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Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative

COVID-19 Relief Fund

Program Overview

The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) is a statewide public-private financing program that invests in new or expanding grocery stores and other healthy food retail outlets in communities throughout Pennsylvania. The FFFI provides one-time grants to eligible food retailers in order to increase access to healthy, affordable grocery food options and to improve economic opportunities for underserved communities in urban, rural and suburban areas across the state. The state is introducing a new and complementary program to the PA FFFI for retailers that have been impacted by COVID-19. The goal of the FFFI COVID-19 Relief Fund is to provide grant support to food retailing businesses impacted by COVID-19 to ensure that amidst the pandemic, communities can maintain healthy food access. In recognition of the disproportionate impacts of both COVID-19 and food apartheid on communities made up of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and especially Black and African American communities, prioritization will be given to those businesses that are owned by and serve low-income BIPOC communities. 

Program Objectives

  • provide grant support to food retailing businesses impacted by COVID-19 to ensure that amidst the pandemic, low-income and underserved communities are able to maintain healthy food access; 
  • contribute to better health outcomes by improving access to fresh foods and, to the extent practicable, Pennsylvania grown and produced agricultural products (eligible products include fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, and meat products grown or processed in Pennsylvania);  
  • stimulate investments in lower-income communities and in food retailing businesses that are owned by people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and that serve lower-income BIPOC communities;  
  • remove financing obstacles and operating barriers for grocery stores and other healthy food retail in lower-income communities;  
  • strengthen the local food system and increase market opportunities for Pennsylvania farmers;  
  • support the creation and preservation of jobs; and  
  • create and retain a qualified workforce.  

This program builds on the success of the original initiative in Pennsylvania which has been celebrated for its flexibility and impact, and its success has influenced the creation of similar programs in over 13 states and at the federal level. Projects financed through the original FFFI—nearly 90 throughout the state of Pennsylvania— ranged from large, full-service supermarkets in urban neighborhoods, to small stores in rural areas, to non-traditional retail including farmers markets. The FFFI proved that, with public sector incentives, grocers can overcome the higher costs associated with operating in underserved areas. Due to the program's success, the state reinvested in the PA FFFI in 2018 which is currently funding projects as well. More information on the non-emergency COVID-19 program can be found through The Food Trust.

The Act of May 29, 2020 (Act 2A of 2020), known as the COVID-19 Emergency Supplement to the General Appropriation Act of 2019, appropriated $10,000,000 from the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account to the Department of Community and Economic Development to be used for Food Access.  Through a subgrant, the PA Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. 


The PA FFFI COVID-19 Relief Fund will provide support to Pennsylvania businesses that provide access to fresh, perishable, and staple foods to local communities.  

Applicants may be for-profit, nonprofit, or cooperative entities (such as grocery stores, corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood stores, bodegas, food hubs, mobile markets, co-ops, farmers markets, on-farm markets, and urban farms, community gardens and food aggregation and processing centers with a direct connection to direct-to-consumer retail outlets) meeting the following criteria:  

  • Primary business (> or equal to 50% of revenue) is in the sale of staple and perishable food to consumers or direct to retail settings  
  • Operate and provide service in Pennsylvania 
  • Serve customers that live in a low-to-moderate (LMI) income area, by locating in an LMI census tract, or demonstrating that a significant number of customers reside in LMI areas 
  • Operated prior to March 2020 and remain in operation (temporary closures due to COVID-19 acceptable)  
  • In areas where food access has been negatively impacted due to COVID-19, start-up costs or seed money to start a new farmers market, including pop-up and mobile markets, and start-up costs for farms to begin direct to consumer retail sales between March 2020 and November 2020 because of COVID-19 supply disruptions are eligible. To be eligible, projects must demonstrate that food access is being limited due to COVID-19 or that the direct to consumer retail expansion is necessary due to lost or disrupted markets because of COVID-19. Proposals should demonstrate how the project addresses public health disparities that are worsened by COVID-19 by providing access to fresh food in underserved areas. 
  • Provide access to affordable, high quality fresh produce, meat and dairy products and other healthy grocery items for low-to-moderate income shoppers 
  • Accept or demonstrate plans to accept SNAP and WIC to the maximum extent possible (or have connection to retailers that will accept them) 

Examples of projects types that are NOT eligible include:  

  • Emergency food/food pantries without grocery retail component
  • Agriculture-related projects without clear connection to food retail that meets program criteria (ex. food hubs that supply institutions only)  
  • Restaurants, cafes, and prepared food businesses  

Eligible Use of Funds:  

Grant funding will be distributed to eligible applicants for impacts related to COVID-19, that have been incurred between March 1, 2020 and November 30, 2020, such as:  
  • Higher operating costs related to cleaning requirements and social distancing requirements, including costs related to outside contracting associated with managing social distancing, limited occupancy, and cleaning 
  • Infrastructure improvement, including renovation, new construction or adaptive reuse directly related to COVID-19 needs  
  • Equipment purchases that improve the availability and quality of fresh food, such as additional refrigeration to manage volume; or personal protective equipment such as plexiglass separators  
  • Inventory (higher costs of goods, higher transportation or delivery costs of procuring Pennsylvania-grown produce, meat and dairy products, or loss of product) 
  • Innovative food access technology or delivery of food to retail that assists the healthy food access efforts of eligible applicants, such as infrastructure needs for online customer purchasing options, mobile or pop-up farmers markets, or mobile EBT reader technology 
  • Costs to expand access to Pennsylvania grown or processed produce, dairy and meat products to provide stable market access for Pennsylvania farmers that have lost or limited markets due to COVID-19 disruptions 
  • Other one-time or increased expenses incurred related to COVID-19 (hazard pay, or any employee wage or benefit are not eligible uses of funds for this program) 

Award Amounts
Awarded applicants will receive funding amounts based on their eligible expenses and other criteria up to a max amount based on the categories of businesses outlined below. Criteria may need to be modified somewhat in different geographic settings, since population density can play a role in the total square footage of food retail.  

