Individuals and families across the state are feeling the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 crisis as they face challenges such as lost wages, school closures or an inability to stock up on necessary food during the stay-at-home advisory.
Before this crisis, far too many of our neighbors in Massachusetts were facing food insecurity – 1 in 11 households and 1 in 9 children. As we confront this public health emergency with its record unemployment, the problem is growing exponentially. In March alone, approximately 38% of Massachusetts residents report experiencing food insecurity during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Food insecurity is not caused by scarcity of food, but by systemic barriers that result in unequal access to basic necessities. The emergency food system—food banks and food pantries —cannot by the only response to this crisis. We need to work with state and federal government on sustainable solutions that break down barriers and strengthen the nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that are proven to combat food insecurity through the duration of this crisis and beyond.
Outlined below are our policy proposals and advocacy efforts for equitable recovery for all from the COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond.
Project Bread's COVID-19 response
We already have programs in place that enable people to purchase their own food, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP, the largest of the federal assistance programs, provides nine times the amount of food as food banks and is designed to expand with need through a preestablished distribution network, our nation’s retail grocers. Not only does SNAP fulfill an immediate need for food, but it also puts money back into the local economy, which is desperately needed right now. Every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.70, which supports communities and creates jobs. To ensure individuals and households are able to afford and safely access food during the pandemic, we are advocating these measures be taken to strengthen SNAP:
Boost the maximum benefit by at least 15% to give people more purchasing power to afford groceries. (We did it! Included the COVID-19 relief package, passed in December. We will keep pushing that this extends beyond June 2021.)
Increase minimum monthly benefit from $16 to $30. (In response to COVID-19, recipients have been receiving the maximum monthly household benefit, as of March 2020. We will keep pushing for a permanent raise in the minimum benefit beyond the pandemic.)
Suspend administrative actions, such as Public Charge Rule and ABAWD Work Requirements that would eliminate, restrict, or weaken SNAP benefits for vulnerable individuals and households.
Make Disaster SNAP available to states to meet increased need.
Expand eligibility by eliminating the gross income test and remove the cap on shelter deductions and medical expansions.
Increase flexibility around how and where SNAP benefits can be used, such as online purchasing and delivery services to ensure the health and safety of those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Project Bread's COVID-19 response for recovery in Massachusetts
Though not a legislative action, we need the help of elected officials at all levels to ensure that every eligible person in Massachusetts is enrolled in the federal nutrition programs they need to put food on the table during this time of acute crisis and in the difficult weeks and months to follow. As leaders in their communities, legislators can help by educating their constituents about the options available and directing them to Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline at 800-645-8333.