Maryland residents eligible for food benefit program aren’t participating

POVERTY | According to a new report by Maryland Hunger Solutions, a nonprofit working to end hunger in the state, over 200,000 people in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties who are eligible for SNAP, the food assistance program, are not using it. Participation has dropped steadily because many Marylanders are unaware of the program or believe they don’t qualify. And, many immigrant families are afraid of the federal government, particularly due to the proposal to change the “public charge” rule. (WAMU, 1/21)

Most people assume the reason why others don’t apply has to do with a growing economy. “The simplest reason that most people usually go to is that the economy is better, people are getting more jobs, they’re making more income,” said Michael J. Wilson, the nonprofit’s director. “In fact, that is a small part of it, but it’s not the major part.”

HOMELESSNESS | On the coldest day of the year so far the District saw a big spike in demand for homeless services. (CP, 1/21)

LGBTQIA | Several LGBTQIA bills in Virginia are gaining new supporters. (WaPo, 1/15)

– Rick Moyers, formerly at the Meyer Foundation and former co-chair of WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group, writes about what it really means for nonprofit boards to work on diversity. (RM, 1/19)

– The Racial Wealth Gap Could Become a 2020 Litmus Test (CityLab, 1/16)

– Alexandria city officials warned about the dangers posed by the illegal use of narcotics after four people overdosed on opioids this weekend. (WaPo, 1/21)

– The government shutdown is affecting the health of federal workers. (NPR, 1/18)

– The Virginia Senate rejected a proposal that would have raised the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour over five years. (WaPo, 1/21)

Two Northern Virginia Lawmakers Push Bill Requiring 12 Weeks Of Paid Family Leave For All Workers (WAMU, 1/14)

– A case is being made by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy for general operating foundation support, noting that a reliance on program grants limits the effectiveness of foundation grantees, and themselves.

– How Can Philanthropy Advance Martin Luther King’s Goals? 13 Leaders Weigh In (Chronicle, 1/18)

The ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon’ that appeared on Sunday night was amazing – did you see it?

The (Almost) Daily WRAG will be back tomorrow!

– Buffy

The up and downs of D.C.’s health report

The United Health Foundation’s new annual health rankings report finds good news for the District as the city is below the national average on rates of obesity, excessive drinking, and poor physical health. However, a number of other areas still show room for significant improvement (WCP, 12/10):

Specifically, the report finds that 21.7 percent of D.C. residents are obese as compared with 29.6 percent nationally; 16.4 percent smoke as compared with 18.1 percent nationally; and 20.8 percent are physically inactive as compared with 22.6 nationally. Still, the report notes that D.C.’s “high violent crime rate, low rate of high school graduation, [and] high prevalence of low birth rate” may be causes for concern; additionally, D.C. records 14.9 drug deaths per 100,000 people versus 13.5 across the country, and 7.3 deaths per 1,000 live births versus 6 across the country. (Hawaii was ranked as the healthiest state in the report; the District wasn’t ranked because it’s disproportionately urban.)

Maryland came in at number 18 and Virginia came in at number 21 in the rankings.

When food stamp benefits are running low near the end of the month, the lack of assistance can leave families with more than just empty stomachs. Studies have shown that there are possible links between running out of food stamps and things like more hospital admissions for hypoglycemia, poor student behavior, and lower test scores. (WaPo, 12/9)

How to Market Healthy Food in a Rural Town (City Lab, 12/9)

PHILANTHROPY | Philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz’s seventh annual forecast for philanthropy and the social economy is out. Check out the Blueprint for 2016 here. (GrantCraft, 12/7)

– The Senate this week approved new education legislation known as the Every Student Succeeds Act – a move that ends No Child Left Behind and gives states and local school districts more power over judging the quality of their schools. (WaPo, 12/9)

After low test scores, Prince George’s schools CEO to unveil new spending plan (WTOP 12/10)

DISTRICT | D.C.’s $75 Million Problem (DCFPI, 12/10)

When climate change and art collide, you end up with glaciers in unlikely places.

