TWICE A MONTH a certain Washington woman goes to the H Street Northeast shopping area to pick up a grocery bag full of canned fruit juice, vegetables, meat and other food for her three-year-old son. If she were to buy the food from a supermarket, it would cost her about $20 each time, but she pays nothing. Neither do more than 10,000 other District residents who receive similar packages of food through the federal supplemental food program.
This 10-year-old Department of Agriculture program provides nutritious food to poor children under 6 and pregnant women who receive local or federal health-care services. Nationally, it serves about 106,000 people. During the summer the District's food program, run by the Department of Human Resources, was sharply criticized in two reports done independently by the D.C. Auditor and the federal Government Accounting Office. Those reports depicted a program in disarray: DHR ordered huge excess amounts of food, and then allowed it to sit for months and years in a warehouse unsuited for food storage. DHR distributed the food to only a third of the people it and the Agriculture Department agreed were eligible for it. DHR couldn't account for over a million dollars' worth of the coupons mothers were to use to purchase the groceries. We thought this an appalling example of DHR's negligence and indifference to the needs of the poor, and said as much on this page.
Now DHR appears to have taken several actions that should improve the program's operation. It leased a proper food-storage warehouse at the beginning of the summer, and it has a new way of ordering the food that should eliminate excess ordering in the future. It has tightened its control of the distribution of food coupons. And it is mapping plans to enroll more needy women and children in the program. Doris Thornton, who directs the DHR program is overseeing the efforts closely. New federal guidelines and improved administration of the program by the Agriculture Department should further aid the local work of DHR officials. If they are successful, soon more needy women will be able to give themselves and their children more nutritious food.