Senator: State needs food desert map, grocery store aid

Jarek RutzGovernment, Headlines

A possible state initiative would address Delaware's food deserts. (Photo by Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College)

A possible state initiative would address Delaware’s food deserts. (Photo by Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College)

A senator representing Wilmington wants the state of Delaware to crack down on food scarcity and hunger.

Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, creates the Delaware Grocery Initiative.

That group would direct the Office of State Planning Coordination to study food insecurity in urban and rural food deserts.

Per the bill, “food deserts” are census tract that meets one of the following poverty standards and one of the following population density and food accessibility standards:

  • A census tract has a poverty rate of at least 20%.
  • A census tract is not located within a metropolitan statistical area and has a median family income that is less than or equal to 80% of the statewide median household income.
  • A census tract is located within a metropolitan statistical area and has a median family income that is less than or equal to 80% of the greater statewide median household income or the metropolitan area median family income. 

Food and hunger stats

A hearing on the bill Wednesday came as Feeding America released its annul Meal Cap study, which the Food Bank of Delaware said showed a sharp increase in the number of food insecure Delawareans in 2022

The Meal Gap is the only one that looks at local-level estimates of food insecurity and food costs for every county and congressional district in the U.S, using the USDA’s latest report of national and state data.

That info showed a sharp increase in food insecurity in 2022 amid historically high food prices and the expiration of many pandemic-era programs.

It said that in Delaware:

  • 125,370 individuals were food insecure, which is 1 in 8 Delawareans (12.6% of the population)
  • 40,620 children were food insecure, which is 1 in 5 Delaware children (19.7% of the population)

A county breakdown shows:

  • New Castle County: 12% of the population was food insecure (68,260 individuals); 18.3% of the child population was food insecure (22,280 kids)
  • Kent County: 13.7% of the population was food insecure (25,060 individuals); 22.9% of the child population was food insecure (9,540 kids)
  • Sussex County: 13.3% of the population was food insecure (32,050 individuals); 20.2% of the population was food insecure (8,800 kids)

Brown’s bill would task the Office of State Planning Coordination to expand access to healthy foods in food deserts by providing financial assistance to grocery stores, independently owned for-profit grocery stores, cooperative grocery stores, non-profit grocery stores as well as grocery stores owned and operated by local governmental units. 

The office would have authority to enter into contracts, grants or other agreements to administer grants and other financial support, including technical assistance. 

If passed, SB 254 would have about a $500,000 operating budget cost to the state. 

In the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday, Brown explained that there’s 16 Senate districts and 25 House districts that have census tracts of high poverty where food deserts could exist. 

Senate committees do not hold a public vote, so the outcome of the bill will be posted on the General Assembly’s website a couple hours after the meeting.

If released, SB 254 will make its way to the full Senate body.

 

Share this Post