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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. 

Federal Policy Recommendations

Project Bread's COVID-19 response

Strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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: 

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Increase maximum benefit

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.)

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Increase minimum benefit

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.)

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Remove barriers to eligibility

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.

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Activate Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP)

Make Disaster SNAP available to states to meet increased need.

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Expand eligibility

Expand eligibility by eliminating the gross income test and remove the cap on shelter deductions and medical expansions.

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Allow SNAP for online and delivery services

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.

Maintain and strengthen child nutrition programs

  1. Make Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) permanent to provide meals during any additional unplanned school closures and during the summer.
  2. Extend waivers for child nutrition programs through the duration of the crisis, including the summer.

Provide direct cash assistance

  1. Make Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) permanent to provide meals during any additional unplanned school closures and during the summer.
  2. Expand the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to increase household funds for working families with children.
  3. Expand Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to increase funds for the lowest income families.

Remove barriers to assistance for immigrant populations

  1. Expand categories of immigrants eligible for SNAP without the five year waiting period.
  2. Reverse the administration’s harmful “public charge” rule which has a well-documented chilling effect discouraging immigrants from applying for federal assistance programs including SNAP.
  3. Extend stimulus payments to all taxpayers, including those who use a Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and ensure timely delivery of checks to households that have not filed a tax return.

State Policy Recommendations

Project Bread's COVID-19 response for recovery in Massachusetts

Ensuring families and communities are accessing federal nutrition programs

  1. Support Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline in the state budget.
  2. Support Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program in the state budget.

Provide direct cash assistance

  1. Provide additional cash payments through Transition Aid for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to Elders, Disabled and Children (EAEDC), particularly for families in deep poverty.

Prioritize equity in Coronavirus response

  1. Pass emergency paid sick time to provide at least 15 additional days of job-protected paid sick leave.
  2. Ensure everyone has access to safe quarantine by identifying alternative sites for safe, dignified shelter for those without alternatives.
  3. Enact a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and termination of public benefits such as SNAP, MassHealth, disability benefits and access to shelter.
  4. Ensure immigrants have safe access to testing and treatment for the coronavirus by aggressively communicating that medical and social services will not share information with federal immigration enforcement.

Ensure maximum utilization of federal nutrition programs

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.