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Report Finds District’s “Grocery Gap” Leaves Some Neighborhoods with Few Options for Healthy Food; Urges Creation of an Initiative to Spur Development and Close the Gap
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Washington, D.C. – March 16, 2010 – The District of Columbia has a significant grocery gap, leaving many neighborhoods without access to full-service grocers, according to a new report by D.C. Hunger Solutions and Social Compact. For WIC recipients, the gap is exacerbated because half of full-service grocers do not accept WIC vouchers. The report, When Healthy Food is Out of Reach, points out that access to nutritious food is a serious challenge especially for many low-income communities. The District can close this gap by creating a Healthy Food Access Initiative to support store development.
When Healthy Food Is Out of Reach is the first report to provide an in-depth assessment of access – or lack of access – to full-service grocery stores in the District. The report finds that full-service grocers are distributed very unevenly across the city. Ward 3 has one grocery store for every 7,300 people, while Ward 8 – the Ward with the lowest average income – has one store for every 23,000 people.
Findings from the report include:
- The ratio of full-service grocery stores to residents varies widely among the District's wards. Ward 3 has five times as many full-service grocers per capita as Ward 4.
- On average, residents of Wards 4, 5, and 7 must travel longer distances than residents in other wards to reach the closest full-service grocery store.
- The District loses more than $112 million in annual grocery revenues to neighboring jurisdictions because existing grocery retail is insufficient to meet residents’ demand.
- Some areas of the District—particularly in Wards 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8—are underserved by full-service grocery retail, compared to other areas. (The recent closure of one of Ward 5’s three full-service grocery stores has compounded the problem.)
“There is a clear grocery gap in Washington, D.C., and low-income residents bear the brunt of this gap. For families that are struggling with low wages, not having access to grocers impacts both their wallets and their health. Families whose budgets are already stretched to the limits don’t have the extra money to pay for additional transportation costs or higher prices,” said Alexandra Ashbrook, Director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “Closing the grocery gap in the District by encouraging more grocers to locate in these areas would help reduce hunger, improve public health and nutrition, reduce costs for low-income residents, and boost the local economy.”
While troubling, the grocery gap also presents investment opportunities for the District. ”Community development has come a long way in providing new opportunities to match information to public policy,” said John Talmage, President and CEO of Social Compact. “Today, in light of what we know about the strong relationship between public health outcomes and access to quality fresh food, this report could not have been timelier. The District has a fantastic opportunity to craft a solution that is a win for all: the community, residents and the grocery industry.”
The report proposes the creation of a Healthy Food Access Initiative to help close the gap by supporting grocery store development. The Initiative, modeled on Pennsylvania’s successful Fresh Food Financing Initiative and New York City’s “FRESH” Program, and similar to a national initiative proposed by President Barack Obama in his FY 2011 budget, would attract full-service grocers and other healthy food vendors to underserved neighborhoods and improve the capacity of existing food retailers in those areas.
The report urges the creation of a working group that would oversee and support the Initiative. Key components of the Healthy Food Access Initiative could include:
- Creating financial, development, and operating incentives to attract grocers to underserved areas of the city. This could include one-time grants and loan financing to cover development and start-up costs or zoning and building incentives to encourage developers to include fresh food retail in housing or other development.
- Ensuring service to low-income customers by requiring food stores’ acceptance of federal nutrition programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps) and Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) benefits.
- Analyzing transportation options to improve access to full-service grocery stores.
The report also recommends that more stores take necessary steps to becoming WIC retailers. While nearly all full-service grocers in the District accept SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, only 48 percent accept WIC. The population served by WIC – low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and young children – faces more obstacles in getting to grocery stores. The District should encourage small, currently operating grocers and any new stores that locate in the District, to accept WIC.
“This report shows D.C. has an opportunity to capture millions more in grocery dollars,” said Keith Sellars, Senior Vice President, of Development and Retail at the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership. “Grocery stores generate jobs and can serve as an anchor for other retail developments. The task ahead of us is to connect all the dots and help grocers get over the barriers to developing in underserved areas.”
D.C. Hunger Solutions and Social Compact will host a briefing Tuesday, March 16, 2010 from 2 – 3:30 p.m. to discuss the report’s findings and to outline recommendations to close the District’s grocery gap. The briefing will be held at Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, 1495 F Street NW, Washington, DC. Speakers will include: Harriet Tregoning, Director, District of Columbia Office of Planning; Dr. Pierre Vigilance, Director, District of Columbia Department of Health; and Keith Sellars, Senior Vice President, Development and Retail, Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership.
D.C. Hunger Solutions, founded in 2002 as an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), works to create a hunger-free community and improve the nutrition, health, economic security, and well-being of low-income people in the District of Columbia. To learn more about D.C. Hunger Solutions, visit www.dchunger.org.
Social Compact is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to facilitating sustainable private investment in undervalued communities with the goal of helping families and communities build long-term wealth and strength. To learn more about Social Compact, visit www.socialcompact.org.