Social services advocates made a lot of noise back in the spring about some key programs on the chopping block, rallying to save emergency rental assistance, funding for homeless shelters, and aid to the disabled unemployed, among other priorities slighted in the 2012 budget. But another line item had disappeared as well, and escaped notice: $450,000 for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides bags of free groceries monthly to around 6,600 of the District's poorest senior citizens every year.
With matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program has been administered by D.C.'s Department of Health and was contracted out a couple years ago to the Greater Washington Urban League. On September 16th, the Urban League sent out a letter to its partners warning that they would have to cease operations at the end of the month, since the District's half of the money had been zeroed out.
The Urban League actually found out about the disappearance of the funds several months ago, says Chief Operating Officer Janice Smith. Not being a lobbying organization, they didn't press their case with the Council, instead looking around for different sources of funding, with no success. If more money doesn't appear, it might be too late.
"Right now, we don't know exactly what's going to happen," Smith says. "We're willing to do the progam if additional funds can be found."
D.C. Hunger Solutions sounded the alarm last week, asking people to sign a petition in favor of restoring the funding. They haven't gotten much traction with the Council yet, according to Mark Andersen, co-director of the senior outreach nonprofit We Are Family—but the program's recipients won't be happy.
"Generally, D.C. politicians are not eager to get seniors angry," Andersen says. "I can guarantee you this will be an issue if they don't act."
Starting Next Month, No More Free Food For D.C. Seniors was originally published by Washington City Paper on Sep 27, 2011