A food bank volunteer packs a box of food.

Building on efforts to ensure a resilient, secure food supply chain in the Commonwealth, the Baker-Polito administration on Sept. 30 announced more than $5.5 million in grants to address urgent food insecurity for Massachusetts residents resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is being awarded as part of the third 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.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the program “is making critical investments that strengthen our local food system and ensuring its resilience to future challenges.”

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 third round of the grant program includes 33 awards totaling $5,551,387 to fund investments in technology, equipment, increased capacity, and other assistance to help producers distribute food, especially to food insecure communities. When evaluating 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 two rounds, the administration awarded a total of $6.27 million to 60 recipients.

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, nonprofits, and organizations that provide business planning, technical assistance and information technology services.

The Request for Responses for project proposals closed on Sept. 15. Applications submitted before the proposal deadline will continue to be evaluated for future rounds of funding.

The Food Security Task Force is focused on ensuring that food insecurity and food supply needs are addressed during the COVID-19 public health emergency and into the long-term, including setting up more than 1,500 grab-and-go meal sites at schools across the state, investing $5 million in the Healthy Incentives Program to bring on new retailers, launching the SNAP Online Purchasing Program to allow SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy groceries online from Walmart and Amazon, issuing emergency SNAP benefits to more than 240,000 households to bring all SNAP recipients to their maximum benefit amount, bringing more than $210 million of federal dollars into the state, and leveraging federal flexibilities for SNAP and WIC to make it easier for households to get benefits. WIC flexibilities will continue through the end of the calendar year.

The administration also announced approval for September Pandemic EBT, or P-EBT, benefits, to help cover the cost of missed school meals from the month of September due to delayed school opening or remote learning for more than 470,000 students and their families. Benefits started being available on Sept. 30 for an estimated total amount of more than $40 million in federal dollars. P-EBT benefits supplement the free meals.

Additionally, the majority of Massachusetts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants saw an increase in their benefits starting Oct. 1, due to the annual cost-of-living adjustment.

The Food Insecurity Infrastructure Grant Program was announced in May 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, $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.