We’ve spent weeks combing through the more than 6,500 bills filed in Massachusetts for the new 2023-24 legislative session. Our mission: identify which bills represent the biggest opportunity to reduce poverty and food insecurity, while building racial and economic equity, securing a better quality of life for families in Massachusetts. From the mountainous pile, 12 bills stand out - Project Bread’s policy priorities for the next two years.
As the national public health emergency ends, households are experiencing a greater than ever need for nutritional and financial support. Cecilia, a recipient of SNAP, called Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline searching for assistance upon the realization her benefits will decrease significantly once the SNAP pandemic emergency allotments end. Cecilia’s family makes under the gross income limit but over the net, and as a result they will only be eligible for the minimum SNAP benefit of $23 once the public health emergency declaration ends.
"What am I going to do with just $23 for two people after the emergency allotment ends?” - Cecilia
Within Massachusetts, 21% of families with children are experiencing food insecurity which is over double the rates pre-pandemic, signaling continued financial struggles. While anti-hunger advocates are fighting to bring these numbers down, a return to the pre-pandemic level of 1 in 11 families being food insecure is not success. Instead, it’s time for bold, systemic, policy solutions to ensure that no one in Massachusetts goes hungry.
There are many ways to be an anti-hunger advocate, but the best way to support these legislative priorities is to TAKE ACTION NOW. Our Action Team is an essential part of our policy work and helps ensure that quality bills like these are passed to help families like Cecilia’s. We urge our partners in the Legislature to co-sponsor and champion these 12 bills.
Lawmakers began this year by drafting new bills aimed at changing and improving the lives of people living within the Commonwealth. During the coming months, 200 state senators and representatives will discuss, cosign, and vote on these bills. While most bills will not pass, those that do have an immense opportunity to change the lives of everyday residents like Cecilia, who are struggling to afford basic needs like food.
The process of choosing our bill priorities is done in an intentional manner so as to ensure the best policies continue gaining momentum among anti-hunger advocates.
We begin by assessing the mission fit of the bill with Project Bread’s goal to address food insecurity for families with children in the Commonwealth.
Then the programmatic expertise of Project Bread is taken into consideration, as we do not prioritize legislation that we have no experience or knowledge surrounding.
Next, considerations of equity are accessed utilizing the racial equity scorecard created by Bread for the World.
Lastly, the bill is analyzed in terms of its success in addressing root causes of hunger (increasing purchasing power, providing monetary assistance, direct service or goods).
In addition to policy considerations, bills are also assessed for their political viability, momentum, community-support, and association with partnering coalitions, organizations, and legislators.
4 bills have been determined to be top priorities, with 8 additional bills receiving endorsements from Project Bread. These 12 bills represent policies that will reduce poverty and food insecurity in the state while building racial and economic equity so that everyone can benefit from a better future.
1. An Act relative to universal school meals (H.603/S.261). Project Bread is leading the Feed Kids Coalition to end childhood hunger, by starting with what happens in schools. By passing An Act Relative to Universal School Meals (H.603/S.261) we can ensure that, while at school, every child is fed and ready to learn without worrying about cost or stigma by ensuring access to free school meals for all students.
2. An Act establishing basic needs assistance for Massachusetts immigrant residents (H.135/S.76).This bill expands the eligibility requirements for the SNAP program to include immigrants lawfully residing within the U.S. An Act establishing basic needs assistance for Massachusetts immigrant residents (H.135/S.76) addresses inequality of existing federal SNAP rules, which prohibit many legally present immigrants from receiving benefits for five years. This legislation would allow immigrants to receive benefits regardless of their type of legal residency. Project Bread has joined the Feeding Our Neighbors Coalition to call for equity in these critical programs.
3. An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program (H.150/S.85). Launched in 2017, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) allows SNAP recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers. While the program has been a tremendous success, to date it has only been authorized through the state budget, which requires passage every year. An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program (H.150/S.85) would create a permanent program to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability. Project Bread has joined the Campaign for HIP Funding Coalition to advocate for this essential program’s permanency.
4. An Act establishing the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative (H.1293/S.835). According to the most recent data, 37% of public university students in Massachusetts experience food insecurity with only 20% of food insecure students utilizing SNAP. Project Bread has joined the Hunger-Free College Campus Coalition to support An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative (H.1293/S.835) which would provide capacity, guidance, and funding to public colleges and not-for-profit institutions of higher education take steps to alleviate food insecurity on campus.
We also endorse 8 other bills that are essential in the fight against hunger in Massachusetts. These bills include:
1. An Act establishing farm to school grants to promote healthy eating and strengthen the agricultural economy (H.558/S.243) would provide funding to public schools and childcare programs to purchase Massachusetts ingredients, prepare scratch-cooked meals and educate students about the food system.
2. An Act to lift kids out of deep poverty (H.144/S.75) would increase the amount of cash assistance grants to families with children living in deep poverty.
3. An Act Relative to Language Access and Inclusion (H.3084/S.1990) requires agencies supporting households, like MassHealth, DTA, and DESE to provide language services increasing access to vital food assistance programs.
4. An Act improving the earned income credit for working families (S.1768), An Act to reduce poverty by expanding the EITC and the child and family tax credit (S.1798), and An Act to increase family stabilization through the earned income tax credit (H.2762/S.1793) would expand the state match of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 30 to 50% of the federal credit and allow people without a social security number to qualify.
5. An Act to promote food literacy (H.601/S.310) creates a Food Literacy Trust Fund which the department of elementary and secondary education can use to encourage and facilitate food literacy programs.
6. An Act providing affordable and accessible high-quality early education and care to promote child development and well-being and support the economy in the Commonwealth (H.489/S.301) establishes a universal system of affordable, high-quality early education and child care for Massachusetts families over a five-year time frame.
7. An Act to promote healthy alternatives to sugary drinks (H.2859/S.1861) imposes an excise tax on every distributor selling sugary beverages. The revenue would support initiatives such as the Healthy Incentives Program and School Meals for All.
8. An Act to protect safety net access for Massachusetts residents (H.187) ensures effective and accessible communication when closing a community service office so as to not cause unintentional harm to marginalized populations.