(WASHINGTON, DC) – Today, Mayor Bowser released Food Access & Food Security in the District of Columbia: Responding to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, a report presenting the current state of food security in the District. In accordance with the Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, signed into law by Mayor Bowser on May 27, 2020, this report evaluates and makes recommendations to address food access needs during and following the public health emergency.
“The District government, local businesses, and nonprofits have come together in a remarkable way to develop a robust emergency food response to the unprecedented public health emergency,” said Andrew Trueblood, Director of the DC Office of Planning. “We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more equitable DC, and to that end, we all must work together to rebuild a more resilient, healthy, and equitable food system in the District.”
The COVID-19 public health emergency and its economic effects have led to increased food insecurity rates nationally and in the District. “Food insecurity” is a term defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity is a chronic condition that existed before the onset of the public health emergency, when 10.6% of District residents were food insecure. COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity in the District; it is projected that the District’s food insecurity rate in 2020 will be at least 16%, with even higher rates among vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, undocumented individuals, and unhoused individuals.
“Food insecurity will remain a critical priority even after the public health emergency has subsided,” said Ona Balkus, Food Policy Director at the DC Office of Planning. “This new reality magnifies the urgency of achieving true health equity in the District, with every resident having meaningful access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. As the Food Security Report indicates, both a strategic emergency response, as well as longer-term systems change and planning will be essential.”
The District has responded to increasing food insecurity needs among District residents through wide-reaching efforts focused on our most vulnerable residents. The Department of Aging and Community Living quickly adapted its congregate meal programs for seniors to entirely home delivery, serving over 6,400 seniors. DC Public Schools also adapted its school meal program to grab-and-go meals at 29 schools across the District. DHS has distributed over 33,000 grab-and-go meals to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness, in addition to their normal shelter meal operations.
The District also quickly stood up new emergency food programs in response to COVID-19. Since April, the District has distributed over 25,000 bags of free groceries, mostly fresh produce, in partnership with local non-profits. Through the GetHelp Hotline, the District has delivered 14 days’ worth of shelf stable groceries to residents quarantined at home, in partnership with a local business and non-profit.
The District has also successfully applied for waivers to expand several federal nutrition assistance programs, and our agency staff have tirelessly worked to enroll eligible residents in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Pandemic-EBT Program (p-EBT). By helping 33 farmers markets open safely, the District has also enabled residents to access the Senior and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Produce Plus Direct.