DC Reports 72 Percent of Emergency Food Needs Unmet

The headlined figure is erroneous and other D.C. figures doubtful. Brief explanation in the update at the end.

For the first time in at least four years, the District of Columbia is represented in the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual report on hunger and homelessness in America’s cities.

We learn some interesting — and disturbing — things about hunger in the District. We’ve already gotten more detailed (and more accurate) information on local homelessness.*

So here’s about hunger, with some prefatory remarks to put the figures in perspective.

About the Survey

The reported figures reflect the District’s responses to a survey that the Conference distributes to all cities represented on its hunger and homelessness task force.

This year, 29 cities responded — some very large, some quite small. And some very large cities, e.g., Miami and New York City, absent.

I mention this because, as the report acknowledges, the survey results aren’t necessarily representative of conditions nationwide — not even those in the Conference’s 1,139 members.

They do, however, provide some context for what the District reported about needs for emergency food assistance, i.e., requests for take-home foods at local pantries and meals at dining rooms for low-income residents.

These are how the survey measures hunger — another reason we should be cautious about conclusions.

Key Figures

Between September 1, 2010 and August 31, 2011:

  • Requests for emergency food assistance in the District increased 24%.
  • This is 8.5% higher than the average increase for the 25 other cities that provided a figure. The average, however, masks a huge variation — from a 40% increase in Kansas City to an 11% decrease in San Francisco.
  • Of the people requesting assistance from District sources, 45% were elderly, 40% were in families and 30% were employed.
  • For all responding cities, the average for the elderly was just 19% — and this includes the egregiously high percent in the District. Averages for families and employed people were respectively 51% and 26%.
  • Local food pantries and dining rooms were unable to meet 72% of the demand for emergency food assistance. They reportedly had to turn people away, cut back on the amount of food they distributed or served and/or reduce the number of times people could visit each month.
  • The average for the 13 other cities that could estimate unmet need was slightly under 24%.
  • Yet the District reported a 25% increase in the number of pounds of food distributed — 30 million in all.
  • The increase was the highest reported. However, nine cities reported more pounds of distributed food, including two considerably smaller than D.C.
  • The District’s emergency food assistance budget, as reported, increased to $14 million — up by 17%. This reflects funds from both public and private sources, but not the dollar value of food donations, assuming survey directions were followed.
  • The median average for reported budgets was about $3.8 million, but the range is so large that I doubt all cities calculated the same way.

Prospects for 2012

The District expects requests for emergency food assistance to increase substantially in 2012, as do nine of the other reporting cities.

It also expects resources to decrease substantially. Eleven other cities do as well, while an additional 11 expect moderate decreases.

Hard to know what to make of these diverse projections. We do, however, know that the District has its eye on Capitol Hill.

The biggest challenges it cites are all cuts in federal support for safety net programs — namely, but perhaps not only the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, WIC and the food stamp program.

These programs fared better than one might have expected, especially given what the House Republican majority had passed. So did the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which a number of surveyed cities were concerned about.

Yet the figures the District reported suggest large unmet challenges with the funding and other resources now available.

Are our local nonprofits — and the Capital Area Food Bank, which helps supply them — really unable to meet even a third of emergency food needs?

* The District reported that “homeless shelters did not turn away homeless families.” This may be technically true because homeless families generally have to seek shelter through an intake center. But even the DC Department of Human Services acknowledges that homeless families were denied shelter, even if they had no place to stay.

UPDATE: The Conference of Mayors’ report identifies the Capital Area Food Bank as a primary contact for the District’s figures on emergency food assistance. Page Dohl Crosland, Senior Director for Marketing and Communications at CAFB, has informed me that the unmet need figure is inaccurate.

CAFB provided the Gray administration with figures, but they were generally for the entire Washington Metro area. Someone apparently misinterpreted the numbers it put in the unmet need part of the survey form. CAFB estimates the unmet need for the Metro area as a whole at 25%.

2 Responses to DC Reports 72 Percent of Emergency Food Needs Unmet

  1. […] 14th and T Street finally gets a tenant. [PoP] […]

  2. […] experience has made me wary of figures reported for the District. At least one key hunger figure got mangled several years ago, as I belatedly […]

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