The District has the highest rate of food insecurity among seniors in the country.

WASHINGTON — Almost 12,000 seniors in Washington, D.C., lack the necessary access to food to survive, according to health experts. Of those thousands, many struggle to feed themselves on fixed incomes — and some have little to no mobility to get the foods that they need to be healthy.

Data show the city has the highest senior food insecurity rate in the country at 13.5% — an increase from 9.6% in 2016. 

“We live in the most powerful country in the world and we have thousands of seniors who are left hungry,” said Winnie Huston with D.C. Greens.

Huston is a food policy strategist at D.C. Greens — a non-profit that works to promote health equity in the District. This organization is pushing the No Senior Hungry Omnibus Amendment Act of 2021, which many hope could be the saving grace for hungry seniors by regulating and putting folks in charge of the efforts to end food insecurity.

Although the District has programs in place to address food-insecure residents, food insecurity rates still remain high. Huston said she and many experts believe, in part, that a lack of coordination among the programs has left room for miscommunication — with no one leading the cause.

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Huston said D.C. Greens, in partnership with Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, led a meeting with District leaders, government agency staff, community leaders, public health officials and even nutrition providers to get to the root of the problem. She said they learned that many seniors didn’t know about the programs the city offered and only had access to information by word of mouth. 

She added that there was little to no effort to get the word out to this underserved and almost neglected population. 

Several other challenges exist in the fight to end senior food insecurity. According to Huston’s testimony at a public hearing addressing the city’s Committee on Housing & Executive Administration, there was:

  • No agency with the primary responsibility to address senior food insecurity – meaning no one’s in charge 
  • Little or no coordination among agencies providing nutrition services 
  • Limited or no outreach about available nutrition services
  • No data on how many seniors in each community/Ward are food insecure, how many of those seniors are accessing services, or if the services are meeting the needs of seniors
  • No plan to reach seniors who are not already connected to services 
  • No comprehensive strategy to increase senior participation in programs like SNAP, adult day care services, or Medicaid-funded home-delivered meals and nutrition services.

After speaking with the seniors most affected, Huston said these issues pile up, especially for seniors who struggle to make ends meet. She said many seniors, especially in Wards 7 and 8, complained about a lack of transportation to get around to get the food they need. Others have dietary restrictions and don’t have help from experts to help them find foods that are offered through nutritional programs.

Some seniors have even brought up the issue of the quality of home-delivered meals and eating the same foods all the time. Many don’t know how to cook the foods delivered to them as well due to lack of education, Huston added.

“We as a city have to do better by our seniors,” said Huston. “Now is the time to look at our senior population and help.”

That help Huston is talking about created the effort to push the No Senior Hungry Omnibus Amendment Act of 2021. The proposed legislation seeks to start a task force aimed at solving these issues for seniors with the goal of ending food insecurity in their population.

“It will be a collaborative approach to addressing this issue. We in the community and those who are community leaders have great ideas about how best to manage the programs and we have suggestions…,”  said Huston.

The legislation also wants to:

  • Establish an Interagency Senior Food Insecurity Task Force 
  • Require a Senior Food Security Plan 
  • Require the D.C. Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) to develop Senior Communications Plan 
  • Improve Nutrition Services at DACL 
  • Require D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) to increase senior SNAP participation 
  • Require the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to increase adult daycare participation in Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) 
  • Expand services in the EPD Waiver (The EPD waiver is a Medicaid program designed to provide the elderly and persons with physical disabilities with home-based health care services) to include Home-Delivered Meals, Nutrition Supplements, and Medical Nutrition Therapy

The hope is that the city’s Committee on Housing & Executive Administration will look at the testimonies and do a markup and package it with enough background to present it to the full council. The plan is to present the bill to the council in the next month or so. 

“We want to get this bill out there. We want to start the work!” Huston said. 

Here’s how you can help move this forward: D.C. residents can reach out to the D.C. Council and/or send an email to [email protected] addressing their support for the bill.

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