Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld talks about the future of WMATA and what reopening will look like. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray walks us through city budget and gives us an update on building a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
The risk of spreading coronavirus has pushed many local businesses in the region to close or alter operations. This means that workers from all across the region are without work or facing reduced income — leaving many to wonder how they will afford basic necessities.
D.C., Maryland and Virginia have tried to lighten the load for low-income residents by securing rent and utilities for the foreseeable future. But, food insecurity is still a major challenge for both low-income communities and the elderly. Meanwhile, people with disabilities are trying to navigate the public health crisis without access to the resources that are in high demand — including food delivery services and transportation.
How are disabled people handling the fallout of the pandemic? And what are organizations doing to help quell food insecurity for the elderly and low-income families?
Produced by Richard Cunningham
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The risk of spreading coronavirus has pushed many local businesses in the region to close or to alter operations. This means that workers from all across the region are without work or facing reduced income, leaving many to wonder how they will afford basic necessities. For a subsection of local residents, this has fundamentally disrupted their entire lives. Maryland, Virginia and the District have banned evictions for tenants who can't afford to pay rent. They've mandated that utilities like gas, electric, water and even internet connection remain intact for the foreseeable future, but this might not be enough.
KOJO NNAMDIMeanwhile, people with disabilities are trying to navigate the public health crisis without access to resources that are in high demand, including food delivery services and transportation. Joining us now is Ryan Honick, a disability advocate and public speaker. Ryan Honick, thank you very much for joining us.
RYAN HONICKThank you for having me on.
NNAMDIYou have said that elements of life during a pandemic are not new for you. What do you mean by that?
HONICKWhat I mean by that is there are a lot of folks with disabilities who are frankly used to being isolated and used to leveraging. A lot of the tools and systems that are being put into place right now are things that we have tried to leverage or utilize for a long time. An example of that I can immediately think of is a lot of folks with disabilities who need tele-work. And that has now become, you know, standard practice across a lot of different organizations and businesses. And it's something that, again, we have, you know, utilized to a great degree, up to this point, to the extent that, you know, various companies have allowed their employees to do so.
HONICKThat's just one example, but I...
NNAMDINo, you go ahead. (laugh)
HONICKYeah, the isolation part of this is something that, you know, I think a lot of folks with disabilities are watching this unfold. And watching all these articles that they're coming out and talking about, you know, ways to, you know, quote-unquote, "stay sane" during this -- I mean, this is obviously a very challenging time. But it's not a new experience for a lot of people like myself who have to think about how are we going to get, you know, you mentioned at the top of the segment here, food.
HONICKThings like food delivery for various platforms, there's, you know, obviously, GrubHub and things like that. But more -- you know, there's also -- in various cities, there's like a Peapod or InstaCart, those kinds of services. And those are some things that the disability community is frequently utilizing, or trying to. And because of this pandemic, that's really increased wait times.
HONICKAnd, obviously, we want people to stay healthy and self-isolate and be mindful of those things. But if you are healthy and you do need to venture out for essentials, do that, if you can. Because what you're doing by leveraging those other services is you're increasing wait times for people like myself who don't have the option to go out right now, because we already are compromised where we do have other challenges.
NNAMDIRyan Honick, we've all been instructed to take extra precautions and to self-isolate or self-quarantine and practice social distancing. Do you think the guidelines put out by experts take into consideration the needs of persons with disabilities?
HONICKI think that, you know, everybody's trying to follow the guidance to the best that they can. And, again, folks with disabilities are used to having to adapt as things come up. There was obviously a discussion earlier in your segment about tele-health. That's definitely something that I'm leveraging now with my healthcare providers, and that's been helpful.
HONICKYou know, this has also brought up the idea a lot across -- you know, you mentioned folks that aren't sure what this pandemic's going to mean for them academically, whether or not they're going to graduate or what that means or how they're going to complete their work online. Obviously, that, you know, applies to a large swath of folks, but this makes me think a lot about when I was back in school. And a lot of professors have policies in their attendance that would say, if you miss more than, you know, X number of classes, that's going to count against your grade.
HONICKAnd, of course, now, with a lot of universities and courses moving to online, those policies are falling away. And that's something that a lot of folks with disabilities have been trying to say for a long time that has needed to happen.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Radha Muthiah, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank. Radha Muthiah, thank you for joining us.
RADHA MUTHIAHThanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIBefore we talk about what Capital Area Food Bank is doing to respond to the pandemic, give us a little context. How many people, how many meals do you normally serve?
MUTHIAHSure. Under normal circumstances, we provide food for about 400,000 foot insecure across the District, suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. And that translates to about 32 million meals a year, in normal circumstances.
