Last week, I had the privilege of joining leaders from western Massachusetts to host a progress report on ending hunger in our region.
Folks on the frontline of ending hunger – from the five western counties – turned out to hear Congressman Jim McGovern describe what’s happened nationally and in Massachusetts as a result of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health held at the end of last year.
I want to raise up the group of organizations who had the privilege of attending or being connected to the conference and co-organized the gathering – hailing from The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Growing Places, Stone Soup Cafe, CISA, Springfield Food Policy Council, MA Food System Collaborative, and Project Bread.
From the Legislature and from the Food System Caucus, I was glad to be joined by co-chair Representative Mindy Domb.
The link to watch the meeting is here: https://youtu.be/b2mXTzPA52Q.
To learn more about the Hunger Free Campus Coalition, click here.
To learn more about the MA Food System Collaborative’s priority legislation, click here.
If you’d like to get involved with the statewide White House Conference group that’s being led by Project Bread, email email@example.com.
Opportunities for action:
- Hunger-Free Campus Lobby Day March 30: Register here.
- RTA Bill Lobby Day April 10: Register here.
- HIP Lobby Day May 9: Register here.
You can also support the following priority bills:
An Act Relative to Universal School Meals
H.603: Rep. Andy Vargas S.261: Sen. Sal DiDomenico
The bill will make Universal School Meals permanent in Massachusetts.
An Act to promote food literacy
S.310: Sen. Jason Lewis / H.601: Reps. Andres Vargas and Mindy Domb
To help Massachusetts children lead healthy, independent, thoughtful lives, all students in grades K-12 should have access to food system education in school. These bills will add food literacy to the list of topics that students should learn about in school, and provide the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) with opportunities and resources to support those lessons. For more information, see this fact sheet.
An Act protecting our soil and farms from PFAS contamination
S.39: Sen. Jo Comerford / H.101: Rep. Paul Schmid
New regulations and laws related to PFAS should not jeopardize our food security, including Massachusetts farmers’ ability to produce food. These bills will provide financial and liability relief should farmers’ ability to grow crops be impacted by PFAS, as well as establish an account to support technical assistance and education to help farmers adapt to new practices that reduce the use and dispersion of PFAS.
An Act strengthening local food systems
S.42: Sen. Jo Comerford / H.88: Rep. Natalie Blais
Farmers in Massachusetts struggle to remain sustainable, on average earning just 94 cents for every dollar they spend producing food. They must compete in the global marketplace while facing higher input costs, more restrictive regulations, and fewer supportive resources than farmers in other states. These bills will create a “circuit rider” program at MDAR to coordinate support for farmers, establish a $3 million Next Generation Farmers Fund to provide education grants, direct MEMA to incorporate food production capacity into disaster planning, give MDAR needed tools to help protect farmland, and establish a state food system coordinator position.
An Act promoting equity in agriculture
S.41: Sen. Jo Comerford / H.87: Rep. Natalie Blais
According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, BIPOC farmers are represented on only 2.3% of the Commonwealth’s farms, farms that steward just .3% of the land in farming and sell just .4% of the market value of agricultural goods in Massachusetts, despite people of color making up 29% of the state’s population. These bills will establish a commission charged with developing recommendations for MDAR to equitably serve socially disadvantaged farmers to address these disparities.
An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program
S.85: Sen. Anne Gobi / H.150: Rep. Mindy Domb
The Healthy Incentives Program leverages federal SNAP funds by increasing SNAP recipients’ ability to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers, improving health outcomes for vulnerable communities and increasing sales for local farms. These bills will establish the framework for the program’s long-term sustainability.
An act supporting the Commonwealth’s food system
H.92: Reps. Dan Donahue and Pat Duffy
Many state agencies play roles in supporting and regulating the food system, but because of limited communication between them some of these efforts are duplicative, inefficient, or even contradictory. These bills will establish a state food system coordinator position to serve in an advisory capacity to all agencies to coordinate and inventory food programs, and develop and track metrics related to food system goals.
An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need
S.920: Sen. Jo Comerford / H.1594: Rep. Hannah Kane
Thousands of tons of edible food are sent to landfills each year because of donors’ concerns about liability, and because diverting it to those who need it can be costly. These bills will provide civil liability protection for individuals and food establishments who donate food directly to consumers, and a tax credit to Massachusetts farmers in the amount of the fair market value of the donated food, with a $5,000 annual cap per farmer.
Proposal for a legislative amendment to the constitution relative to agricultural and horticultural lands
S.13: Sen. Jo Comerford / H.41: Rep. Paul Schmid
Article 99 of the Massachusetts Constitution authorizes lower tax rates for agricultural land, but only on parcels greater than five acres. Changes in management practices have made farming on smaller parcels more sustainable, the subdividing of large tracts of land means many farmers farm on multiple smaller parcels, and rising land prices put larger parcels out of reach for many farmers, particularly beginning farmers and farmers of color. This proposed amendment will remove the acreage requirement, making farmland of any size eligible for tax relief.
An Act establishing the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative
S.835/H.1293 Senator Joan Lovely, Reps. Andy Vargas and Mindy Domb
Creates the Massachusetts Hunger-Free Campus Initiative, which provides targeted resources to public colleges and universities and private institutions that disproportionately serve low-income students to enable them to help students complete college by expanding successful anti-hunger initiatives on their campuses. For more info: https://www.hungerfreecampusma.org/.
An Act to increase regional transit accessibility in the Commonwealth
H.3272/S.2277 Rep. Natalie Blais, Senator Susan Moran
There are 15 Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) throughout the state and they are a lifeline to residents in the 250 communities beyond the reach of the MBTA. They connect people to jobs, groceries, and medical care. Funding for the RTAs is extremely inequitable when compared to that of the T, and as we all know public transit is far from robust in WMA. The RTA Advancement bill will stabilize funding for the RTAs so agencies can better meet the needs of local communities.
The bill will:
- Increase the funding floor for RTAs from $90M to $150M
- Establish an RTA Contribution Fund that carves out a dedicated source of revenue to support the expansion of transit services in order to move towards frequent 7 day/week service that runs during needed hours For more info: https://mapublichealth.org/priorities/transportation/.