Project Bread’s mission is to end hunger in Massachusetts— with 1 in 6 of our residents having been born abroad, we cannot achieve this mission without extending food support to our state’s immigrant population.
Last week, Project Bread CEO Erin McAleer delivered testimony to the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. In representation of Project Bread and all of our supporters, Erin used her three-minute testimony to urge the Committee to reinstate a program that existed before in Massachusetts – An Act Establishing Basic Needs Assistance for Massachusetts Immigrant Residents.
Her goal? To demonstrate to legislators the need to expand access to food and cash assistance for immigrant families in our state.
The Commonwealth has the 7th highest number of foreign-born residents in the nation— yet many legally present immigrants, who have followed proper immigration protocol, are still unfairly barred from public benefits like SNAP due to federal rules.
This bill expands the eligibility requirements for the SNAP program to include immigrants lawfully residing within the U.S., allowing them to receive these essential and life-changing benefits:
Cash assistance and related benefits to children, pregnant women, and caretaker adults who meet the eligibility requirements.
Nutritional assistance benefits like SNAP which are essential in ensuring that our immigrant families are able to support their families in an increasingly unaffordable Massachusetts.
SNAP is our nation’s #1 most effective anti-hunger program. In Massachusetts alone, the program has helped 670,000 families over the last year afford their groceries and other necessary expenses.
We saw firsthand during the pandemic how important it is for families to have access to SNAP— 3.2 million people across the US were lifted out of poverty by SNAP in 2020.
But when families in need receive little or no benefits, they must navigate and rely on the food pantry system for their daily food, a system that should only be utilized in emergencies.
SNAP is our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program and helps 670,000 families every year afford their groceries and other necessary expenses.
Research shows that SNAP not only reduces poverty but also lowers healthcare costs in the short and long term. But many lawfully present immigrant families still fear that applying for SNAP benefits would negatively impact their immigration status - and so they go without the essential help that they are eligible to receive despite the fact that SNAP does not trigger a negative determination.
Two of the primary barriers to SNAP eligibility for immigrant families in Massachusetts are language and immigration status.
Our staff hears over and over how confusing it is for immigrant households that can apply and receive some forms of support and not others. Even when some households are able to apply for SNAP, they may only be able to count the family members with citizenship or the right types of visas.
We recently supported a family of 6 that is only getting SNAP for a single child born in the country leaving less than $0.52 per meal per person to spend on food.
"Those denied benefits include individuals who are fleeing violence or humanitarian crisis and seek safe haven in our state. Many do not immediately have authorization to work or struggle to find consistent, well-paying work. These families deserve access to the same support provided to other residents of the Commonwealth when being faced with challenges meeting their basic needs.”
Erin McAleer, CEO & President of Project Bread
We know that food insecurity is the result of years of racism and xenophobia in policies and decisions that disempower people of color and other disenfranchised groups.
Every day, families who are struggling to afford food call Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline— most of them are calling to get SNAP, and many of them don’t speak English as their first language.
Our staff offers compassionate support to callers in 180 different languages to make help more accessible for nearly ¼ of our callers who prefer to communicate in a language other than English. Just last year, we were able to help nearly 8,000 additional households get the boost they needed to afford groceries with SNAP!
Massachusetts is a national leader in addressing hunger, and we know the only way to end hunger is through systemic solutions, not charity alone.
We have an opportunity to support immigrant families, who have higher than average rates of food insecurity, in accessing a sustainable food source which we know will not only benefit their families but our entire community.
Our policy team works tirelessly to advocate for scalable solutions to end hunger. We recognize that food insecurity is disproportionately experienced by people of color, immigrant families, and those with fewer economic means, which feeds into the cycle of poverty and generational hunger. We focus on identifying policies that create barriers to accessing sufficient food resources, then advocate for new policies that break these barriers down.
In addition to the Act Establishing Basic Needs Assistance for Massachusetts Immigrant Residents, we also testified in support of the following critical bills:
An Act to Protect Safety Net Access of Massachusetts Residents
These bills are essential in our collective effort to address hunger and provide support to families in need.
"We are asking the legislature to put back into place a program that existed before in Massachusetts. Massachusetts can and should become the first state to end hunger, but to do so, we need to focus on systemic solutions that lift up all groups facing food insecurity, including immigrants, and moving away from an overreliance on charitable solutions alone."
Erin McAleer, CEO & President of Project Bread