Resulting from legislation passed by the Montgomery County Council in July 2016, the County has launched a strategic plan to address the nearly 78,000 County residents who are unsure where they will get their next meal.
“The Department of Health and Human Service and its non-profit partners go to great lengths to address food insecurity,” said the County press release outlining the plan. “Through current programs and the community-grants process the County funds a broad array of initiatives to work toward ensuring the most vulnerable among us has access to safe, sufficient, nutritious food in a dignified manner. The challenge of meeting that task is compounded, given the changing demographics of the County and the highly fragmented network of food assistance providers.”
According to the Executive Summary of the County’s Five Year plan to achieve food security, “Montgomery County’s vision of food security is a community in which all people at all times have access to safe, sufficient, nutritious food, with dignity. Food security encompasses several dimensions, among them are: Availability in sufficient quantity of food of an appropriate nature and quality. Access to acquire food needed for a nutritionally adequate diet. Consumption of food uninhibited by health or hygiene problems, such as, safe drinking water, sanitation or medical services.”
The areas most at risk, according to the County, are East County; Wheaton/Aspen Hill; and pockets of Germantown and Gaithersburg. The goal of the plan is to help these areas by directing our resources with better data on where the need exists and improve outreach.
According to the County press release, “A comprehensive plan was needed to ensure that we’re deploying our resources efficiently and effectively. The Plan, when implemented, targets a 22 percent reduction in the number of food insecure individuals in three years. That would result in 15,000 more people who will have confidence in their ability to access food.”
“Sometimes compassion needs a plan. For this reason, I’m happy to present this Food Security Plan to the County Council and the community,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. “This is not meant to be a plan that tells others what to do, but rather empowers them to do what needs to be done. In this case, we must address the food security needs of a changing county. Every one of our residents should have access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food in a manner that treats them with respect and dignity.”
Lack of access to healthy, nourishing food undermines the health and well-being of children and families. In Montgomery County, 7 percent of the County’s population is estimated to be food insecure (77,780), according to the Plan’s Executive Summary. Children are especially vulnerable to families’ economic status. Nearly 13.9 percent of the County’s children are estimated to be food insecure, representing 33,000 children. This number of food insecure children is higher than any other County in the state, according to Feeding America.
“President John F. Kennedy famously said that ‘The war against hunger is truly mankind's war of liberation.’ Even in a jurisdiction as affluent as Montgomery County, we still have nearly 78,000 individuals who do not know where their next meal is coming from at any given time. We can and must do better by our neighbors. This plan is a roadmap for how we can put the commitment of the public and private sectors into action to ensure that no one goes hungry in our communities,” said Council President Roger Berliner.
The plan identifies 21 findings that can be addressed to reach the targeted reduction. It also includes a series of recommendations spanning the next five years. The plan has been sent to the County Council for their consideration during the upcoming budget process.
According to the Plan’s Executive Summary, the main points which the plan took into consideration are:
• There is a growing body of research that connects public health and food insecurity. The connection with food insecurity and health issues is directly related to stress from inadequate income and poor diets.
• The County has a strong network of food assistance providers, but the population of the County is becoming more diverse and the needs of their clients are changing.
• The County is becoming older and the isolation of seniors aging in place creates additional challenges.
• The Montgomery County Collaboration Council for Children, Youth and Families The Children’s Agenda 2015 Data Book reports concern that “Childhood obesity has been on the rise. Low income families face food insecurity, limited access to good nutrition, and a lack of opportunities for active lifestyles.”
• It costs about $91,252 for a four-person family to afford the basic necessities in Montgomery County, much higher than the $24,300 Federal Poverty level. Families living in this gap face a unique set of challenges, and those are explored more in the Findings section of the Food Security Plan.
The plan, which is an extensive 227 page document, explored the data collected from throughout the County. The findings are grouped into five general population categories in order to better organize the results. Those categories are: Seniors, Children, People with Disabilities, Foreign Born Residents, People Living Below the Self-Sufficiency Standard:
The County has a large gap between the Self-Sufficiency Standard and federal poverty levels. This category includes individuals anywhere below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. A family of four with an income of less than $91,252 is below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
The Plan’s recommendations are broken down into actions and objectives suited from implementation and transformation policies for One Year, Two-to-Three Years, and Four-and-Five Years.
The following list provides an overview of the recommendations for Year One, Years Two-Three, and Years Four-Five:
• Year One: Implement mechanisms to gather more and better data; Establish policies that will bring food assistance programs into better alignment by collecting consistent data; Deploy near-term tactical solutions to increase participation of existing programs such as SNAP and summer meal programs; Increase the availability of culturally appropriate food assistance; Expand the senior nutrition program to serve meals five days per week and strengthen the food assistance network through enhanced communication and outreach.
• Years Two-Three: Build capacity of smaller food assistance organizations in high-need “zones” through strategic investments in infrastructure; Deploy new programs via partnerships with retailers and the healthcare system; Reduce transportation related barriers to food access.
• Years Four-Five: Transition the system from one that simply feeds people to one that empowers them through food literacy, workforce and economic development programs and develop plans for a food system that is resilient.
“In 2017 it is unacceptable for anyone in our community to experience hunger. The Food Security Plan is a thoughtful approach to address issues of hunger, accessibility and affordability to fresh and healthy foods and the importance of key partnerships in managing food security. This plan is a key support to the County’s Healthy Montgomery efforts,” said Montgomery County’s Health and Human Services Director Uma Ahluwalia.
The plan was developed by the Office of the County Executive under the direction of the Chief Innovation Officer, Dan Hoffman who adds, “This proposed solution is possible because we have a strong network of food assistance providers in the County that understand the need for thoughtful and compassionate plan to address food insecurity. In this plan, I feel we struck the proper balance or addressing food security through data while respecting the human factors behind this issue.”