Allyson Schwartz’s campaign argues the reason she was the only House Democrat from PA to vote for the massive food stamp cuts in the farm bill (which hit PA extra hard) is because the Republicans let her insert a pet program in the bill to fight food deserts with public financing for grocery stores.
But a new study in Health Affairs by Steven Cummins, Ellen Flint, and Stephen Matthews says that program doesn’t even work:
National and local policies to improve diet in low-income US populations include increasing physical access to grocery stores and supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods. In a pilot study that evaluated the impacts of opening a new supermarket in a Philadelphia community considered a “food desert”—part of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative—we found that the intervention moderately improved residents’ perceptions of food accessibility. However, it did not lead to changes in reported fruit and vegetable intake or body mass index. The effectiveness of interventions to improve physical access to food and reduce obesity by encouraging supermarkets to locate in underserved areas therefore remains unclear.
Aaron Carroll has much more here.
To tie this back to the Governor race, there is a proven way to get more supermarkets in poor areas that doesn’t cost any public money at all: letting supermarkets sell booze.
It turns out if you make it more financially attractive to open a supermarket, by letting supermarkets earn higher profit margins with high-margin booze sales, you get more supermarkets.
Allyson Schwartz was the only candidate at the WHYY/Philadelphia Business Journal forum to say she’d support allowing beer distributors to sell six-packs of beer, but she stopped short of saying she’d let supermarkets sell it.
But this free policy change works better than the expensive public financing initiative she created for Philly, and took nationwide in the farm bill. It’s not clear why we need to spend scarce public money layering some good policies on top of crap policies, rather than just cleaning up the crap and seeing where things stand.