Scroll through any part of the Democrats’ $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill and it won’t be long before you stumble upon an item that will have you scratching your head. I had a moment like that yesterday, when I reached page 11, and found a $35 million appropriation to the Secretary of Agriculture, “For necessary expenses of the Secretary to carry out demonstration projects to increase access to healthy foods through retail outlets.”
The allocation, it turns out, is part of a larger $400 million effort by the federal government, partnering the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Treasury, to attempt to make more fresh produce and healthy grocery stores available to underserved areas, dubbed “food deserts,” where fast food is the often the main option. The effort has been tied together with Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity crusade.
Under the program, the federal government helps provide financing to businesses (such as farmers and grocery stores). Here’s how the Obama administration described the Department of Agriculture’s role in a February press release:
USDA’s proposed funding level of $50 million will support more than $150 million in public and private investments in the form of loans, grants, promotion, and other programs that can provide financial and technical assistance to enhance access to healthy foods in under-served communities, expand demand and retail outlets for farm products, and increase the availability of locally and regionally produced foods. USDA has a solid track record of supporting successful farmers markets, and has also invested in grocery stores and creating agricultural supply chains for them, such as in the People’s Grocery project in Oakland, CA.
If you check out the People’s Grocery website, you’ll find that its slogan is, “Healthy Food For Everyone.” As described in its “About Us” page, this means: “We believe everyone should have access to healthy food, regardless of income. We call this ‘food justice’ – the belief that healthy food is a human right.”
When I asked the USDA for more information, they pointed me toward their website on “food deserts,” which highlights the type of grant opportunities available.
There are a number of things worth commenting on here. First and foremost, why should it be the role of government to subsidize private businesses to expand into these markets? Liberals could argue that the lack of healthy options in certain areas — not individual choices — are leading to rising obesity, which in turn leads to higher health care costs, which in turn leads to more government spending. But this is yet another reason to oppose national health care and another example of how big government begets bigger government — the more the government is involved in health care, the more people’s nutrition is in the interest of government, and the easier it is to justify programs such as these.
Yet even if you were to say that this is something worthwhile — which I would not say — why do we need to be spending this money at a time of massive deficits, and why is this part of a spending bill we’re told is an absolute emergency to pass by Saturday to keep the government open?