– Ciara 

Join us for WRAG’s 2015 Annual Meeting: Philanthropy All In | Thursday, November 19

It’s that time of year again! WRAG’S 2015 Annual Meeting will take place on Thursday, November 19 at the National Press Club.

WRAG members will hear from Jennifer Bradley, author of The Metropolitan Revolution, as well as a panel of regional leaders about how philanthropy, government, and business can work together to position our region for prosperity.

At the luncheon (open to the community), keynote speaker Harvard’s David Williams will discuss the ways that racism and discrimination continue to impact individuals and communities. Click here to register for Philanthropy All In.

– Capital One, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington, and Prince George’s Public Schools have teamed up to open a JA Finance Park on the campus of G. James Gholson Middle School and Cora L. Rice Elementary School in Landover, Maryland. This 13,500-square-foot experiential financial literacy supercenter is the second in the region and the first in Maryland. It will serve 9,000 Prince George’s County Public School students each year. Another center will open in Montgomery County in 2017. (WaPo, 10/27)

– This year, Virginia schools saw significant improvements with eight in 10 schools meeting state benchmarks for standardized tests. (WaPo, 10/27)

– In Maryland, state-level results on national reading and math tests saw one of the most significant declines in the country in 2015. On the bright side, officials note that the state remains above the national average in some areas, and has also become more inclusive in its testing of students.  (WaPo, 10/28)

One in 10 D.C. students score ‘college ready’ on new high school math test (WaPo, 10/27)

DISTRICT | On the heels of the recent announcement of the Wizards’ practice facility coming to D.C.’s ward 8, residents express their concerns over what it could mean in the long run. (WCP, 10/27)

HEALTHCARE | When hospital patients don’t have the ability to make decisions regarding their own care and have no family to step in and help, hospitals are often overwhelmed with the loss of resources and money.  Some hospitals in D.C. facing similar issues have banned together to create a task force to take a further look at the problem. (WBJ, 10/27)

FOOD/POVERTY | Study: Food stamps do much more to fight poverty than we thought (Vox, 10/27)

When art gets mistaken for trash who’s to blame?

– Ciara

Washington AIDS Partnership honored for their work in the fight to end AIDS

Last night, the Washington AIDS Partnership (WAP) was recognized by DC Appleseed for their work in the fight to end AIDS in the District. Beginning in 2015, WAP embarked on a new initiative with DC Appleseed, local experts, and the D.C. government to create a plan which would identify barriers to end HIV/AIDS, gaps in services and infrastructure, and capacity needs among community-based organizations. At the event, both D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health spoke to the need for D.C. to set the example for the rest of the nation and end the epidemic in the city. Within the District, 80 percent of individuals are linked to care within three months of testing positive for HIV, 62 percent are retained in care, and 40 percent are virally suppressed. These numbers are above the national averages for HIV care; however, WAP, DC Appleseed, and the D.C. government are committed to bringing the number of individuals linked and retained in care to 90 percent by the year 2020. WAP will continue to fund and support innovative programs that look to treat, prevent, and educate individuals in D.C. about HIV in an effort to bring the epidemic to an end in the city.

– New data on income and poverty in 2014 by the Census Bureau finds income growth, wage growth, and poverty rates remained unchanged from 2013. (NPR, 9/16)

– Mapping the Difference Between Minimum Wage and Cost of Living (City Lab, 9/10)

HEALTH/YOUTH | In a new blog post for the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) superintendent Dr. Alvin Crawley  explains why integrating health and wellness goals into the day-to-day activities at schools, just as ACPS plans to do beginning this fall, is so vital for staff and students alike. (NVHF, 9/16)

PHILANTHROPY | Check out how thinking more like a designer may be a great method to apply to the field of philanthropy over at Exponent Philanthropy‘s blog. (PhilanthroFiles, 9/17)

EDUCATION/VIRGINIA | Opinion: As Fairfax County Public Schools face severe budget cuts, officials of the nation’s 10th largest school system with 190,000 students, discuss what under-funding could mean for the very near future. (WaPo, 9/17)

FOOD | A study from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity examines the dietary habits of Americans and finds that there is a growing gap in the dietary quality of wealthier people and people in poverty. (WaPo, 9/17)

DISTRICT/ECONOMY | D.C.’s ward 8 will soon see a big public investment in the form of a new sports and entertainment complex on the St. Elizabeths East campus. (WBJ, 9/16)

When it comes to autumn, Denali Park just “gets it.”

