What the FY24 State Budget Means for Hunger Relief in the Commonwealth
On August 9, Governor Healey signed the Massachusetts FY24 budget passed by the House and Senate Conference Committee. The Food Bank and hunger advocates are celebrating many of the food insecurity related benefits and provisions in the budget.
Launched in 2021, the campaign for Universal School Meals led by Project Bread worked to make all school breakfasts and lunches free for K-12 students. While cost-free breakfast and lunch was funded by the USDA during COVID-19, it was a temporary measure that expired with the national state of emergency. With the permanent passage of Universal School Meals by the Massachusetts legislature, we have become the 8th state in the country to ensure that all our students are nourished and ready for school.
The Hunger Free Campus Initiative, a bill created by the Food Bank co-led Hunger Free Campus Coalition, will provide grants to state funded institutions of higher education to address student food insecurity on their campuses. While it is a commonly held belief that living on a shoestring budget is normal for college students, studies have shown that college hunger is both more widespread and more damaging to a student’s education than was previously thought. With this bill, Massachusetts takes a step towards ensuring more equitable access to higher education for all.
Another high priority for the Food Bank is an additional $150 million for Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to improve bus route coverage, frequency, and the hiring of additional drivers, plus an additional $15M earmarked for fare-free bus pilots. The Food Bank has been a leader in local discussions seeking to improve transportation equity in Western Massachusetts. A lack of physical access to grocery stores is one of the major underlying causes of food insecurity and hunger.
The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which provides Food Banks with funding to purchase quality, nutrient dense foods and locally grown fresh produce, was funded for $35.5 million for FY24. The $5 million dollar increase from the previous fiscal year will help fill the gap left by major supply chain issues preventing regular distributions from the USDA.
Finally, cash assistance benefits for families in Massachusetts have been increased by 10% to help those with very low incomes better meet their basic needs in the face of rising costs of living.
“With this budget, Governor Healey and the Massachusetts legislature once again affirm their commitment to reducing food insecurity and providing basic rights for all residents,” said Food Bank Public Policy Manager, Laura Sylvester, who has been hard at work advocating for the passage of these bills. “The Food Bank will continue to advocate for these and other policies that support our mission to end hunger in Massachusetts and beyond.”
The Food Bank extends its thanks to Governor Healey and all our representatives in the House and Senate for their commitment to our communities, as well as to all those who worked with the Food Bank to advocate for these measures. Thank you especially to those with lived experience of food insecurity, poverty, and hunger whose personal testimonies were critical to bringing awareness to these issues and creating effective solutions. Finally, thank you to our many supporters from donors to volunteers to regulars at our fundraising events. We could not do this work without all of you!