To bolster the food supply chain amid the coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts officials on Sunday announced the state will invest $56 million to combat food insecurity.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the funding was consistent with the findings of the state’s Food Security Task Force, which was convened on April 22 in response to increased demands for food assistance. The group prioritized more than 80 recommendations tied to developing an emergency food program; fortifying the food bank system; maximizing federal resources for food and nutrition and reinforcing the food system infrastructure.
Marylou Sudders, the state Secretary of Health and Human Services and COVID-19 Command Center director, said in a statement that longstanding assistance programs are “experiencing significant increases” in applications at a time when “community-based food banks are seeing skyrocketing demand and local grocers and farmers are struggling to meet the needs of consumers.”
The largest portion of the funding, $36 million, will help establish a food security infrastructure grant program, ensuring individuals and families in need can more easily access food.
The grants could boost a host of services including food delivery; food banks and food pantries; local food distribution partners; new ways to ensure families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and nutrition program for women, children and infants (WIC) benefits can receive food more easily; and solutions for urban farming and farms, retailers, fisheries and other food businesses disrupted by the upheaval caused by the pandemic.
The state will invest $12 million to provide 25,000 family food boxes per week through a regional food supply system, the administration announced. Each family food box of 30 to 35 meals will be distributed through food pantries.
A total of $5 million will boost the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) to meet increased demand for local produce and provide families more access points for SNAP and HIP benefits.
And $3 million will go toward immediate relief to food banks.
“These funds jump-start some of the recommendations to address urgent needs and food supply chain issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic for communities across the Commonwealth,” Baker said. “While COVID-19 has had a statewide impact, some of our communities and residents who have historically experienced food insecurity have been even more disproportionately impacted.”
Michael J. Heffernan, Secretary of Administration and Finance, said the funding builds on other critical COVID-19 resources distributed by the administration and state legislature, including $502 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds awarded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed by President Donald Trump in late March.
The Food Security Task Force’s work also builds on the state’s other initiatives to improve access to food, including emergency food distribution sites, school meal sites, increasing SNAP benefits and implementing Pandemic EBT to offer food to half a million youth who would otherwise receive free or reduced-priced lunch if schools were open.
Massachusetts officials recently announced plans to distribute $502 million in coronavirus relief funding to towns and cities suffering the impacts of the pandemic, along with guidelines to local municipalities seeking funds and looking to avoid dipping into reserves to cover deficits and unexpected costs related to the public health crisis.