On Monday, October 25, the House released their draft proposal on how to spend the $5.3 billion from our federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help Massachusetts families recover from the pandemic.
Omitted from the plan: key anti-hunger investments in federal nutrition programs that would extend Universal School Meals to feed kids and increase access to SNAP.
Right now, we have the opportunity to invest in bold initiatives to fight hunger in Massachusetts. But these provisions are on the line. We need to make noise to ensure the Massachusetts state legislature invests in key anti-hunger work.
With 1 in 6 Massachusetts households with children facing food insecurity, approximately double the pre-pandemic state hunger levels, it is urgent that we act. Our legislative allies Representatives Andres Vargas and Christine Barber have filed two amendments to the House ARPA proposal that will give hungry Massachusetts families the support they need.
Through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Massachusetts received $5.3 billion from our federal government to help Massachusetts families recover from the pandemic.
On October 25th, the House released their draft proposal for how over half of the funding should be allocated. Unfortunately, this proposal omitted Project Bread’s request to extend Universal School Meals and to increase access to SNAP through a large-scale awareness campaign.
The House is reconvening tomorrow to begin final negotiations for their spending plan. We urge legislators to include the following provisions, and ask you to act now to tell your reps to make hunger a priority:
Extend universal school meals waivers (set to expire at the end of 2021 - 22) through 2024 - 25 in our highest need school districts to ensure we continue feeding kids at highest risk of hunger.
Eliminate the "reduced-price" school meals category across all districts, which results in unpaid school meal debt and hinders families recovery from the pandemic.
Fund a statewide SNAP awareness campaign to connect eligible and unenrolled MA residents to federal food assistance, aiding in their economic recovery and bringing additional federal funding into the state.
When the full impact of the pandemic reached our state, food insecurity more than doubled from 8.4% of households to 19.6%. Among households with children and Black and Latino households, the rate has consistently been higher. Food insecurity rates have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels and the reality is that even if they had, success cannot be defined as a return to the status quo. As need for support continues, barriers to the nation’s most effective anti-hunger program, SNAP, persist. A Project Bread study on Barriers to SNAP found that stigma, misinformation, and language challenges were prevalent, particularly among communities of color and immigrants. Nearly a third of survey participants reported a lack of awareness of available resources. And as a new school year is underway, nutrition programs are dealing with a very different school meal experience and parents are wondering what will happen if they need to quarantine. We can support recovery by investing in two key initiatives.
What is it?
Why do we need it?
During the course of the pandemic, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was the #1 most utilized food resource for families in MA. For every $1 provided in SNAP benefits, $1.70 is brought into the local economy and strain on the emergency food system is reduced. Since March of 2020, SNAP has driven more than $1.7 billion into Massachusetts. However, there are still more than 600,000 people in Massachusetts who qualify for SNAP and are unenrolled.
In the past 18 months, Project Bread sought to take its key research findings about barriers to SNAP – including lack of understanding of programs and eligibility, misconceptions about limited resources, language barriers, concerns about stigma – and address them through a multi-lingual, multi-channel awareness campaign, reaching eligible, unenrolled individuals and driving them to the FoodSource Hotline where they can receive the support they need to apply.
Throughout the course of our campaigns, we demonstrated the strong impact of these efforts. From October 2020 to September 2021, there was a 134.6% increase year over year in SNAP pre-screens. To break that down even more, there was a 201.1% increase in SNAP pre-screens during months where we invested heavily in our campaign tactics (828 SNAP pre-screens in May 2021 while campaign is running vs. 275 prescreens in March 2021 while campaign is not running many ads). While conducting our outreach in a number of languages, we saw a 41.3% year over year increase in the proportion of non-English speaking calls serviced through the FoodSource Hotline from October 2020 to September 2021.
With every call to the FoodSource Hotline, Project Bread seeks to address the caller’s immediate needs and ultimately support participation in the available federal nutrition programs whenever possible. From initial outreach to awareness building to information sharing to enrollment support, a modest investment now in the form of a grant to Project Bread made possible by ARPA funds will expand upon a tested and successful strategy, maximize federal dollars, and provide long-term support well beyond the ARPA timeframe for those who need it.
What is it?
This amendment filed by Representative Vargas adds new line item for a reserve funded at $10,517,314.05 to extend universal free school breakfast and lunch in higher need school districts (40% or more of the student population is eligible for free or reduced price meals) through school year 2024-25 and eliminate reduced-price co-pays paid by families in all districts across the state.
Why do we need it?
We know that up to half of many low income children’s daily calories can come from school meals. When children have access to proper nutrition, they are better able to learn and live healthier lives. Undernourished students have poorer cognitive performance, particularly when they miss breakfast. Beyond academic success, children who experience hunger are more likely to have behavioral and attention problems as compared to other students. Research has also shown that recovery from past economic downturns has not happened equally in all communities, and if we let current USDA waivers for universal school meals expire next June, we will revert back to the system in which 26% of food insecure families do not even qualify for free or reduced price school meals.
The ARPA funds provide a critical opportunity to continue to support those families while giving time for continued recovery, and to do so while maximizing federal dollars available to the state beyond ARPA by providing higher need schools and districts with support to fully utilize the Community Eligibility Provision. School meals have been critical pandemic response as the #1 source of free food and #2 most utilized food resource for families, and we cannot lose this essential line of support for our community.
We estimate that extending universal school meals in higher need schools and eliminating the reduced-price co-pay in all schools would increase participation by over 3,000 students and bring in nearly $6 million more in federal reimbursements annually. After the three years, districts may choose to utilize CEP if they are eligible which would result in continued higher participation and increased federal reimbursements, an impact that will last well beyond this initial state investment.