Terry Jeffrey

Congress left town for the November election without having approved any fiscal 2011 spending bill. So, as of yet, it is uncertain whether Mrs. Obama will get her $400 million-per-year to subsidize supermarkets in "food deserts." The agricultural bill that has been working its way through Congress includes only a $40 million earmark for the program.

But does it deserve a single penny?

In the 2008 farm bill, Congress mandated that the department conduct a $500,000 study of "food deserts." The study -- "Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences" -- was published in June 2009.

The report demonstrates that Mrs. Obama's depiction of American "food deserts" is fatuous at best.

Lower-income Americans live closer to supermarkets than higher-income Americans.

"Overall, median distance to the nearest supermarket is 0.85 miles," said the Agriculture Department report. "Median distance for low-income individuals is about 0.1 of a mile less than for those with higher income, and a greater share of low-income individuals (61.8 percent) have high or medium access to supermarkets than those with higher income (56.1 percent)."

There are 23.5 million people who live in "low income" areas that are more than a mile from the nearest supermarket. But more than half of these people are not low-income, and almost everyone in these areas -- 93.3 percent -- drive their cars to the supermarket. On average, they spend 4.5 minutes more than the typical American traveling to the supermarket.

"Area-based measures of access show that 23.5 million people live in low-income areas (areas where more than 40 percent of the population has income at or below 200 percent of federal poverty thresholds) that are more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store," said the report. "However, not all of these 23.5 million people have low income.

"If estimates are restricted to consider only low-income people in low-income areas, then 11.5 million people, or 4.1 percent of the total U.S. population, live in low-income areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store," it says. "Data on time use and travel mode show that people living in low-income areas with limited access spend significantly more time (19.5 minutes) traveling to a grocery store than the national average (15 minutes).

"However," says the report, "93 percent of those who live in low-income areas with limited access traveled to the grocery store in a vehicle they or another household member drove."

Only 0.1 percent -- one-tenth of one percent -- of Americans living in low-income areas more than 1 mile from a supermarket took public transit to the store, the report said.

For them, Mrs. Obama would create a new $400 million entitlement.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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