Your zip code should not determine your life expectancy. However, racial segregation and discrimination have led to a lack of investment in black neighborhoods and profound negative consequences for the health of our communities. Every year, the DC government invests large amounts of money into policing while advocates scramble to get enough funding for affordable housing, health services, and food — investments that actually help create safer communities — into the city budget.
Black Youth Project 100 and the Movement for Black Lives approach this issue through a divest-invest framework. We demand that our elected officials divest from things that harm Black communities — like police and exploitative corporations — and invest in things that uplift the health and safety of Black communities. On Saturday, October 14th we are partnering with DC Greens for the Grocery Walk, an action for food justice and a call for the city to make deep investments in access to healthy food for all— not just wealthy and white residents.
In DC, almost half of the city’s black population lives in Wards 7 & 8, east of the Anacostia River. There are only three full-service grocery stores in those two wards combined for nearly 150,000 residents. For many residents, a grocery run can take 45 minutes or more on public transportation. In comparison, Ward 6 — which includes gentrifying neighborhoods like Navy Yard, where black communities were cleared for the development of a stadium and upscale condos — has a whopping 10 grocery stores for only 82,000 people, according to DC Hunger Solutions’ latest report. The lack of access to fresh, healthy foods East of the River is a public health issue, a human rights issue, and a racial justice issue.
It’s also an issue that can, and must, be fixed. Black people experiencing food injustice in Wards 7 & 8, and across the city, have been advocating for solutions for years. On October 14th, we are mobilizing hundreds of people to join them and turn up the heat on our city’s decision makers.
The Grocery Walk will start at the only grocery store in Ward 8, the Giant on Alabama Avenue, and make its way to downtown Anacostia — a 45 minute journey that is familiar to far too many. The walk will end with a rally a few blocks from the Anacostia metro station, and an advocacy fair where attendees can connect with organizations and community groups (including BYP100 DC!) that are driving DC’s movements for racial, economic, and food justice.
Here are few ways that the DC government should put its money where its mouth is to address food injustice in D.C:
- Support the development and expansion of small grocers, corner stores, and grocery cooperatives East of the River.
DC awards grants, loans, and fast track permitting for new grocery store projects and grocery store renovations in low-income areas of the city through legislation called the FEED DC ACT. In the ten years since the FEED DC ACT passed, new big box grocery stores have used the grants and loans to open up in neighborhoods like Navy Yard and Shaw (areas of gentrification and displacement) while the number of grocery stores East of the River has actually declined.
That’s not how we want this legislation to work in DC’s remaining black neighborhoods. We need the City Council to revise the FEED DC ACT so that it invests in small and medium-sized local grocers, corner stores that want to expand the amount of produce they offer, and grocery co-operatives — grocery stores that are collectively owned by either the employees who work there or the community that the grocery store serves.
Because the primary goal of grocery co-ops is providing retail to the community, not maximizing profit for corporate stockholders, these type of stores are more accountable to the community and are more likely to stay even when profits aren’t high. There are two different groups of Ward 7 & 8 residents working to open grocery co-operatives East of the River; technical support, grants, and priority access to city-owned property would help ensure their success. In a city that hands out tax breaks to condo developers like candy, we know the city can find the funds to support cooperative development.
- Invest in programs that help people buy and obtain food for their families.
The DC government funds several programs that help people get more money to spend on food (such as Produce Plus, a program where residents with Medicaid or SNAP get weekly checks to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets) and programs that provide families with free food (like Food and Friends’ meal delivery service for people with HIV and cancer).
However, the funding for these programs has been tenuous and unreliable. In 2016, Mayor Bowser put $0 toward food access programs in her city budget. In 2017, she put about $4.5 million. Access to healthy food is a basic human right, and ensuring residents have that access is a basic responsibility of the city. In an increasingly wealthy city, folks should not have to wait with bated breath each year to see if their ability to eat will make it into the budget.
The city needs to establish a permanent, year-to-year fund for food justice programs. Since the Mayor and the City Council seem to have no issue with reliably investing over $500 million in the Metropolitan Police Department each year, we know the city is capable of prioritizing funds for food annually.
- Make it easier for folks in DC to get and use food benefits like SNAP and WIC.
DC recently raised the minimum monthly benefit amount for SNAP (also known as food stamps) recipients, which is great. But only half of the city’s low-wage workers– a group primarily composed of young black people — are signed up for SNAP. The wait to enroll can be several hours long, and it’s hard to find that kind of time when you’re working 2 or 3 jobs. DC is one of only 7 states (statehood now!) that does not allow people to sign up for SNAP online.
In Wards 7 & 8, very few pharmacies and zero corner stores accept WIC — a food benefit that low-income pregnant people and parents of infants can get to purchase formula and healthy foods — despite that fact that half of DC’s WIC recipients live in Wards 7 & 8. This problem, which also mostly impacts young black people, is largely caused by local regulations that prevent stores with small square footage from accepting WIC. The City Council and the Mayor’s Department of Health have the power to address both of these barriers to healthy food.
- Provide resources, grants, loans, and tax credits to support the development of urban growing spaces that are created by and for the neighborhoods where they are located.
The Urban Farm and Food Security Act of 2014, which passed the DC City Council almost 3 years ago, is a good first step. It gives private landowners a tax incentive to lease their land for farming, allows non-profits in the city that have vacant land to rent it to commercial farmers without tax penalty, and creates a program where residents can apply to farm on vacant lots owned by the city.
Yet the current administration has not written regulations for the Act, which means it cannot be implemented. None of the incentives or programs the Act created will exist or be accessible to people of DC until the regulations are written.
- Invest in deeply affordable housing and public housing.
There is no food justice where there is displacement. Bringing more grocery stores East of the River, strengthening food access programs, and supporting growing spaces won’t matter if the people who need these resources most are pushed out of DC. The movement for access to healthy food for all cannot be separated from the fight for housing justice.
Access to healthy food is a human right, not a luxury. The DC government has the power and duty to improve access to healthy food options for Black people in DC. Join us on October 14 at the Grocery Walk.
— post written by Dominique Hazzard and Jordan DeLoach, BYP 100 DC