Food Insecurity in Massachusetts: What Project Bread is Doing
Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, 1 in 11 households and 1 in 9 children faced food insecurity.
In March 2020 alone, approximately 38% of Massachusetts residents reported experiencing food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Project Bread, ”food insecurity is not caused by food scarcity, but by systemic barriers that result in unequal access to basic needs.”
For this reason, food banks and food pantries cannot be the only answer to overcoming this crisis.
Consumer Reports, in its most recent post-pandemic survey, found this:
1 in 5 U.S. grocery shoppers (19%) have used a food pantry, food bank, or community food distribution.
This situation became more acute after 2020.
In this same report, for the Latino population surveyed, the issues are not encouraging:
An estimated 22% compared to 15% of white Americans received free food during the pandemic.
This was the first time for 6 in 10 Latinos, and as a reference before the pandemic, 13% of Hispanics said they had received charitable food services.
For this reason, Project Bread advocates for state and federal policies that allow for sustainable solutions and remove barriers to food access.
Thus, nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are being strengthened.
The SNAP has proven to combat insecurity in vulnerable populations such as Latinos in the state of Massachusetts.
The five pillars Project Bread advocates for are:
Healthy Incentives Program (HIP):
Launched in 2017, it allows SNAP beneficiaries to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers.
Since its launch, SNAP families have purchased more than $22 million in fresh, healthy, local food.
While the program has been a great success, to date it has only been authorized through the state budget. The campaign is advocating for a permanent program to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program.
Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus:
Prior to the pandemic it was estimated that 37% of Massachusetts public college students experienced food insecurity.
The pandemic made it possible for college students to qualify for temporary relief, such as expanded SNAP eligibility, but institutional challenges to accessing resources persist.
The bill’s sponsors guide the Initiative to provide capacity, guidance, and funding to public universities and nonprofit institutions of higher education to enable them to take action to alleviate food insecurity on campus.
In this way, the law can empower universities to become hunger-free campuses with the designation of a university staff member as a point of contact and to manage financial aid based on student need and eligibility for federal nutrition assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), among others.
Simplify access to critical public health and safety net programs through common applications:
It is estimated that more than 700,000 Massachusetts residents are eligible for SNAP, but are not currently enrolled.
Another 22,000 families receive SNAP benefits, but do not have the income to even receive cash assistance.
Project Bread advocates for a law that would simplify the process for accessing critical public health and safety net programs through common applications and thereby avoid duplication of information and setbacks for both the state and those seeking services.
A common application would include eligibility points for needs-based programs, including child care subsidies, housing, fuel assistance, health care and nutrition, among others.
End Childhood Hunger:
Ensure that all students have access to school meals at no cost and that more children can get the nutrition they need at school, helping them thrive.
The sponsors of this bill seek to secure an annual budget to provide a definitive solution to reducing food insecurity in children and allowing access to meals, creating a more equitable and fair educational environment.
Promoting Student Nutrition:
This bill addresses both the root causes of debt and the impact unpaid meal debt has on students.
The bill is premised on schools being able to provide meals to students through the Community Eligibility Provision or another federal option.
Likewise, that schools can take steps to address student need by providing adequate information to apply for free meals and prohibit certain meal debt collection practices that involve or penalize the student.
This proposal is in the process of being approved.
For more information, see the Project Bread page and learn the status of these and other program initiatives.
Sources: https://www.consumerreports.org/, https://www.projectbread.org/
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