
The Food Desert Relief Act directs the 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 information gathered from this RFI will help inform the creation of a New Jersey-specific definition of food deserts and offer potential solutions to increase the accessibility and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods for all NJ residents.
“While COVID did not create the problem of food insecurity or lack of access to healthy food, it greatly exacerbated it,” said Governor Murphy. “As we work toward an economic recovery from the pandemic in an equitable manner, it is essential that we make eliminating food deserts a top priority. The support the NJEDA will provide through the Food Desert Relief Act will play a pivotal role in achieving that goal, and the RFI announced today is an important step in that process.”
In 2018, approximately 775,000 New Jerseyans reported difficulty putting food on their table at some point in the year. That number is now projected to grow by more than 60 percent, to a total of over 1.2 million New Jersey residents (13 percent of all residents) facing food insecurity. According to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, an estimated 365,000 New Jersey children – approximately one in five children – will experience food insecurity this year, an increase of 75 percent. In addition, a 2018 analysis conducted by the Reinvestment Fund found that nearly 880,000 New Jerseyans had limited access to a supermarket or a grocery store.
“No person deserves to go to bed hungry or to worry where and how they will get their next meal,” said Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who is also the Commissioner of the NJDCA. “Communities throughout New Jersey will benefit greatly from the ideas that arise as a result of this RFI and the NJDCA stands ready to work with our partner agencies to map out a course forward based on the feedback we receive.”
Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin, who has long championed the need to combat hunger and the lack of access to healthy food, sees Tuesday’s RFI as instrumental in tackling the issue.
“The Food Desert Relief Act is a critically important program that will help us address food insecurity in communities across New Jersey while getting people back to work as we emerge from COVID-19 pandemic,” said Speaker Coughlin. “The RFI issued today will give individuals and organizations with first-hand, expert knowledge of the issues surrounding food insecurity – and the most effective strategies for addressing them – a chance to shape the State response so that we can act quickly and efficiently to support families and communities in need.”
In addition to seeking information to better understand the short- and long-term food accessibility challenges faced by communities across New Jersey, this RFI also invites ideas for potential initiatives to increase accessibility and affordability of healthy foods and considerations for the NJEDA and its partner agencies in defining the state’s food desert communities.
“Under Governor Murphy’s leadership and utilizing funding provided through the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act, we are taking a whole-of-government approach to finding new and creative ways to address and eliminate food insecurity,” said NJEDA Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan. “Through this RFI, we plan to leverage one of New Jersey’s greatest assets – its people – and harness their brainpower to help us provide more than a million people affected by food insecurity with access to healthy food options in their neighborhoods.”
The RFI seeks responses from such entities as municipalities and school districts; hunger relief organizations (e.g., food banks); food retailers, producers, processors and suppliers; advocacy organizations; social services providers; supermarket developers and operators; community stakeholders; policy and academic researchers; technical assistance providers; agricultural organizations and farm markets; developers of innovative anti-hunger and nutrition programs; and foundations and philanthropic initiatives that address hunger and food insecurity.
“Far too many New Jerseyans lack access to healthy food within their local communities, and that is simply unacceptable,” said NJ Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “New Jersey is nationally ranked in the top 10 states as a producer of several different fruits and vegetables and the Garden State has nearly 10,000 farms within its borders. The Food Desert Relief Act presents a unique and innovative opportunity to connect the produce grown at these farms with communities that need them most. We thank Governor Murphy, Lt. Governor Oliver, and the NJEDA for prioritizing an issue that impacts every region of our state.”
Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman noted that her department, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sees tremendous value in the Food Desert Relief Act and the RFI announced today.
“The Department of Human Services has worked hard to make it easier for residents to apply for food assistance benefits through the NJSNAP program that serves 815,000 New Jerseyans, and has for the last year provided nearly $550 million in enhanced SNAP benefits to help address needs related to the pandemic, but food deserts pose a significant challenge,” Acting Commissioner Adelman said. “Enhanced food assistance benefits can only go so far if residents are unable to easily access healthy food in their own neighborhoods. That’s why we look forward to working with our partners in the Murphy Administration to continue addressing food insecurity and find ways to expand access to food.”
All questions concerning this RFI must be submitted in writing no later than 11:59 p.m. EST, on March 22, 2021 via e-mail to email@example.com. The subject line of the e-mail should state: “QUESTIONS-2021-RFI-OET-COVID19-FoodDesert-125”. Answers to questions submitted will be publicly posted on the Authority’s website on or about March 31 at: https://www.njeda.com/bidding/#OET as Addendum.
All RFI responses must be submitted in writing no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on April 12, 2021, via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line of the e-mail should state: “RFI Response-2021-RFI-OET-COVID19-FoodDesert-125”.
The NJEDA is currently soliciting feedback on the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act, including the Food Desert Relief Act. Anyone who wishes provide your comment(s) on the implementation of the package of tax incentive, financing, & grant programs that will be created under the Act should visit https://www.njeda.com/economicrecoveryact/.