Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Food Security Funds Support Local Needs of Families and the Fisheries.

In September, I authored a letter to the Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs, Kathleen Theoharides, in support of several commercial fishing industry applicants to the Food Security Infrastructure Grant program. The fishing industry has undeniable historical significance to our Commonwealth, and it remains an integral part of our economy, supporting 1.7 million jobs and generating $200 billion in annual sales. I was joined by a bi-partisan group of three dozen House and Senate lawmakers as co-signers of the letter. 

Changing dynamics of consumer trends as a result of COVID-19 have made it necessary to shift production process to match demand.

I am particularly pleased that today there was a formal recognition of this request and these needs.

Baker-Polito Administration Awards Over $5.9 Million to Support Food Security in Massachusetts

Fourth Round of New Grant Program to Increase Access to Local Food

Continuing its ongoing efforts to support a resilient, secure local food supply chain in Massachusetts, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced $5.9 million in grants to address urgent food insecurity for residents across the Commonwealth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is being awarded as part of the fourth round of the new $36 million Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, created following recommendations from the Administration’s COVID-19 Command Center’s Food Security Task Force, which promotes ongoing efforts to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have access to healthy, local food.

“As part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to build on our efforts to secure a resilient, diverse local food supply chain so Massachusetts residents maintain access to fresh, healthy food,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “With this fourth round of grants, we will have awarded a total of $17.7 million, making critical investments in our local food infrastructure and ensuring a secure supply of food as residents across the Commonwealth adjust to the impacts of this unprecedented public health challenge.”

“Families throughout Massachusetts, especially those living in underserved communities, will continue to receive better access to healthy, local food through the investments made through this important program,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “These projects will ensure a strong, resilient supply of local food while delivering health and economic benefits to communities across the Commonwealth.”

The goal of the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program is to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have equitable access to food, especially local food. The program also seeks to ensure that farmers, fishermen and other local food producers are better connected to a strong, resilient food system to help mitigate future food supply and distribution disruption.

The fourth round of the grant program includes 47 awards for a total of $5,895,554 to fund critical investments in technology, equipment, capacity, and other assistance to help local food producers, especially in the distribution of food insecure communities. When evaluating the applications, considerations included equity, economic impact and need, sustainability and scalability of efforts, and ability to support producer readiness to accept SNAP and HIP benefits. In the program’s first three rounds, the Administration awarded over $11.7 to more than 90 recipients.

“Food insecurity remains a significant challenge for families throughout the Commonwealth during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “These projects address critical gaps within Massachusetts’ local food system, and this significant investment will help our local farmers, fishermen, food banks, and distribution networks continue their essential work producing a steady supply of healthy, nutritious food to communities and underserved neighborhoods.”

“The continued work of the Food Security Task Force under the COVID-19 Command Center has built out the food security infrastructure in the Commonwealth, connecting families and individuals with critical food resources during the pandemic,” said COVID-19 Response Command Center Director and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “This round of grants supports local organizations that help meet Massachusetts’ residents needs where they are, including supporting organizations that participate in existing nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC that help residents with limited income access healthy food.”

Eligible grantees include entities that are part of the Massachusetts local food system including production, processing and distribution, the emergency food distribution network, Buy Local, community and food organizations, school meal programming, urban farms and community gardens, non-profits, and organizations that provide business planning, technical assistance and information technology services. The Request for Responses for project proposals closed on September 15, 2020. Applications submitted before the proposal deadline will continue to be evaluated for future rounds of funding.

“Challenges to our food supply from the COVID-19 pandemic have given us a powerful reminder of just how important it is to have local fishing and farming, and organizations to get food to those at risk of hunger. What's more, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the opportunities we have to help them grow and innovate,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. “These grants will give recipients the strength they need now, and the chance to develop into even greater resources in the future for the people of our state.”

This grant program implements the recommendations of the Food Security Task Force, which was convened by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center in response to increased demands for food assistance. The task force is composed of a broad group of public and private members charged with ensuring food insecurity and food supply needs are addressed during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The Food Insecurity Infrastructure Grant Program was announced in May 2020 as part of a $56 million investment by the Baker-Polito Administration to combat urgent food insecurity for some Massachusetts families and individuals as a result of COVID-19. The Administration also announced a $5 million increase for the Healthy Incentives Program to meet increased demand for local produce and to increase access points that process SNAP and HIP benefits, $12 million for the provision of 25,000 family food boxes per week through a regional food supply system, and $3 million in funding as an immediate relief valve to food banks.

Several new HIP vendors are receiving funding through this round of the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program to purchase new equipment to process SNAP and HIP benefits. Back Azimuth Farm, in Middleborough, is a veteran-owned farm that sells at farmers’ markets and donates unsold products to their local food pantry. As a new HIP vendor, they will create new farmers market opportunities at VA hospitals in line with the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and Department of Veteran Services’ veteran outreach initiative. All Farmers will bring HIP to West Springfield for the first time. The organization represents a broad network of refugee and immigrant farmers who will be selling to their own community members and are able to service clients in Nepali, Maai Maai, and Kiswahili.

In August, the Baker-Polito Administration launched the MassGrown Exchange, an online platform designed to facilitate business-to-business connections within the local food system for products and services. Developed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), in collaboration with the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), this platform was established to both address COVID-19 disruptions to the local food supply and to serve as a helpful tool and resource for Massachusetts growers and producers in accessing markets beyond the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

“These grants are a great first step toward strengthening our ability to deliver food from the harvesters, our fishermen and farmers for delivery to the consumers,” said Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante. “I am particularly pleased that in this first round, preference was also given to food pantries which have been so important in ensuring food security for our most vulnerable. I look forward to watching the Commonwealth's investment and growth in our food supply chain.”

Among those included in the award - The Open Door of Gloucester - $201,073. The Open Door will develop and implement an online ordering and delivery system, expand storage to increase choice of meals as well as store locally produced food, and expand their Mobile Market program to be able to reach more areas throughout the community.

Russo Fishing Company Gloucester -$95,000. Russo Fishing Company will develop an automatic fish gutting and conveyor system on the deck of the Miss Trish that will significantly reduce the amount of time a catch would be exposed to ambient temperatures on deck before being stored safely below on ice, allowing vessels to catch fish at a higher quality with longer shelf life.