New Report Finds the District’s ‘Grocery Store Gap’ Has Widened Since 2010

Washington, June 6, 2017 — One in 7 households in the District struggles with food insecurity, a problem that is compounded by the lack of grocery stores that provide a range of healthy and affordable food options in areas of the city, such as Wards 7 and 8, with a high poverty rate.

Of the 49 full-service grocery stores in the District of Columbia, only two are located in Ward 7 and just one is in Ward 8, according to Closing the Grocery Store Gap in the Nation’s Capital (pdf), a new brief from D.C. Hunger Solutions, a nonprofit policy and advocacy group that works to end hunger in the nation’s capital. The three full-service grocery stores east of the Anacostia River serve 149,750 residents, while the 82,000 residents of Ward 6 are served by ten full-service grocery stores.

The number of full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8 has declined since 2010 (pdf), when D.C. Hunger Solutions last analyzed access to grocery stores in the District. At that time, there were four full-service grocery stores in Ward 7 and three in Ward 8.

Reduced access to grocery stores is a particular problem for households receiving assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). One in 5 District residents currently receives SNAP, and nearly half of these SNAP recipients live in Wards 7 and 8. Many spend their SNAP benefits, often not by choice but by necessity, at grocery stores in Maryland or Virginia. Often this means incurring transportation costs that low-income residents can ill afford. Losing SNAP redemptions to other jurisdictions also is a missed economic opportunity for the District’s economy — U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research (pdf) shows that every $5 spent in SNAP benefits generates roughly $9 in economic activity.

As an alternative to traveling farther to access groceries, many Ward 7 and 8 residents rely on smaller local corner stores, which often lack a variety of healthy food products and charge higher prices for the few nutritious items they sell.

“The grocery store gap exacerbates food insecurity for the District’s most vulnerable residents,” said Beverley Wheeler, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “In addition to being a food security issue, it is a health and racial equity issue that must be addressed.”

Encouraged by the advocacy efforts of D.C. Hunger Solutions and other local groups, the D.C. Council is taking steps address this issue. The “East End Health Care Desert, Retail Desert, and Food Desert Elimination Act of 2017,” introduced by Councilmembers Vincent Gray, Brandon Todd, Trayon White, Anita Bonds, and Jack Evans, seeks to allocate District government funds to establish incentives aimed at bringing large anchor grocery stores to Wards 7 and 8. Councilmembers Gray, T. White, Bonds, and Evans also introduced a related bill, “The East End Grocery and Retail Incentive Program Tax Abatement Act of
2017.” Both bills are co-sponsored by Councilmember Mary Cheh and are currently under Council review.

“We can make great strides in combating hunger and improving health in the nation’s capital by reducing disparities in the city’s poverty, hunger, and healthy food access rates between racial and ethnic groups and taking advantage of economic development opportunities,” said Wheeler. “Closing the full-service grocery store gap must continue to be a District government priority in its effort to provide all residents access to healthy and affordable food.”

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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 District residents.