Dec 6, 2021 - News

D.C. opens second round of food access funding

A close-up photo of two carrot sticks used by a protestor to demonstrate against lack of food options in D.C.'s poorest ward
A D.C. rally in 2017 against food deserts. Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her top officials are in Las Vegas Monday, wooing retailers and developers at a major conference.

Why it matters: For years, D.C. politicians have regularly attended the annual conference — now back in-person — to try to bring grocery stores and other retail east of the Anacostia River. This year they are touting a new incentive program.

  • But the junkets haven’t had a big impact, since wards 7 and 8 continue to struggle to attract big-name retailers.
  • This time the Bowser administration has a new incentive program that begins taking applications Monday for a second round of funding.

Driving the news: The Food Access Fund has $7 million to offer restaurateurs, grocery store owners, and other food vendors who want to open locations in places with few food options.

  • The fund aims to address food deserts in wards 7 and 8, the city’s poorest neighborhoods with the largest percentage of Black residents.
  • The first $9 million in grants went out last month to help open grocery stores and new sit-down restaurants across wards 7 and 8. Recipients were existing businesses such as DCity Smokehouse, HalfSmoke, Fresh Food Factory, Highland Café, and more.

The second round of grants is also open to applicants aiming to launch new concepts.

  • “It could be an existing business or a new venture altogether, but it will allow new concepts to enter the market, allowing them to open in wards 7 and 8,” deputy mayor for planning and economic development John Falcicchio told Axios. His office will evaluate and distribute the grants.

Falcicchio is part of the delegation in Las Vegas for the conference held by ICSC, known as Innovating Commerce Serving Communities.

  • The trip, organized by the public-private group Washington DC Economic Partnership, is at least partly funded by taxpayers.
  • It coincides with the new round of food access funding, which will continue on a rolling basis.
  • “Now we have a new tool that retailers could directly apply for that we didn’t have before,” Falcicchio said.

By the numbers: The overall level of food insecurity in the District is at 11%, nearly at the pre-pandemic level of 10.6%, according to a new report from the Bowser administration.

  • But the rate of food insecurity for Black households with children is 21% as of April 2021, compared to 1.5% for white households with children.
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