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In The Bank

Posted on Thursday, March 15th, 2012

During the first week of April, the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means is set to reveal their budget recommendations for the 2013 fiscal year.  This proposal is the second step in the Massachusetts budget process, and is built upon an initial proposal presented by Governor Deval Patrick at the end of January.  The development of the Massachusetts state budget is a critical time here at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, as the decisions made over the next few months will have lasting impacts over the next year.  Two of our biggest policy priorities going into this process concern the funding for some of the most important programs for battling hunger in our communities: the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) is the largest source of funding that makes our work at The Food Bank possible.  In 2010 the program provided 2.4 million pounds of food (31% of all the food we received that year) and $179,000 in operating support to the Food Bank.

Over the past few years, MEFAP has been level funded at $11.5 million and the Governor’s recent budget proposal makes no attempts at bucking this trend.  This stagnation in funding for the program has occurred in spite of a significant increase in demand for emergency food at food pantries all across the Commonwealth and the rapid increase in food prices on items that are most in demand, like peanut butter.

In fact, if our member agencies had to choose one item to receive from The Food Bank, it would likely be peanut butter, for its high protein and shelf stability.  In the past few months, peanut butter prices have risen 58 percent.   Because of this and similar price increases, The Food Bank is able to provide less food with the money we receive through MEFAP, even though more families need help accessing food than in recent years.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is calling for an increase in MEFAP spending (2511-0105) from the proposed $11.5 million to a greatly needed $15 million.

Funding for SNAP administration is our other area of concern going into the budget process.  The program’s funding is divided between both the Federal and State governments, with the Federal covering the cost of the actual benefits and leaving the administrative costs of the program in the hands of the state.  This administrative arm is the DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance) and has its funding allocated by the Massachusetts state budget.  In the Governor’s FY13 Budget the DTA worker account would be increased to $64.2 million compared to the current appropriations of $57.5 million.  However, during the current fiscal year the state is also using roughly $3.3 million for DTA workers that has come from another source of one-time funding.  As a result, the proposed increase in spending is only about $3.3 million.  This increase leaved the DTA worker fund effectively level to the amount allocated in FY12, which falls short of what is truly needed to address the unmanageable SNAP and cash assistance caseloads, meaning that individuals in need will continue to experience unacceptable problems when trying to access these benefits.  We would like to see an increase in the DTA worker fund to $70.2 million in the budget proposal.

For these programs to getting the sufficient funding required to continue having an impact on those in need, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts needs your help.  Below you will find a list of some of the Western Massachusetts representatives who sit on the House Committee on Ways and Means, all of whom have a direct hand in the creation of the budget proposal.  Reach out to them through whatever means you prefer, but just let them know how you feel about these crucial budget items.  By contacting your state representatives you can make your voice heard in the fight against hunger.  For more information about our vision for these programs and how to find and contact your representatives visit our advocacy page.  There you will find an stock email that you can send to our Western Mass. representatives below.

Western Mass reps on the Mass. House Ways and Means Committee:

Stephen Kulik (vice chair of committee): Setphen.Kulik@masshouse.gov  District office phone: 413-665-7200, District office fax: 413-665-7010, Boston office phone: 617-722-2380, Boston office fax: 617-722-2847

Angelo J. Puppolo: Angelo.Puppolo@masshouse.gov  District office phone: 413-596-4333, Boston office phone: 617-722-2090, Boston office fax: 617-722-2848

Thomas M. Petrolati: Thomas.Petrolati@masshouse.gov District office phone: 413-589-7303, District office fax: 413-547-0435, Boston office phone: 617-722-2255, Boston office fax: 617-722-2846

Benjamin Swan: Benjamin.Swan@masshouse.gov District office phone: 413-739-8547, District office fax: 413-739-8572, Boston office phone: 617-722-2680, Boston office fax: 617-722-2846

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