NNAMDIRadha, what changes has your organization made due to the coronavirus? How are you responding to the pandemic?
MUTHIAHWell, you know, as you've been covering throughout your show, and we all know, this anxiety that we all feel is really a reality for many in our community who don't know where their next meal is going to come from. And, for them, it's far worse right now. They are trying to determine the best ways to be able to get food, not only for their day-to-day needs, but also to be able to keep some food on hand for the next few days or few weeks, as we are being instructed to by our public health officials.
MUTHIAHSo, we are prepared. The Capital Area Food Bank has been preparing this for probably the last month now, thinking about different scenarios and what we need to do. And thanks to the community support, we have the scale, the network and the storage to be able to leverage in these types of emergency situations. So, we're being nimble, and we're shifting how our operation is working at this point. Typically, we work through a network of about 450 regional partners and 300 direct distributions.
MUTHIAHBut, in this evolving situation, we're modifying our service model to be able to meet this need. So, what we're doing is there are about 150 or so partners who've told us that they're able to continue operations, likely into the next week or potentially more. We're continuing to provide a lot of food through that partner network. We've also identified about 20 high-capacity what we're calling partner hubs that we're able to send much more food through and they're able to provide that food to many more individuals who are in need. So, that's part of what we're doing.
MUTHIAHAlso we typically provide afterschool meals to about 11,000 children in the area. Usually, those are hot, you know, meals that are temperature controlled and provided within the confines of a school or Department of Recreation or some other kind of afterschool service. We're switching now and have switched, rather, to provide cold to-go meals to ensure that children have that third meal of the day.
MUTHIAHAnd, finally, given all of the social distancing guidelines that we, too, are practicing, if someone finds that they are not near one of our 150 partners or not near one of these 20 hubs, and then what we're doing is we're creating these popup pantries, where we are boxing food. And we are basically having people come by. If they're driving, they open their trunk, we put the box in there, they drive off. And if people are walking up, we're marking kind of, you know, four to six feet apart to maintain adequate safety. And then we're providing people with a box of food that can provide a family of four with supplementary nutrition for four to five days.
NNAMDIHere now with more information about what people can do is Jean Yates in Washington -- Jen Yates in Washington, D.C. Jen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEN YATESHi. Thank you for having me on, Kojo.
NNAMDIJen, what organization are you with?
YATESI'm with an organization in northern Virginia called Well Food for Kids. We work to provide increased access to healthy food for school kids throughout the year. And now, in this time of incredible need, we're working and transitioning our efforts to providing healthy foods to kids and their families right here and every day, as long as we can keep going.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. Is there any more information you'd like to give out?
YATESYeah, so we're out here at Bayou Bakery. We partnered with chef David Gaus. He's been a partner of ours for many years, and he approached us and asked what he can do to help provide food for families in this time of need. So, we're handing out hot, plant-based meals to anyone who comes up and asks for one. We had a family come by earlier today who said both the mother and father had lost their jobs in the restaurant industry. They have kids, and they don't really know where their next meal is going to come from. So, we're handing out food every day at Bayou Bakery from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. By the way, Ryan Honick, we got a tweet from Sue, who said: to your point about persons with disabilities, particularly developmental disabilities, service providers are moving their interactions to online platforms such as Facebook and Zoom. Has that -- I think you also mentioned earlier, Ryan Honick, that that has been your experience, also.
HONICKYes, it has. And I think the takeaway from all this, I hope, is that these things that are put in place now, as a result of going through this pandemic, that these things stay in place. That they remain a tool that can be leveraged, you know, when all of this eventually does settle, at some point, because they're proven to be effective. They're not things, you know we hope, that are going to be here for a short period, and then as soon as things, quote-unquote, "return to normal," that these systems are no longer accessible, because they're proven to be useful.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah, during this difficult time for people, what communities need the most assistance?
MUTHIAHYou know, we have -- during these times, I'd say the need is across the board. And we serve, you know, from very young children to working adults and families to seniors. Obviously, from what we've heard from public health officials, this virus seems to disproportionately affect seniors. And so we are certainly focusing across the board, but also in ensuring that our seniors are well-protected, have sufficient food, and are able to take care of themselves during this point in time.
MUTHIAHI think the other thing that we have to highlight here -- given that this is something that doesn't seem to discriminate, we're all feeling that sense of anxiety and we all are, you know, interested in ensuring that we have sufficient food -- is that we're seeing that for those of us who can afford it, we're going to the grocery stores, we're getting deliveries and food is flying off the shelves. Now, what happens in those instances is that the typical donations that we get from retailers to be able to provide food to the low-income community is not coming through to us.
