The latest data on food insecurity in Massachusetts
In support of our mission to end hunger in Massachusetts, we use internal and external data to inform our direct service programs and to make evidence-based policy recommendations.
We believe scientific evidence is critical in promoting equity and so we prioritize providing inclusive and accurate statistics. Our research and analyses is based on our efforts to ensure that we are using the highest quality data available.
Prior to the pandemic, household food insecurity in Massachusetts was at 8.2%. The coronavirus pandemic fueled a hunger crisis unlike any other in our lifetime, at it's peak rendering 19.6% of households food insecure. Food insecurity is on the decrease, but a return to pre-pandemic rates is not an option.
The US Department of Agriculture in its annual report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, show that food insecurity in 2020 remained steady, at pre-pandemic rates. Huh? Here is our best attempt to explain the data and the current situation.
. Dropping from 17.6% of households in December 2020 to an average of 12.1% households in the last 6 months (March 2021 - August 2021).
Trend data show that in Massachusetts there has been a slight rise in hunger rates from the low in April 2021. However, the current rate is still significantly lower than that of the May 2020 and December 2020 peaks.
Sources: Pre-pandemic estimates, Feeding America. Data for the 2020-2021 rates, sourced from U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey weeks 2 - 36 and calculated using methods described by Schanzenbach & Pitts (2020).
In December 2020, a staggering 23.1% of households with children in them in Massachusetts were food insecure. Over the last 6 months these rates have only dropped to an average of 14.8% of households with children (March 2021 - August 2021). And recent trends show that food insecurity among households with children in Massachusetts has risen from a low in April 2021.
Source: US Census Household Pulse Survey
This recent uptick in food insecurity in households with children may be due to the gap between school meal service ending and summer meals beginning. School meal programs are critical for families, and we need to continue to push for school meals for all and a permanent Summer EBT to overcome this crisis and permanently address hunger.
In the last 6 months (March 2021 - August 2021), 1 in 9 (11.3%) white households with children compared to nearly 1 in 4 Black and Latino/a households with children were food insecure.
Source: US Census Household Pulse Survey
An estimated 70% of households in Massachusetts that received the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in July spent the payment on food, rent, utilities, or debt. The highest category was food, underscoring the importance of the CTC in helping families in Massachusetts. We support making the expansion of the CTC permanent so households with children continue to receive support in meeting their needs.
Note: Table percentages total more than 100 because respondents were allowed to choose more than one category.
SNAP has been a powerhouse during the pandemic to help people afford food. Enrollment data show that Massachusetts continues to see increases in SNAP enrollment from August 2019. As of August 2021, enrollment is 26.3% higher than it was in August 2019.
Food insecurity is declining, but a return to ‘normal’ is not an option. We can—and must—do better for each other.
The federal nutrition program, SNAP, is our country’s most effective and efficient response to hunger. Only SNAP has the ability to quickly scale up to meet any size of need. SNAP is proven to reduce food insecurity and lift people out of poverty.
According to data from MassHealth, as of July 2021, 677,076 people in Massachusetts fall into the SNAP gap. The SNAP Gap is the difference between the number of low-income Massachusetts residents receiving MassHealth who are likely SNAP eligible and the number of people actually receiving SNAP. Over 25% of people in the SNAP gap are children.
We have the opportunity to close the SNAP Gap this legislative cycle by creating a common application for these safety net programs through An Act to Streamline Access to Critical Public Health and Safety-Net Programs Through Common Applications (H.1290/S.761).
During the pandemic, state and federal actions to remove barriers and strengthen SNAP have helped many people access and afford food.
Indications that food insecurity is beginning to decline, with SNAP possibly having a role, brings urgency to our research to measure SNAP awareness, understand the perceptions that may impact a person’s willingness to enroll in the program, and learn about the experiences of residents when using SNAP benefits.
Explore our research findings, released August 2021, informing our recommendations to dismantle any barriers that persist between those eligible but not enrolled, that may contribute to SNAP’s underutilization.
Urge your legislator to prioritize hunger by supporting H.1290/S.761: An Act to Streamline Access to Critical Public Health and Safety-Net Programs Through Common Applications.
SNAP was by far the biggest support. Roughly 1 in 3 food insecure households with children in Massachusetts were receiving SNAP. School meals were the next biggest support for families, who turned to free summer and school meal sites to help feed their children and take some of the pressure off their grocery budget. From September 2020 to June 2021, over 93 million free school meals were served to students, according to meal participation data from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
In close partnership with DESE and Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), Project Bread leads not only SNAP outreach efforts for the state but provides state-wide support for school meals and the summer feeding program, Summer Eats. The two programs providing the most support to food insecure families during the pandemic.