by Christine Smith, Southcoast Food Policy Council Program Manager
Working collaboratively with other state NGOs, we have had some successes this year in our advocacy efforts. Through letters of support and written testimony, we have responded to the following pieces of legislation.
- H.686/S.349 to create a permanent Farm to School Grant Program. While we were unsuccessful in establishing a permanent program, we did get $1M from COVID Recovery Funds to seed the grant program;
- S.502/H.860 to establish a commission to study equity in agriculture. Legislators asked for an extension for more time to study the bill, it will likely not leave the committee this session;
- H.3991 to codify Integrated Pest Management into public plans – passed favorably out of the House;
- H.926 limiting harmful pesticides on school grounds and places were professional landscapers’ work – passed favorably out of the House.
From March through May, we focused on advocating on the state budget as it pertains to the food system. As a partner of the MA Food System Collaborative, we asked our Bristol County House and Senate representatives to support the Healthy Incentives Program, Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, UMass Extension, Local Food Policy Councils grant program, Department of Agricultural Resource staffing, Buy Local Agriculture Organizations, Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline, Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program, Massachusetts Food Trust, Mass Farm to School, MA Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), Senior Farmshare Program, and the School Meals Extension. When specific programs were not funded, or not funded to the level requested in our initial advocacy, we sent letters to House Representatives and Senators to support budget amendments. Our collective advocacy efforts paid off and funding for most food infrastructure requests were supported.
As part of the budget process and in collaboration with the SNAP Gap-Common Application Coalition, we also sent letters of support to our Bristol County Senators and Representatives to support S.761/H.1290, An Act to streamline access to critical public health and safety-net programs through common applications. As a result, beginning in July 2022, when you apply online for MassHealth, your information will automatically enroll you in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if you are income-eligible. In this new legislation, we expanded the online application for the same information to be sent to different departments so a person would automatically be enrolled in WIC, veteran’s assistance, fuel, and other assistance programs eliminating the need for multiple, confusing application processes. This initiative was successful in both the House and Senate.
At the Congressional level, and in collaboration with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), we wrote to Rep. William Keating urging him to support HR 6613, Keeping School Meals Flexible Act which would continue to give schools the flexibility to provide breakfast and lunch meals for all students. The waiver expires on June 30, 2022, and we wanted to extend the provision through the summer. You can see the status of the bill here with who has co-sponsored the bill https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/6613.
If you are interested in learning more about advocacy and how you can get involved in the work of creating a healthy, inclusive, local food system – Join us on July 7th from 12 noon to 1:30 pm for a virtual Advocacy Training. Representatives from the MA Food System Collaborative will teach advocacy skills, such as how to advocate if you work for a municipality, what to say to a legislator in a short elevator pitch, how to use social media with your legislator, ways to give testimony, and the art of creating a relationship with your legislator to gain their support. Register for the training here: https://bit.ly/July7SFPCTraining.