Collective voices of SNAP advocacy leading to progress at state DTA

Commissioner Jeff McCue discusses the DTA with Food Bank staff during a recent visit to our Hatfield warehouse

Commissioner Jeff McCue discusses the DTA with Food Bank staff during a recent visit to our Hatfield warehouse

By Abby Getman, Planning and Advocacy Coordinator

Since 1982, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been supplying emergency food to our neighbors in need through our network of member agencies, which includes pantries, shelters and meal sites. Last year alone, we distributed enough food to provide more than 7.5 million meals. In addition, we are contracted by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to conduct Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach throughout the four counties of Western Mass. We assist food insecure households to apply for the program and help gather all of the necessary documentation in order to receive benefits.

When the Commonwealth instituted a new business process redesign for SNAP in October of 2014 without proper testing and training, the program immediately began to fail. Not only have we seen people being denied benefits they are eligible for, but member agencies are also reporting a marked increase in individuals seeking emergency food. The correlation could not be clearer for those working to end hunger in the Massachusetts. The Food Bank has been working tirelessly with state-wide partners, including the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, to draw attention to this crisis. We’ve been educating clients, member agencies, community partners, and our elected officials on the issue, and advocating for change.

We’re thankful to finally begin seeing the fruits of our many months of labor. In June, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders proudly stated at an event in Holyoke, “You have my complete commitment that we will fix SNAP.” DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue (who has only been on the job since late April) is poised to take strong steps to address the issues, which he laid out at a separate meeting hosted by The Food Bank in mid-June. Looking at big changes for DTA, McCue seeks to bring back transparency and efficiency. As he stated in the meeting, there’s no one magical cure for these issues — it is a lot of little steps. Food Bank staff and advocates agree, and are cautiously optimistic that the tide is turning for SNAP this summer.

As the leader of the emergency food network in our region, The Food Bank hosts the Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition. Our recent meetings have focused solely on the issues, sparking several news articles and motivating elected officials to ask questions as to why Massachusetts was failing its residents in need. Our weekly reporting to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has kept federal administrators abreast of the severity of the issues. State legislators on the Joint Ways & Means Committee demanded answers during a DTA hearing in the spring, and were an attentive audience when our Director of Programs, Christina Maxwell, testified on the crisis on Beacon Hill in April.

As we head into the summer, a time when food insecurity is at its highest, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts will continue to work with DTA and state-wide advocates in creating solutions to this broken system. Access barriers are already starting to be removed, and small steps are being taken to correct the problems. After advocates weighed in with McCue in a May meeting, suggested changes were made to the DTA call-line within weeks. The Food Bank will continue our work to provide SNAP outreach to communities in need throughout our region. We anticipate many improvements to report on, after we hold the next Western Massachusetts SNAP Coalition Meeting in September.

To learn more about how you can lend your voice and bring positive change to our community,

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, call our SNAP outreach team at (413) 247-9738 for additional information.