  • Large or Regional Anchor Supermarkets – up to $1 million per operator 
    • Operator is defined as a company or chain of stores, and one application must be submitted on behalf of any eligible stores within a chain or company. Justification must be provided that each store is eligible.
    • Company operates one or more retail locations in eligible census tracts collectively totaling more than 100k retail square feet  
  • Full service Traditional Grocery Stores – up to $500,000 per operator  
    • Operator is defined as a company or chain of stores, and one application must be submitted on behalf of any eligible stores within a chain or company. Justification must be provided that each store is eligible.
    • Company operates one or more retail locations in eligible census tracts totaling more than 30k retail square feet  
  • Neighborhood markets and Food Enterprises – Up to $100,000 per operator  
    • Company operates one or more retail locations in eligible census tracts, or operates a Food Enterprise that sells directly to retail settings located in eligible census tracts and provides Pennsylvania grown or processed products  
    • On-farm markets and stands, farmers markets, urban farms and community gardens with retail sales are eligible under this category 
    • For this category only, a single application may be submitted on behalf of a farmers market to cover overall market expenses and/or expenses for multiple vendors. A single vendor may also submit an individual application if the market is not submitting an overall application or if there are expenses limited only to their business. Applications submitted on behalf of a single farmers market vendor, on-farm markets and stands, urban farms and community gardens are limited to $15,000.

Prioritization will be given to projects that:  

  • Are located in, owned by, or primarily serve historically disadvantaged BIPOC communities. Eligibility for this prioritization will be determined by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's municipal data and eligible historically disadvantaged Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color (BIPOC) communities are defined as municipalities with a BIPOC population of 50 percent or higher or a BIPOC population greater than 700 people.  
  • Promote supplier diversity and where possible, increase business opportunities for Minority Business Enterprises, Women Business Enterprises, Service-Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises, Veteran Business Enterprises, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Business Enterprises; and Disability-Owned Business Enterprises. 
  • Are located in or serve a USDA-designated Food Desert.           
    • To determine eligibility, go to USDA Food Access Research Atlas and type in address of business or search area served using low-income and low-access overlays.
    • Applicants may also submit more recent data or studies if applicable. 
  • For large or regional anchor supermarket projects, those with a match will be prioritized.  

How to Apply and Timeline 
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (department) will accept applications until August 14, 2020.  If you have any questions about the application process, contact Michael Roth at  

 The department will review the application, schedule a phone call with the applicant, and conduct additional research to determine whether the project meets the program's eligibility.  

To apply for funding, the applicant must submit the on-line Electronic Single Application for Assistance located at In addition to the Electronic Single Application for Assistance, the applicant should provide the following items when applying for the grant. All items should be attached electronically to the ESA submission. Awarded grants are reimbursement grants, so applicants are responsible to spend all funds prior to submitting for reimbursement.

Accessing Funds 
Following approval of an application, a grant agreement will be electronically issued to the applicant explaining the terms and conditions of the grant along with a Federal Funding Accountability & Transparency Act (FFATA) Form. The grant agreement must be electronically signed and returned within 30 days or the offer may be withdrawn. The FFATA Form must be returned with signed grant agreement or the grant contract will not be processed. 

One fully executed copy of the grant agreement will be returned to the applicant with a payment request form and instructions for requesting payment. Applicants must submit one payment request at the end of the eligible period seeking reimbursement for actual eligible expenditures. Support documentation will include receipts for cost incurred, justification of how expenses match the proposed budget, and justification for how expenses were related to COVID-19.

 Other Requirements

Employers and businesses must have been, and remain, in compliance with all relevant laws, orders, and regulations during the period of the COVID-19 disaster emergency under the Governor's proclamation dated March 6, 2020, and any and all subsequent renewals. The foregoing includes, but is not limited to, orders by the Governor, Secretary of Health, or other commonwealth officials empowered to act during the emergency. Any noncompliant businesses will be ineligible for funding under this program and may be required to return all, or a portion, of the funds awarded under the program. 

Project Records 

The applicant must maintain full and accurate records with respect to the project and must ensure adequate control over related parties in the project. The program office requires access to such records, as well as the ability to inspect all work, pay records, time statements, invoices, materials, and other relevant records at reasonable times and places. Upon request of the program office, the applicant must furnish all data, reports, contracts, documents, and other information relevant to the project. 

Compliance Requirements 

Fund payments are subject to the following requirements in the Uniform Guidance (2 C.F.R. Part 200): 2 C.F.R. § 200.303 regarding internal controls, 2 C.F.R. §§ 200.330 through 200.332 regarding subrecipient monitoring and management, and subpart F regarding audit requirements.  

Conflict of Interest Provision

An officer, director, member, or employee of an applicant who is a party to or has a private interest in a project shall disclose the nature and extent of the interest to the governing body of the applicant and may neither vote on action of the applicant concerning the project nor participate in the deliberations of the applicant concerning the project. Additionally, the applicant's board members and directors must complete an annual financial disclosure statement.


No assistance shall be awarded to an applicant under this program unless the applicant certifies to the department that they will not discriminate against any employee or against any person seeking employment by reason of race, gender, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, or in violation of any applicable local, state, or federal laws. All contracts for work to be paid with program assistance must contain the commonwealth's official nondiscrimination clause.

Financial Audit 

A Recipient or Sub-Recipient that expends $750,000 or more in federal awards during its fiscal year is required to provide the appropriate single or Program-Specific Audit in accordance with the provisions outlined in 2 CFR § 200.501.