Lawmaker: Funding for healthy food campaign not solid

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The main lawmaker involved in an initiative to improve access to healthy food in Michigan said Friday that he never pledged any money for the program.

Rep. Ed Canfield, R-Sebewaing, rejected any suggestion that he or other lawmakers had assured the Michigan chapter of the American Heart Association that the Legislature would fund the group’s planned $1.5 million campaign to stock corner or convenience stores with healthy foods.

The American Heart Association announced the campaign on Thursday, although it did not provide a time line or identify any funding for it.

The organization’s Michigan government relations director, David Hodgkins, said he and other association officials are “very optimistic” that they could secure funding in a separate supplemental appropriations bill “before the end of this year.”

But Canfield said there was not any appetite to pay for it among other state legislators in the latest $57 billion budget that Gov. Rick Snyder signed earlier this month. While he’s interested in considering it in the future, he said he can’t guarantee other lawmakers will actually support any new appropriation for that.

“If the funding had been a sure thing, it would have been in the budget,” Canfield said. “I think everybody wants to put a positive spin on a program that you’re trying to move forward.”

He added: “At this point we do not have the money for it, and we’ll continue to look at it as time goes on.”

The Legislature and Snyder approved a $100 “placeholder” for the program that was included in the budget before departing for summer break. The move signals potential interest in future supplemental spending for the program, but no lawmakers have yet suggested any intention to approve $1.5 million or any other amount for the plan.

Canfield said he supports “the concept” of improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables but said other priorities were more pressing in the budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The American Heart Association said it would be able to offer fresh fruits and vegetables to almost 2 million more Michigan adults and children if it can get funding for the initiative to stock convenience store shelves in low-income and moderate-income neighborhoods.

In Michigan, 1.8 million people and 300,000 children lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables according to the Michigan Healthy Food Access Campaign, a program from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.

Cost and transportation to grocery stores that stock fresh fruit and vegetables can be barriers to nutritional diets.