Report Finds Food Insecurity Could Rise By Up To 60% In The D.C. Region Amid Pandemic Hunger will rise as unemployment and poverty increase, a new report shows.
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Report Finds Food Insecurity Could Rise By Up To 60% In The D.C. Region Amid Pandemic

A before and after map shows the possible rise in food insecurity by census tract. Courtesy of/Capital Area Food Bank hide caption

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Courtesy of/Capital Area Food Bank

The D.C. region is one of the wealthiest in the nation, with the second-highest median income of any metro area. Still, hundreds of thousands of residents don't consistently have enough to eat, and the coronavirus pandemic is making the problem much worse. The number of people experiencing food insecurity in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs will rise by 48 to 60%, according to a new report by the Capital Area Food Bank.

Radha Muthiah, the food bank's president and CEO, called the projected increase "staggering." In the next year, between 200,000 and 250,000 more people in the region could become food insecure, meaning they would lack consistent access to enough food.

"Yes, food insecurity and inequity were significant problems prior to the pandemic," says Muthiah. "But what this report really highlights quite visually is that these gaps that we know existed before in our community have widened even further during the course of COVID and the economic downturn."

Food insecurity is projected to rise across the region, but not equally. Feeding America/Capital Area Food Bank hide caption

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Feeding America/Capital Area Food Bank

Since the pandemic began in March, food banks and other organizations have witnessed two phenomena: a huge spike in need, coupled with a big drop in food donations. Muthiah says the rise in need has varied around the region, with organizations reporting an increase in clients between 30 and 400%. Meanwhile, as homebound workers stock up at grocery stores, retailers have not had excess food to donate to food banks.

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Typically, the majority of food at the Capital Area Food Bank comes from such donations, supplemented by between $3 million and $4 million in food purchased by the food bank. Muthiah says this coming year, that expenditure will quadruple to $16 million–the organization is planning to buy the equivalent of 580 truckloads of food to meet demand over the next 12 months.

The report's estimates of food insecurity in the region are based on a projected rise in unemployment and poverty.

Maps in the report show the unequal impact of the pandemic: the rise in hunger is expected to hit hardest in predominantly Black D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, as well as parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties with large Black and Latinx populations. According to the report, the population currently served by the Capital Area Food Bank is 46% Black, 37% Latinx, 6.5% white, with 9% identifying as some other race.

The pandemic is making worse inequities that already existed in this wealthy region. The report cites census data showing that the top 20% of households make 29 times as much as those in the bottom 20%.

"These are just unacceptable inequities that exist in our region," says Muthiah.

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