Council panel OKs $580K in programs to confront local food insecurity

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s new initiatives to combat food insecurity were advanced by a vote at an Indianapolis City-County Council committee meeting on Wednesday.

The overall plan involves spending $580,000 on four programs: $140,000 on a six-month pilot program with Lyft to help shuttle Indianapolis residents in food deserts to grocery stores; $200,000 to fund a mobile grocery store that will stop in food deserts; $175,000 to launch a “food compass" app to help residents find out the nearest grocery stores or food pantries; and $65,000 to send “food advocates” to a 12-week training program. 

The Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee passed the proposal unanimously. It still requires approval from the full City-County Council. The initiatives were announced last week during Hogsett’s State of the City address.

The programs are being funded by excess county option income taxes that the state returned to the city, according to controller Fady Qaddoura. Hogsett’s team decided to move forward with the programs before the next budget cycle because the programs were almost ready to launch.

“It makes sense to move forward in achieving positive changes for our communities rather than wait until Jan. 1,” Qaddoura said. “Why lose six months worth of opportunities?”

Paul Babcock, director of the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety, said the city would also be applying for grants in order to help offset some of the program costs, in which case the excess city revenue would be returned to the general fund.

The mobile market will likely be done in partnership with a grocer that will be announced later, Babcock said. The city would provide the infrastructure for the mobile market, and the grocer would provide the food.

“Those conversations are very preliminary,” Babcock said.

The training programs would “build capacity of our local urban agricultural individuals to develop projects in their own neighborhoods to provide healthy food access to neighbors,” Babcock said.

The partnership with Lyft will provide subsidized ride shares to grocery stores. Lyft is providing about $20,000 to the effort, and will provide data to the city about grocery store demand.

The proposal that passed Wednesday also includes spending $320,000 on public-safety related programs, including funding new “peacekeepers” for the city.

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