SCHUMER CALLS ON USDA TO WORK WITH BUFFALO’S EAST SIDE COMMUNITY LEADERS TO INCREASE INVESTMENT FOR FOOD ACCESSIBILITY PROGRAMS, BRINGING DESPERATELY NEEDED FRESH, AFFORDABLE, & HEALTHY FOOD OPTIONS TO UNDERSERVED EAST SIDE NEIGHBORHOODS
Following The Horrific Mass Shooting At The East Side’s Lone Supermarket, The Immense Lack of Access to Fresh & Affordable Food Facing Buffalo’s Largest African American Neighborhood Was Highlighted
Schumer, Who Fought Alongside Community Leaders To Open This Store in 2003, Is Calling On USDA To Increase Fed Investment To Combat Low-Access Food Areas
Schumer To USDA: As Buffalo Continues To Mourn, We Must Do More To Provide Fresh, Affordable Food Options
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched a major push to bring new federal investment for increased food access to Buffalo’s East Side, and other underserved communities across New York and the nation. Schumer wrote directly to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Thomas Vilsack requesting the feds work with local community leaders in Buffalo and increase support for programs meant to boost options for low-access food areas, which disproportionately impacts communities of color. Schumer said it is imperative the USDA act swiftly to address the immediate crisis in Buffalo and do everything possible to facilitate investment in the East Side to address the wrongs caused by discriminatory policies and years of underinvestment.
“Access to fresh, affordable, healthy food options is a basic right that has been constricted for neighborhoods across Buffalo’s East Side for far too long,” said Senator Schumer. “When I fought alongside community leaders years ago to open the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue, I had no idea how this supermarket would one day become such a neighborhood hub. Unfortunately, because of the horrific, racially-motivated, mass shooting, this community, despite a tremendous outpouring of support from across the country, fears they will face severe short-term and long-term food access issues. That is why I am calling on Secretary Vilsack for the USDA to work with local leaders in Buffalo and increase investments to bolster healthy food options in places like Buffalo’s East Side to give these families the fresh, affordable food and peace of mind they need and so desperately deserve.”
In his letter to Secretary Vilsack, Schumer explained that Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the United States with more than 85% of Buffalo’s African American population living east of Main Street. Schumer played a critical role, alongside community leaders including then County Legislature Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, to bring the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue to the East Side which they accomplished in 2003. Since then, Tops Market has served as a community hub for the area. In the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting that took the lives of ten Buffalonians on May 14, 2022, despite an outpouring of aid and support, many in the area have faced greater barriers to accessing affordable, fresh food, exasperating this long-held, inexcusable problem for the East Side that has persisted because of decades of underinvestment and discriminatory policies.
Schumer said this immediate crisis calls for action from the federal government to strengthen resources to key programs that can help address poor access to fresh, healthy, affordable foods for communities like the East Side, and far too many other communities of color and other underserved areas across New York State and the country. Specifically, Schumer highlighted USDA programs like the:
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative which provides grants to food retail and food systems to improve access to healthy foods in underserved areas, create jobs, and build more equitable food options in neighborhoods like those on the East Side.
- Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program that supports greater food access and nutrition security for underserved communities by providing grants to entities that establish additional accessible locations where SNAP participants can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and increases the value of SNAP dollars spent on produce.
- Local Food Promotion Program which funds projects that develop, coordinate and expand local food businesses that increase access and availability of regionally grown produce.
Schumer explained that increasing funding for programs like these and others can significantly help boost access to fresh, affordable food in communities like Buffalo’s East Side, which, due to years of discriminatory policies, lacks the number of healthy food options available in neighboring communities. The senator said that while the horrific tragedy has highlighted these food access challenges on the East Side of Buffalo, this problem is not new or unique to the East Side, and it is time the feds step up to increase funding to help the over 13.5 million people across the U.S. that lack critical access to fresh food options.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack appears below:
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
I write to urge you to leverage all resources at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) disposal to address the lack of access to healthy, fresh food on Buffalo’s East Side and in other underserved communities across New York State and the country and work closely with local leaders to address the ongoing food access crisis in Buffalo. All communities deserve to have access to affordable, fresh, healthy food, and through increased investment in programs like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, USDA is well-positioned to help local leaders in Buffalo with efforts to expand healthy food access in the short and long-term and make use of federal investment tools to help address the unacceptable concentration of low-access food areas in far too many communities of color.
On May 14, 2022, a horrific, racially-motivated, mass shooting occurred on the East Side of Buffalo, a predominantly Black neighborhood. The shooting happened in a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store, which was the only accessible supermarket on the East Side and, as such, served as a community hub. I am intimately familiar with this supermarket, as I played a lead role, along with community leaders, in advocating for this store to open its doors on the East Side a number of years ago. Tops has unfortunately been closed in the aftermath of this bigoted attack, leaving the community without an easily-accessible supermarket.
Sadly, this is a situation with which the East Side of Buffalo is all too familiar. Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. More than 85% of Buffalo’s African American population lives east of Main Street, an area that has suffered from critical underinvestment. As a result, the community experiences an unacceptable lack of widespread access to fresh, affordable, and quality foods. For decades the East Side did not have a full-fledged grocery store. As mentioned, I worked hard alongside community members to bring Tops to the East Side in 2003, and since then, the store has been the first and only supermarket serving the Masten neighborhood community.
Now, with Tops closed following the tragic shooting, the East Side’s lack of healthy food access has grown even more pronounced. Without a local supermarket, residents are forced to spend extra time and money accessing neighboring grocery stores or paying for grocery deliveries. While resources have poured into the community to address the short-term need, residents are concerned about what will happen when those resources leave and they are still without a neighborhood supermarket.
It is vital that USDA do everything possible not just to ensure food is available in the short-term, but also to invest in healthy food access in the community – and other underserved communities across the nation – over the long-term. Programs like the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), GusNIP Nutrition Incentive Program, and the Local Food Promotion Program are already poised to fund projects that increase access to affordable, healthy foods in underserved areas and can be leveraged to address critical healthy food access challenges faced by communities like the East Side of Buffalo. USDA has additional programs that provide funding and technical assistance to support expanded access to local foods, urban agriculture, and food supply chain infrastructure, to name a few. These investment programs and tools can play an important role in increasing access to affordable, fresh foods in underserved communities. I ask USDA to use these tools and their expertise to work closely with local leaders to address this issue on the East Side of Buffalo.
Though May 14th’s awful shooting has highlighted food access on the East Side of Buffalo, this issue is not unique to the East Side. Communities across the country face barriers to easily accessible fresh and healthy foods, with USDA estimating that as many as 13.5 million people across the country have low access to healthy food. This is inexcusable. Every community deserves to have easy access to fresh and healthy food. I urge USDA to do everything possible to invest in areas lacking access to fresh food and right the wrongs caused by discriminatory policies and underinvestment.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical matter. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.