– Ciara 

Plans for redevelopment in Seven Corners cause concerns

As the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors prepares to vote on a redevelopment plan for the Seven Corners area, some groups have grown concerned over various aspects of the proposed plans and what they may mean for the near future (WaPo, 7/28):

Urban planning groups say the kind of walkable, transit-friendly communities envisioned for Seven Corners are needed in aging suburbs that have become homes to mostly vacant office buildings and discount stores with little commercial traffic.

“The future of Fairfax lies in these aging commercial corridors,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smart Growth. “It certainly can be a win-win and enhance Fairfax’s competitiveness.”

Michelle Krocker, who heads the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, said there aren’t enough guarantees in the plan to keep lower-income families from being pushed out, which could have long-term repercussions for the Washington region.

“If there’s no place for them to live affordably, we potentially lose them as employees in the area or they move far out into the hinterlands,” Krocker said. “And, then they’d have to commute in, and that’s problematic for everybody.”

AGING/ARTS | Fairfax County has implemented some fun new ways to make the county more age-friendly and keep older residents engaged. (WAMU, 7/24)

What would it take to attract more millennials to Loudoun County? At the recent Loudoun County Business Chamber’s State of Loudoun’s Workforce event, attention was turned to three main areas where the county could improve to bring in more millennials: affordable housing, the right jobs, and more walkable areas. (Loudoun Times, 7/25)

Related: Following WRAG’s first-ever Loudoun Philanthropy Conference in May, WRAG recently hosted a community meeting on the next steps to develop and maintain a strong social sector in a county whose needs are often overlooked. Check out the #fundloudoun hashtag on Twitter for highlights from the meeting.

Opinion: A writer explains how America can be especially hard on working moms, even when they make up a large portion of the country’s workforce. (Salon, 7/25)

MENTAL HEALTH | As many as 2 million Americans suffer from schizophrenia, making a steady job extremely difficult to find and keep, despite a strong desire to work. For many, the right mix of treatment and a regular routine can put them on the path to employment. (Atlantic, 7/28)

EDUCATION | George Washington University is joining a list of institutions that have recently dropped testing requirements for some freshman admissions in an effort to reduce barriers for disadvantaged students to attend. Critics, however, worry whether the change is enough to recruit low-income students. (WaPo, 7/27)

FOOD | The second edition of a cookbook featuring nutritious recipes for food stamp recipients was recently published with several brand new recipes. The cookbook is geared toward helping the nearly 47 million people in the SNAP program eat well on $4 a day, and offers a more refreshing take on cookbooks aimed at food stamp recipients. (NPR, 7/27)

Are you an “expert” or an “over claimer?”


Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments releases new annual report on homelessness in the region

Though there were a number of reports over the last few months that pointed toward disappointing numbers, newly-released results from the annual point-in-time homelessness count found that the Greater Washington region saw a 2.7 percent decrease in homelessness from last year. Despite the slight drop, there is still much room for improvement. (WaPo, 5/13)

The tally, released Wednesday, confirmed a continued crisis of homelessness in the Washington region evident to almost anyone who lives, works or visits the city’s downtown core during winter, when homeless men and women amass in entrances to Metro stops and many other spots where they can stay warm. It also may have understated the challenge still faced by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who has vowed to end chronic homelessness in the city.

Much of the overall dip resulted from a 300-person drop in homeless parents and children in D.C. shelters on the night of the count.

