“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” -Mahatma Gandhi 

One of the most egregious forms of poverty in Washington D.C. is the grocery gap. For the past 10 years, D.C. Hunger Solutions has tracked the disparities in grocery store access across the District. This included releasing  three reports in 2010, 2016, and 2020, which alarmingly found disparities increasing, with little meaningful action to help the thousands of D.C. residents who live miles away from a grocery store.

The 2020 report found that there were significantly fewer full-service grocery stores in Wards 5, 7, and 8, which are the wards with the lowest income households and the highest populations of Black and Latinx residents. Ward 8, the lowest income ward, had one grocery store; by contrast, Ward 3, the highest income ward, had sixteen.

This year, D.C. Hunger Solutions published Still Minding the Grocery Gap: A 2021 Update, which found that no new grocery stores had been built in the past year in low-income Wards. However, there were major policy changes, including significant financial investments, to address the disparities in grocery store access.

For instance, the Nourish DC Fund was announced in February 2021 as a part of DC Local Equity, Access, and Preservation Funds (DC LEAF), a COVID-19 business recovery plan. Modeled after the Michigan Good Food Fund model, the Nourish DC Fund is a public and private partnership created “to support the development of a robust ecosystem of locally owned food businesses, neighborhood vibrancy, and health equity in DC communities, especially in neighborhoods underserved by grocery stores and other food businesses,” according to the DC Food Policy Council.

The Nourish DC Fund represents a significant investment in local D.C. food businesses. To qualify for the catalytic grant, food business must be physically located in D.C., with preference for Wards 5, 7, or 8. This will put money directly into the pockets of small, local businesses in the communities that need it most. This will generate economic activity for low-income wards, including creating jobs.

D.C. Hunger Solutions advocated for creating such a fund in the FY 2021 budget and listed it as one of the recommendations in Still Minding the Grocery Gap in D.C.: 10th Anniversary Grocery Store Report. In May 2021, it was announced that Capital Impact Partners was named the managers of the Nourish DC Fund. In this capacity, they will provide additional funding and manage the catalytic grant application process, which is now open through Tuesday, November 16, 2021.

The creation of the Food Access Fund in the FY 2022 D.C. budget was another notable development. The Food Access Fund differs significantly from the aforementioned fund as it is intended to provide capital investment to accelerate the development of sit-down restaurants and small, medium, and large grocery stores in Wards 7 and 8.

The two funds are a significant investment of public dollars, with their combined budgets totaling over $50 million. Moreover, the investments are not just in large grocery stores but local and independently owned stores. Hopefully, this will result in the opening of more businesses like the locally owned Good Food Market, which will open a Ward 8 location this month.

These changes also represent a shift in mindset. Over the past decade, the reaction to the grocery gap has been to try to provide big box stores with tax incentives to build in low-income neighborhoods. This has clearly not worked. There is a proposal to amend these tax incentives; however, it’s clear that the DC government now recognizes that this alone will not solve the grocery gap crisis.

Read all of our recommendation in the 2021 Grocery Store Report Update.