Improving Nutrition and Health Programs in the District

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February 25, 2021
Blog Post

Nutrition and Health Programs in DC – How to Learn More and How They Could Be Improved

This past year has made it painfully clear how important it is that all children, youth, and their families have the nutrition and health care they deserve. As more families are seeking support, and District leaders are deciding how much to budget for local programs, DC Action is releasing today updated policy snapshots detailing recommendations for nutrition and public health programs that support children, youth, and their families.

The District has done significant work to make public health insurance and nutrition programs more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment in DC Healthy Families, the DC Health Care Alliance, and WIC have increased. However, as the economic implications of the public health emergency  remain, steps are needed to ensure that children, youth  and their families get the health care they deserve.

  • The District should continue to streamline the application process for family supports during the pandemic, such as keeping online applications and the option of telephonic signatures. Anticipating that the need for public health and nutrition programs will continue even after the pandemic ends, the District should fund more customer service staffing than prior to the pandemic.
  • During the pandemic changes were made to program operations that, if continued to the greatest degree allowable by federal policy, would increase accessibility and lower barriers to families getting needed support. These include continuing to allow online purchases for SNAP, telemedicine and virtual video-conferencing appointments for WIC, and increased telehealth options covered under Medicaid and DC Healthy Families.
  • The District should also implement eWIC (and ensure it is compatible with the WICShopper app), to make online grocery shopping available to WIC participants and reduce the stigma residents may feel about using WIC benefits in person.
  • The District took an important step by suspending the requirement that families recertify their eligibility for public health insurance programs during the pandemic. Once recertification resumes, however, some families may be shut out, including those whose incomes fluctuate above and below the income cut-off and those for whom bureaucratic challenges are greatest. District leaders should provide children and postpartum parents with 12 months of continuous coverage, even if families experience a change in income during the year. Recertification in the Alliance should be an annual, rather than twice yearly requirement, and not require an  in-person visit.
  • Prior to the pandemic, the District’s child enrollment in SNAP had declined precipitously (by nearly one-third) over the past several years. The District should explore this trend to better understand its causes in order to address barriers that may be keeping children from getting needed support. Enrollment in WIC has also declined over the past several (pre-pandemic) years. Fully funding the WIC Expansion Act could provide resources for greater outreach.
  • Last but not least, District leaders should improve its interdepartmental data systems so families who are enrolled in one program can easily apply for others for which they’re eligible. The Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS) that has been discussed for many years, for example, would forge a strong connection between families on SNAP to WIC and vice versa.