But unlike last year, when the number of homeless families peaked near the date of the 2014 federal count, this year several hundred entered shelter or were placed in overflow motel rooms in the District throughout February, March and even early April.


Beyond the District, numbers of homeless families also surged this winter in the city of Alexandria and in Fairfax, Frederick and Montgomery counties. Given that trend, few on Wednesday celebrated the slight decrease in the total from last year’s count.

The data comes from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments new annual report, Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington.

–  D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger spoke on the District’s own six percent decrease in homeless residents, stating that a celebration of the results would be too premature, “because there are still far too many people [who are homeless.] (City Paper, 5/13) 

Southeast D.C. facility for homeless veterans gets a boost (WaPo, 5/13)

WRAG/PHILANTHROPY | Interested in following the conversation from WRAG’s first-ever Loudoun County Philanthropy Conference? Check out the hashtag #FundLoudoun on Twitter to see what panelists and participants are saying.

NONPROFITS | Next month, the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, in partnership with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, will hold a new, four-part communications series/training for leaders of nonprofits based in or serving residents of wards 7 or 8. The multi-day training seeks to help organizations strengthen their voices and raise awareness about issues affecting residents east of the river. For more information on how to register, click here.

Opinion: A number of emerging new studies are examining the long-term effects of government programs like the earned-income tax credit, Medicaid, SNAP, and more, on families. Though data can only go back so far, there is evidence that children whose families received benefits have better outcomes as they enter their 20s and 30s than those whose families were denied benefits. (NYT, 5/11)

Obama Urges Liberals and Conservatives to Unite on Poverty (NYT, 5/12)

How well can you read the emotions of others? Sometimes it’s all in the eyes! Take this quiz to see if you can tell what these people are thinking.

– Ciara

Mayor Bowser delivers first State of the District address

Last night, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser delivered her first State of the District address in which she outlined her plans to create “pathways to the middle class” and pledged greater transparency in local government. Her speech covered a number of priorities for her administration, including affordable housing, education, homelessness, and transportation, among other topics. Some highlights included (WaPo, 3/31 and WCP, 3/31):

Affordable housing:
Bowser said her first budget, due to the D.C. Council on Thursday, would lay out a plan for funding her priorities, including matching the $100 million a year that [Mayor] Gray allocated at the end of his term for affordable housing.


And she said she would reinvest in the city’s New Communities initiative, which aims to rejuvenate some of the city’s rundown public and subsidized housing.

Earlier on Tuesday, Bowser announced a partnership to establish 100 year-long internships for young black men.

In her speech, she also reiterated that she would pursue opening an all-male school for underprivileged boys.

She pledged to close the city’s dilapidated family homeless shelter on the campus of the former D.C. General Hospital “once and for all.” And she put dates to her goal of ending homelessness — 2018 for chronic family homelessness and 2025 for all homelessness.

Bowser promised to not just start the streetcar on H Street and Benning Road NE, but eventually expand it east across the Anacostia River into Ward 7 and west in downtown and Georgetown. Still, Bowser acknowledged that the streetcar program has been “long on promises and short on results.”

– You can read the full State of the District address here. (WaPo, 3/31)

EVENTS/WRAG | WRAG announces an upcoming conference on the evolving needs of the region’s fastest-growing jurisdiction, Loudoun County! The Loudoun County Philanthropy Conference on Thursday, May 14 is open to those interested in exploring the needs of the county, and is sponsored by the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and the Middleburg Community Center. (Daily, 4/1)

REGION | The Audacious Plan to Turn a Sprawling DC Suburb Into a Big City (Washingtonian, 3/29)

EDUCATION/INEQUALITYWhy More Education Won’t Fix Economic Inequality (NYT, 3/31)

POVERTY/FOOD | Opinion: Restrictions on what foods those who utilize SNAP benefits can purchase, and public opinion regarding other aspects of the lives of the poor, leaves many low-income Americans feeling heavily scrutinized….almost as if they’re criminals. (WaPo, 3/30)

 I am decidedly anti-April Fool’s Day this year. With that, I present you with a guide to what is fake on the Internet today. Unfortunately, (or fortunately?) this one is not a prank at all.

