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A “Jarring Wake Up Call” is the Rise in Food Insecurity in Massachusetts

Bylima

Dec 31, 2023
A "Jarring Wake Up Call" is the Rise in Food Insecurity in Massachusetts

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the proportion of people living in food-insecure households in Massachusetts grew by nearly 50% between 2021 and 2023.

363,433 Bay Staters did not have enough food to eat between September and October of 2021, according to a Hunger Free America analysis of USDA data. This is in contrast to 535,920 during the same months in 2023, a 47.5 percent increase.

The report’s authors found that, in Massachusetts, 9.1% of people lived in households with food insecurity between 2020 and 2022, compared to 11.9 percent nationally.

The study’s findings, which center on national trends in hunger, indicate that food insecurity is increasing as a result of federal benefits that were used to subsidize nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, stated that “many federal benefit increases have either gone away entirely or are being ramped down, even as prices for food, rent, healthcare, and fuel continue to soar.” “Our research shows that hunger is a significant issue for both adults and children in all 50 states’ rural, urban, and suburban areas. A startling wake-up call for federal, state, and local leaders should come from this report.

Massachusetts residents received additional federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds between March 2020 and March 2023 to help combat the economic impact of the pandemic.

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Victoria Negus of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute stated this spring that the first large federal pandemic package, which at the time gave additional funds to roughly 60% of Massachusetts families, authorized these additional payments.

The Biden administration revised the program in 2021 to ensure that every SNAP household receives an additional $95 in funding. According to the Department of Transitional Assistance, a household’s regular monthly benefit of $335 in Massachusetts was increased by an average of $151 by the SNAP emergency allotment.

These additional benefits were received by about 630,000 households in Massachusetts, Negus said, contributing about $90 million in federal nutrition funds to the state each month.

However, the additional SNAP benefits were not linked to the end of the federal public health emergency by a year-end package that Congress approved in December of last year, so the federal payments ended in March of this year.

To provide an “offramp” for families who had to change how they paid for food, Massachusetts lawmakers temporarily extended these nutrition payments with $130 million in state funds. However, those funds were only available for three months.

Nonetheless, free universal school meals—a nutrition benefit of the pandemic era—were expanded permanently by lawmakers and Governor Maura Healey.

$172 million to maintain the universal school meal program was included in the budget for the fiscal year 2024, making Massachusetts the eighth state in the nation to permanently implement free meal programs following the implementation of the policy with federal funding during the pandemic.

Advocates who helped it pass both the House and the Senate asserted that the program, which would give every child two state-provided meals during the school day, would significantly reduce childhood hunger.

According to the report, 11.6 percent of Massachusetts children experienced food insecurity between 2020 and 2022, which is lower than the 15.8 percent national average.

Beginning with this academic year, Massachusetts has joined Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont, and Michigan in offering free school breakfasts and lunches to all students. This policy had already taken effect in Maine and California. Between 2020 and 2022, 15.3 percent of children in California and 13.7 percent of children in Maine were reported to be living in food-insecure households.

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The states with the highest percentages of children experiencing food insecurity were Delaware (21.4%), followed by Nebraska (21%) and Texas (20.7%), Georgia (20%), Kentucky (19.7%), and Louisiana (19.7%).

“Over the past few years, effective federal public policies have been remarkably successful in reducing hunger in the United States; however, with the reversal of many of those policies, hunger has surged once more. Many of the federally funded benefit increases, like the Child Tax Credit and universal school meals, have expired at precisely the moment when so many Americans are in dire need of relief, primarily because of opposition from conservatives in Congress, Berg said about the nationwide trends in hunger.

New Hampshire (6.1 percent), Minnesota (7.3 percent), Vermont (7.7 percent), Colorado (8.4 percent), and North Dakota (8.6 percent) had the lowest overall rates of food insecurity.

By lima

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