Report Group Works to Alleviate Arkansas Food Deserts / Public News Service

Arkansas is experiencing a “food desert” problem in urban and rural communities, according to recent reports.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson formed the Arkansas Food Desert Task Force and issued a report recommending actions to reduce food insecurity in Arkansas.

Kathy Webb, CEO of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and co-chair of the 18-member working group, said the food desert problem has been exacerbated in recent years by nationwide grocery store closures. , said some grocery stores were closed. Communities without access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

She said that the group’s initial thought was that the recommendations would be centered around legislative change, but they found that change was centered around community action, and that the legislature would be more connected and better. It is to play a role through policy.

“We talked to people across the country and got ideas on how to make a difference,” Webb said. “And in my opinion, it starts at the community level: community leaders, locally elected officials, legislative bodies.”

The working group will support state fiscal policy by setting local and state tax incentives, creating revolving loan programs, and subsidizing pilot programs in areas with little or no access to fresh produce. recommended adding support for food access to

She had a working group travel to neighboring Mississippi and Tennessee to examine different models and study how some of them could be adapted to meet the needs of Arkansas. A key finding of the report highlighted that more than 82% of Arkansas counties have one or more communities in need of improved access to food.

“This is 62 of the 75 counties, and in some of those areas, brick-and-mortar grocers probably aren’t the solution,” Webb admitted. “But there are other solutions, and we are making all the different possibilities available to people in the community.”

She also noted that another recommendation in the report is for state legislatures to improve and virtually make access to supplemental nutrition assistance programs and state food benefit programs for women, infants, and children programs. did.

“Some of it has to do with work at the federal level,” Webb stressed. “Currently, I can’t use his WIC online. I would like to see that change to buy things online. Smaller retailers can accept his SNAP benefits online.” I hope it will be.”

Webb recalled that the group met online with retailers in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. These retailers are embracing his SNAP for online purchases, making a real difference in rural communities.

She added that the Arkansas government’s Food Desert Working Group will begin a focus group in January to see what the community responds to and launch a community survey to match needs with potential solutions. I was.

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