– Ciara

Health care systems ramp up efforts to assist hardest-to-help patients

For many Americans, health issues are further complicated by the effects of addiction, homelessness, and poverty. For that reason, a number of health systems across the country – including Kaiser Permanentehave begun experiments in providing more comprehensive care for those in poverty, in an effort to curb the high costs of care. (NYT, 3/22)

What is [the health care system’s] role in tackling problems of poverty? And will addressing those problems save money?

“We had this forehead-smacking realization that poverty has all of these expensive consequences in health care,” said Ross Owen, a county health official who helps run the experiment here [in Hennepin County, Minnesota]. “We’d pay to amputate a diabetic’s foot, but not for a warm pair of winter boots.”

Now health systems around the nation are trying to buy the boots, metaphorically speaking. In Portland, Ore., health outreach workers help patients get driver’s licenses and give them essentials, such as bus tickets, blankets, calendars and adult diapers. In New York, medical teams are trained to handle eviction notices like medical emergencies. In Philadelphia, community health workers shop for groceries with diabetic patients

– Foundations of every size are “getting on the map!” Lori Jackson, executive manager at the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust, shares why they’re joining a growing list of funders in e-reporting their grants data to the Foundation Center. (Daily, 3/23)

What becomes of an initiative once funders have ended support and hand the program over to the community? Results may vary greatly, but there are ways to continue moving forward and increase the odds of sustainability. (SSIR, 3/13)

Urban Institute Gets $8.4 Million to Help Measure Pay-for-Success Programs (Chronicle, 3/18)

CSR | On April 1, 2014, the India Companies Act went into effect. The new law requires companies meeting certain criteria to spend 2 percent of rolling average net profits from the past three financial years on specific CSR activities. WRAG member and 2015 Institute for CSR class member, Anita Whitehead, from KPMG LLP gives a succinct overview of the new rule and how it affects companies working in the country. (TCB Blogs, 3/3)

VIRGINIAAttorney General appoints NOVA community outreach coordinator (Fairfax Times, 3/20)

DISTRICT | Ahead of Mayor Bowser’s first State of the District speech and budget proposal, this week will be dedicated to offering a preview of key themes that are expected to be discussed as part of the “Pathways to the Middle Class” agenda. (WaPo, 3/23)

ARTS | Brentwood Arts Exchange looks to move beyond walls in next five years (Gazette, 3/19)

FOOD | Both Parties Agree The Food Stamp Program Needs to Change. But How? (NPR, 3/20)

A beautiful, extraordinary, and priceless work of art…or just a generic print from Ikea?

– Ciara

Follow-Up: Protecting key federal nutrition programs of local importance

by Lindsay Smith
Washington Regional Food Funders

In the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, SNAP served more than 1.8 million people last year. (Some local studies also suggest that not all of those eligible for these benefits received them.) Federal programs like SNAP, the school lunch program, and WIC, support millions of people in D.C., MD, and VA. Cutting these programs places additional demands on our region’s emergency food service providers to meet the nutritional needs of low-income community members.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming clearer everyday that some in Congress are intent on cutting SNAP again when what’s needed is the opposite. Last summer, Charles Meng of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) attributed a 40 percent increase in the number of people AFAC was serving in just one year to a cut in SNAP benefits, and the expiration of unemployment benefits. He explained:

“This is unlike a recession situation when we see people coming to us, and when the recession eases, they’d be leaving us…we’re not seeing that, these are basically going to be our clients on a long-term basis because this is a structural change to the funding available from the feds.”

Continued funding for emergency food assistance is critical but so is supporting policy change if we hope to eliminate hunger and improve health.