MUTHIAHIn fact, we're seeing not to date about a 50 to 75 percent reduction in food donations from retailers in shelf stable food donations. That means we don't have -- to put it in perspective -- about $2 million worth of food that we would typically have in donations to be able to provide to the low-income community. So, an impact that we're seeing here in being able to provide food across the age spectrum, if you will, within the low-income community is the need to be able to purchase many, many truckloads of food to be able to provide those who don't have the ability to go to the store and purchase it for themselves.
NNAMDIAnd because of the shopping demand in the retail industry right now, that obviously is having an effect on what you do.
MUTHIAHAbsolutely. I'll give you some perspective. So, for the last month, we would've typically had, you know, many, many trucks of donated food. And we would only had to supplement that by purchasing two to three additional truckloads of food. But, in the same time period, we've already quadrupled our purchases, and we have purchased almost eight to nine additional truckloads of food, with many more that we're planning on purchasing, just to keep up with the demand that we're seeing. So, that is a substantial change in our operation in terms of the supply of food and how we are having to purchase just four to five times more than we typically would have.
NNAMDIRyan Honick, I'd like you to reiterate, has using food delivery services become a challenge for you, due to the pandemic?
HONICKIt has, because, as I eluded to earlier, it's increased wait time. So, when all of this first hit the region here, I actually put in a -- the first cases, I think, came just before last weekend -- that I put in a food delivery order on Thursday of that week. And, you know, usually because of the way the system typically operates under normal circumstances, it's a couple hours of delivery window. In this case when I placed an order last Thursday they said, your next delivery is in about a week.
HONICKBut it would've been -- from that Thursday, it was Wednesday, which was yesterday. So, again, obviously, if you need to self-isolate and you are a vulnerable population, that's going to affect your ability to get food quickly.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from the D.C. Developmental Disability Council, saying: we are worried about how this is affecting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities relying on supports through the Department of Disability Services. Direct support professionals are responsible for the health, safety and happiness of many people now. Ryan Honick, do you use the services of the D.C. Developmental Disability Council?
HONICKI personally do not, but I can tell you, you know, as we talked about, that the services that I do leverage from a health care provider have moved to an online platform. And that has been tremendously helpful. And there are things that I hope continue to stay. One of the things that I think is also worth pointing out is the transportation part of this. Myself and others who rely on either public transit right now -- which would be a very, you know, challenging thing to leverage -- or who rely on rideshare, because we don't have licenses. That does include myself.
HONICKI was a big client or somebody who would leverage Lyft and Uber and other rideshare services. And I'm obviously trying not to leave my house, but in the event that I do need to, that's how that's going to happen. And that is also a risk, because it puts me in contact with folks who may be unknown carriers of this virus.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah, before we go, if people need help or information about how to access your resources, what should they do?
MUTHIAHThere are a couple of ways that people can do it. One is we have a hunger lifeline, and I would encourage anyone who needs food support to call that. That's 202-644-9807. Second, if you go onto our website at capitalareafoodbank.org, we have an interactive map that is live on the site right now. And it will show you exactly where our partners are, their times of operation, where these hubs are that I've referred to. And, through the media, we will highlight if there are popup pantries that are going to take place in areas that don’t have sufficient partners to service the low-income population.
MUTHIAHSo, those are two different areas that I would suggest your listeners go to, or just recommend to others. And I would also just say that the community has been incredibly generous in coming forward, both volunteers, who we need desperately to be able to pack all of these boxes. We aim to have about 10,000 boxes packed next week and ready to go. And just rest assured that we are cleaning our facility. We are maintaining distance in the warehouse, but we do need the support of volunteers.
MUTHIAHAnd, as I mentioned earlier, purchasing food is a significant way of life, it seems like, for us at this point. And that is resource intensive. So thank you to those who've generously contributed already, and we welcome further contributions, financial, as well as volunteers, so that we can get through this time together as a community.
NNAMDIRadha Muthiah and Ryan Honick, thank you both for joining us. This segment on how people who were already struggling are coping with the coronavirus pandemic was produced by Richard Cunningham. And our conversation about how organizations during the pandemic are reaching out to those with mental health challenges was produced by Victoria Chamberlin.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Senator Tim Kaine talks about paid sick leave and federal employees tele-working during the coronavirus outbreak. Plus, Maryland State Senate Majority Leader Nancy King reflects on what passed and what didn't during the shortened legislative session. That all starts tomorrow, at noon, on The Politics Hours. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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