After more than two years of planning and development, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) issued its first incentives in April, and has already far surpassed expected participation. In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature and governor, recognizing the importance of the program, made a significant investment in HIP in the State’s FY’18 budget. This statewide program offers a one-for-one match to SNAP recipients when they use their EBT cards to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from participating farms at farmstands, farmers markets, mobile markets, and CSAs.
A new program is improving access to fresh, healthy foods for thousands of families around Massachusetts, and increasing sales for local farmers. The more than 440,000 families in Massachusetts who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are receiving mailings this month to inform them about the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) (www.mass.gov/hip), which seeks to increase food security for SNAP households, support the local agricultural economy, and improve health outcomes for participating families.
Pollinators and their habitats are in danger, and their critical role in our food system requires careful consideration and deliberate action. Honeybees alone are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Without healthy pollinator populations, our food system would struggle to provide enough food, experience decreased diversity of local foods, and face significant economic and employment loss. In Massachusetts, pollinators contribute to major agricultural crops that, if threatened, would negatively impact our local economy. For instance, cranberries are the state’s most valuable agricultural commodity, cultivated on about 13,500 acres and generating $1.43 billion in local economic activity, according to the Massachusetts Cranberry Revitalization Task Force. A threat to the health of pollinators jeopardizes this industry – the healthy food it produces, the income it earns, and the livelihoods of its 6,900 workers. And cranberries are not alone – the sustainability of much of the Commonwealth’s fruit and vegetable crops rely upon the health of our pollinators.
Senator Anne Gobi has introduced an amendment to the FY18 House budget that would provide necessary matching funds for operation of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). We need as many senators as possible to sign on to this amendment by 5:00 this Thursday, May 18.
April 4 is the annual Ag Day at the State House event, when advocacy and trade groups gather in Boston to educate legislators about policy priorities for farmers. The legislature is considering several dozen bills related to the food system this session, from land preservation issues to food waste, and the MA Food System Collaborative has compiled a white paper highlighting priority legislation and budget items. 28 food system organizations signed on to the white paper, representing thousands of farmers and other constituents.
Food Banks originally started to supply food to people who were experiencing emergency situations, such as the loss of a home to fire or natural disaster, or perhaps an unexpected job loss. These were short-term needs that the world of charity could address. What we are seeing now, however, is an on-going need for food pantries and community meal programs. People seeking food assistance are from every walk of life – people with advanced degrees, military veterans, single parents, retired elders, working families, people living with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. For each person who needs to seek food assistance on a regular basis, it feels like one on-going emergency, but often a forgotten one in the public eye. We know that there is no shortage of food in our country, or in the world, but rather too many people cannot access food. For this reason, the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB) believes that food is a fundamental right and that hunger is an issue of social justice.
Members of the MA State Legislature have introduced more than 5,000 bills for the 2017-18 session, many of them related to the Commonwealth’s food system. A number of these bills would take action toward the goals of the MA Local Food Action Plan.