News Releases

Approximately 23.5 million people in America live in a food desert

People with low-incomes and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with limited access to a grocery store

Senator Murray and Colleagues: “To combat this public health crisis, we need a proactive approach that…minimizes potential exposure to the virus while traveling to purchase food by expanding healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color”

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and 19 of her fellow Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing concerns about how a lack of access to healthy, affordable food is hurting low-income communities and communities of color during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In the letter, Senator Murray and her colleagues urged Secretary Perdue and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prioritize programs that minimize food deserts and increase access to affordable, healthy food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To combat this public health crisis, we need a proactive approach that emphasizes the prevention of underlying health conditions and minimizes potential exposure to the virus while traveling to purchase food by expanding healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color,” Senator Murray and her colleagues wrote.

“As part of a comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects,” the senators continued.

In the letter, Senator Murray highlights that approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert where the absence of a grocery store within one mile of their home makes it more difficult to purchase fresh, healthy, and nutritious food. Additionally, in some of the more rural regions of the country, individuals may have to travel further than 10 miles to the nearest grocer. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, low-income Americans and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, and studies have shown that a significant barrier to the consumption of healthy foods in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is limited access to a grocery store. Consequently, many in these communities are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, many people in these neighborhoods do not have access to food or meal delivery services and must rely on public transportation or shared rides to purchase healthy food, increasing their potential exposure to the virus.

Senator Murray has consistently worked to ensure that children and families, especially those in traditionally disadvantaged communities, have access to affordable, healthy food. In 2019, Senator Murray led the Washington state Congressional Delegation in repeatedly denouncing the Trump Administration’s efforts to gut food assistance programs in Washington state, and sat down with King County food assistance workers and advocates to discuss the dangers that the Administration’s efforts posed to local communities in Washington state. Senator Murray also introduced the Child Summer Hunger Act of 2019 to help students receiving free or reduced-price school meals access food during school breaks and pushed back against the Trump Administration’s efforts to take food assistance away from people struggling to find stable employment.

Read the full text of the letter HERE and below.

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write to express concerns about how a lack of access to healthy, affordable food is hurting low-income communities and communities of color during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To help address the disproportionate impact of the virus on these communities, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs at the Department of Agriculture intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects.

Initial research has identified several factors contributing to the disproportionate adverse health outcomes for low-income and communities of color during the pandemic, including a lack of access to health care services, a higher incidence of pre-existing conditions, and a greater likelihood of working in a front line job. Several of these factors are exacerbated by lack of access to healthy, affordable food.

Approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert where the absence of a grocery store within one mile of their home makes it more difficult to purchase fresh, healthy, and nutritious food. Additionally, in some of the more rural regions of the country, individuals may have to travel further than 10 miles to the nearest grocer. Low-income Americans and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, and studies have shown that a significant barrier to the consumption of healthy foods in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is limited access to a grocery store. Consequently, many in these communities are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, many people in these neighborhoods do not have access to food or meal delivery services and must rely on public transportation or shared rides to purchase healthy food, increasing their potential exposure to the virus.

To combat this public health crisis, we need a proactive approach that emphasizes the prevention of underlying health conditions and minimizes potential exposure to the virus while traveling to purchase food by expanding healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color. Congress has provided the Department of Agriculture authority and funding to address the prevalence of food deserts and to support local food systems through such programs as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, the Local Agriculture Market Program, and the Urban Agriculture Program. Additionally, Rural Development has several business and industry loan guarantee and community facilities grant programs that can be applied to food development projects in underserved food desert areas.

As part of a comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects.

Sincerely,

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