A food bank volunteer packs a box of food.

On May 17, the Baker-Polito administration announced the investment of $56 million to combat urgent food insecurity needs of Massachusetts families and individuals, a need exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest portion of the funding is a $36 million COVID-19 Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program.

Eligible uses of the grant funds are:
• Increasing capacity for food direct delivery
• Increasing capacity of food banks and food pantries
• Increasing capacity of local food distribution partners
• Innovative solutions to enable those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children benefits to receive food more easily
• Innovative solutions for urban farming
• Help for farms, retailers, fisheries and other food system businesses to adapt to disruptions and allow them to provide greater access to local food

Another $12 million will provide 25,000 family food boxes per week through a regional food supply system, with each box containing 30-35 meals.

A $5 million increase for the Healthy Incentives Program will enable the program to meet increased demand for local produce and add more access points that can process SNAP and HIP benefits, according to the administration.

The final $3 million will be used for immediate relief for food banks.

Also announced were recommendations from the Food Security Task Force, convened by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center to prioritize action steps to combat food insecurity.

The task force organized more than 80 recommendations into four key categories:
• Develop and implement an emergency food program
• Fortify the food bank system
• Maximize federal resources for food and nutrition
• Reinforce and redeploy the food system infrastructure

“Increasing food security is essential to protecting the health of Massachusetts residents,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides, co-chair of the task force, “and the funding and recommendations made available through the Task Force will help meet greater demand for nutritional assistance among vulnerable populations and those struggling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Theoharides, Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Amy Kershaw, and Jill Shah, president of the Shah Family Foundation, will continue the work of the task force as a public-private partnership, and will report directly to the COVID-19 Command Center.

The Baker-Polito administration is also releasing up to $502 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund for the state and its municipalities, and highlighted food insecurity initiatives as an eligible use for the funds.

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