Bice wants government to fund private grocery stores

Sen. Stephanie Bice, the biggest proponent of the expansion of liquor sales in the State Senate, wants the state to finance private grocery stores in low-income areas.

Bice is the author of Senate Bill 506, which would create the “Healthy Food Financing Act” – a new state program under the administration of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

It would give tax dollars to private (or nonprofit) grocery stores in areas that have a poverty rate of at least 20 percent (per the U.S. Census Bureau) or a median family income less than 80 percent of the statewide average.

It targets “small food retailers (less than 2,500 square feet of space)” in “underserved communities (as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food Access Research Atlas).” SB506 authorizes a “healthy food financing revolving fund” that would go to construction of new groceries or the renovation or expansion of existing stores. That includes land cost, construction, equipment, furnishing, worker training, security, market studies, appraisals, energy measures, working capital, equipment leasing, and others.

The financing would go to sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, corporations, cooperatives, nonprofits, universities and governments.

And at least 30 percent of the food retail space must be for perishable foods, including dairy, produce, meats, poultry and fish.

On March 22, SB506 passed the Senate 31-11, with no votes from Tulsa area senators, Bill Brown, Nathan Dahm, Joe Newhouse and Dave Rader (all Republicans). Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, voted yes.

The House sponsor of the SB506 is Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Ponca City.