Southcoast Food Policy Council Working Groups
Policy Working Group Advocacy for 2023
The Southcoast Food Policy Council (SFPC) has officially begun its 2023 advocacy with a broad array of policy topics. Food policy determines many aspects of our food system, such as how food is grown and animals are raised, what pesticides and fertilizers are allowed on farms, and determines how much funding will be designated to people who are food insecure, to name just a few. The SFPC advocates for food policies that support our local food producers, ensure equal access to culturally appropriate, nutrient-dense foods, and which build a resilient food system. Advocacy consists of sending letters to legislators, meetings with legislators and their staff, and educating the community on how they can take action on these critical food policies.
This year the SFPC is advocating for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), Farm to School Grants, Equity in Agriculture, and Food System Programs in the state budget and many other policies. We will also advocate at the congressional level for changes in the Farm Bill. (Read more about what we have advocated for and are following in 2023)
HD.2737/SD.63 An Act relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program, which would codify the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) into law. More than 185,000 families have been served by HIP, providing $44.5 million in sales of healthy fruits and vegetables for farmers. The Healthy Incentives Program is a critical program to fund. As one person at a Fall River farmers market said, “By the end of the month, there is not much left on the SNAP card. But if I buy fresh fruit and vegetables using HIP, money goes back on the SNAP card so I can buy other stuff I need.” Making HIP a permanent part of the budget would ensure people across MA have access to healthier food.
HD.498/SD.611 An Act Promoting Equity in Agriculture, which would establish a commission charged with developing recommendations to the MA Department of Agriculture to equitably serve socially disadvantaged farmers to address disparities. The 2017 USDA Census showed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers represented 2.3% of MA farmers, despite people of color comprising 29% of the MA population. The combination of an aging farmer population, lack of racial diversity in farming, and an 8.1% decrease in the number of farms all point to a need to support young and BIPOC people entering the field of agriculture. The commission would not be a cost burden to the Commonwealth. Funding would come from the MA Farmer Equity Commission Fund – a section earlier in the bill. The commission specifically designates who will be on the 17-member commission from BIPOC communities. The research would create transparency in grantmaking to promote equitable distribution of funds, greater equity in regulations, and education and marketing assistance.
HD.350/SD.605 An Act Establishing Farm-to-School Grants To Promote Healthy Eating and Strengthen the Agricultural Economy, would codify this program into the MA Budget. The chronic epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases have increasingly negative impacts on our youth. Families are asking for healthier food options in the school cafeterias. This act would provide equal opportunities for public schools and licensed child care programs to apply for grant money from the Department of Elementary School and Secondary Education for the purchase of local food for MA students, provide the necessary infrastructure to return to scratch-cooked meals rather than relying on processed foods, and educate students about the local Food System. This act is a win for families, schools, farmers, and the local economy.
HD.2580/SD.1348 An Act to Promote Food Literacy, would add food literacy to the list of topics that students would learn about in school. Currently, students do not learn about nutrition, where their food comes from, or how to grow food. Many do not understand how climate change impacts what we eat, nor do they see economic opportunities in the food system. Many teachers feel unprepared to teach about the food system and struggle to find high-quality, culturally appropriate, curriculum-aligned lessons. This program would enable the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to identify suitable curricula, convene a working group of educators to guide the implementation of food literacy, and establish a Food Literacy Trust to support this programming.
HD.766/SD.1013 An Act Relative to Universal School Meals, which would ensure all students have access to school meals at no cost and receive the daily nutrition they need to thrive. In 2019, less than half of low-income students ate both breakfast and lunch. Between October 2019 and October 2022, more than 56,000 additional students ate school lunch daily because of this program. The need is clear and we must be responsive to our students and families to ensure all students get the nutrition they need to learn in school and become flourishing adults.
HD.1171/SD.311 An Act protecting Our Soil and Farms from PFAS Contamination, sponsored by Rep. Paul Schmid and Sen. Jo Comerford, would provide financial and liability relief should farmers’ ability to grow crops be impacted by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (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. New regulations and laws related to PFAS should not harm our food security, including Massachusetts farmers’ ability to produce food.
HD.400 An Act Supporting the Commonwealth’s Food System, would 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. This position would immensely help the SFPC’s work, for instance, in identifying resource partners and storage facilities for dry, frozen, and refrigerated goods. The lack of identified infrastructure was a huge hindrance for local food relief organizations during our emergency response efforts throughout the pandemic.
HD.223/SD.263 An Act Encouraging the Donation of Food to Persons in Need, would 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 maker value of the donated food, with a $5,000 annual cap per farmer. This would aid the SFPC’s efforts to increase gleaning and food recovery for local food relief programs.
HD.2684/SD.507, An Act establishing basic needs assistance for Massachusetts immigrant residents, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Cabral, Rep. Judith Garcia, and Sen. Sal DiDomenico would restore basic nutrition and cash benefits for low-income, lawfully present immigrants living in Massachusetts. For five years, from 1997 to 2002, the Commonwealth provided state-funded SNAP, TAFDC, and EAEDC to immigrants cut off from federal benefits in the wake of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law. Today, 1 in 6 Massachusetts residents – roughly 17% – are foreign-born, and many lawfully present immigrants who have lived in the state for years are currently NOT eligible for critical nutrition and cash benefits. These are vulnerable immigrants including families with minor children, the elderly and disabled, DACA/Dreamers, victims of violence, and those with pending asylum cases. It is time to restore SNAP, TADFC, and EAEDC benefits to our immigrant neighbors across Massachusetts’ communities.
H.47, An Act making appropriations for the fiscal year 2023 to provide for supplementing certain existing appropriations and for certain other activities and projects, Governor Maura Healey’s FY23 Supplemental Budget, would provide additional funding for critical food and shelter programs, including $130 Million for 3 months of extra state-funded SNAP (this would be 40% of the extra federal COVID payments, which ends March 2), $2 Million to replace SNAP benefits stolen through skimming before federal protection begins in October, and $65 million to ensure universal school meals for the remainder of the school year. The SFPC recently ran three focus groups in Fall River, New Bedford, and Wareham where one participant stated, “I am anxious about the prices at the grocery store, and the SNAP increase was not enough to overcome the stress.” Another participant said, “If you do not have money, you cannot buy healthy food.” These appropriations will help already economically vulnerable individuals and families have better access to nutritious food.
There is a clear need to create food policies that ensure equity, mitigate climate change, and build resilient food systems to ensure everyone has access to non-toxic and nutritious food. Join our SFPC Advocacy Network to advocate for a robust food system that employs local people, helps the local economy, improves the health of people in our region, and ensures nutritional security for all at firstname.lastname@example.org.