I encourage funders to support our region’s emergency food service providers and:

  1. Talk with them about their programmatic aspirations and where there may be opportunities to build a stronger regional food system in the process. A number are working to increase healthy food options as demand for this increases.
  2. Ask what federal and local policy changes would make a difference to their clients’ ability to access healthy food, and if the organization is in a position to support their clients to share stories about the impact of food insecurity on their lives.
  3. Use your own voice to talk with legislators about the impact of a weakened social safety net on your grantees and the communities they serve. Sharing your own story is not lobbying, though it’s always useful to review the differences between lobbying and advocacy.

One priority a new report from the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative calls for is protecting and improving SNAP to ensure that Americans don’t go hungry and to help build a more sustainable food system. Doing so will require funders to consider their ability to invest in longer term policy change. There are proven well-established advocates, and new ones, who can sustain the campaign needed to eliminate hunger and build a more sustainable food system. In the near term, they’ll need support to demonstrate the short-sighted nature of cutting effective programs like SNAP. They also need support to continue to broaden their coalitions and to identify strategic opportunities to change the narrative on SNAP   – improving the program can reduce hunger and its costly consequences even more than it does now.

Lindsay Smith coordinates the work of Washington Regional Food Funders (WRFF), a working group of WRAG. On May 7, 2015, WRAG will offer Food Security 101 for WRAG members in partnership with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region to examine some of the themes raised in this post in greater detail, and how it relates to our broader regional food system.

Advocates Gather in DC to Protect Key Federal Nutrition Programs of Local Importance

by Lindsay Smith
Washington Regional Food Funders

Just over a week ago, about a thousand advocates came together for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. The conference brought together experts, committed professionals, volunteers, and those affected by food insecurity to learn about programs and policies that support good nutrition, prevent hunger, and reduce poverty.

Some of the personal stories shared were heartbreaking. How is it that in 2015 a low-income single mother from Massachusetts completes multiple job training programs, can’t find work, decides to return to school to improve her chances, but nonetheless loses her welfare benefits? She’s one of far too many in our country making hard choices between food, rent, and utilities.

Many agree that the public assistance available isn’t sufficient to meet the needs of those who need it. It’s well-known that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) recipients often exhaust their benefits before the end of the month, severely constraining their options for healthy eating and putting their health at risk.

The conference ended in a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. Many attendees spent the day asking their legislators to protect SNAP from further cuts. They also asked them to pass the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization Act without weakening the gains made in the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to improve school meals championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

These are not just programs that support the basic health and nutrition of millions of Americans, they are also the building blocks for other programs making stronger connections between our region’s farms and consumers through programs like farm-to-school, farmers market incentives which reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables for low-income people, and more.

We would do well to strengthen federal funding for programs like SNAP, school meals, and WIC. Instead advocates have a lot of work ahead to ensure that no further cuts are made. SNAP has already seen two recent declines in federal funding in 2013 and 2014. One result is that in 2016, nearly one million unemployed adults without children will lose their SNAP benefits, even if they are looking for work. Despite this, the House Agriculture Committee plans a thorough review of the program which several conference speakers noted could result in additional cuts without sustained advocacy.

A November 2013 op-ed from Patty Stonesifer and Alex Ashbrook on the 2013 reduction in SNAP funding underscored the impact of this in Greater Washington. They spoke of the strain this would put on vulnerable community members and emergency food service providers. In the District, the 2013 cuts amounted to $15 million. Compare this to Martha’s Table’s food budget of $1 million a year. For me, it was a powerful statement on why philanthropy must care both about funding basic social services while also funding advocacy and policy change: philanthropic dollars can’t replace continued reductions in federal assistance.

In a follow-up post next week, I’ll share key questions for philanthropy and potential responses.

Lindsay Smith coordinates the work of Washington Regional Food Funders (WRFF), a working group of WRAG. Federal policies and funding for nutrition and agriculture are on her mind following WRFF’s fall convening on Funding Greater Washington’s Food System.

WRAG members interested in how food and nutrition-related programs may be impacted in the FY2016 budget should attend WRAG’s upcoming budget briefing on April 1.