The Long Beach City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday evening to establish a food security plan for communities impacted by the grocery store closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food insecurity has increased throughout low-income communities because it “is at an all time high right now” and “at the highest levels in generations,” according to Vice Mayor Rex Richardson.
In Jan. 2021, the council approved “Hero Pay”, which required grocery stores to pay their employees an extra $4 per hour because of their roles as front liners continuing to work during the pandemic. This includes companies with over 300 employees nationwide or more than 15 employees in Long Beach stores, according to the Long Beach Post.
As a response to recent changes, Kroger Co. announced they would be permanently closing two of its Long Beach grocery store locations, the Food 4 Less on South Street and Ralph’s store on Los Coyotes Diagonal on April 17 due to economic hardships, according to the Long Beach Post.
Richardson requested a food security plan in order to help Long Beach communities who are impacted by these grocery store closures.
The current economic crisis has led to “basic needs security work” that was “funded by the CARES act” such as “food delivery programs and expanding access to food since the pandemic,” he said.
“When Kroger announced that it may be closing two of its Long Beach grocery stores, this announcement comes at a time when our nation is facing unprecedented levels of unemployment and food insecurity,” Richardson said.
Long Beach neighborhoods represented by Councilwoman Mary Zendejas and Richardson have been “severely impacted” by “a lack of access to fresh, affordable groceries and produce” which makes “the COVID-19 crisis and store closures much more painful in our communities,” according to Zendejas.
“It’s unfortunate, the case that even before the pandemic far too many of our residents are faced with hunger and food insecurity, those numbers have only grown since COVID-19,” Zendejas said. “It has become harder and harder for Long Beach residents to keep food on the table.”
During public comment, Long Beach residents expressed concerns regarding how the Food 4 Less closure on South Street would impact the community.
Joey King, a volunteer with the Collins Neighborhood Association, collaborates with a network of pantries and community organizations to help fight food insecurity and called on the council to prioritize this issue.
“The food insecurity that already exists in district nine will become a problem with the closure of Food 4 Less on South Street,” King said. “I urge that in developing a plan to move forward, you include those local organizations that fight the battle of food insecurity on a daily basis.”
In addition, Councilmember Roberto Uranga expressed disappointment toward the ”recent editorial regarding Hero’s Pay.”
“When they’re saying Kroger has been affected by the fact that because of Hero’s Pay that they’re losing or minimizing the profits,” Uranga said. “If they’re making historic low tax profits, they can certainly afford to pay, so I’m very supportive of this item.”
The Long Beach City Council will reconvene next month.