March 2, 2023
On March 1 Governor Healey released the first annual budget proposal of her new administration. With a throughline of support for climate change resilience and mitigation, the fiscal year 2024 budget for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs would increase significantly under this proposal.
The proposed budget would support the Food Security Infrastructure Grant (FSIG) program with $25 million, representing the first time the program would be funded in an annual budget. Previous funding for FSIG has come from bonds and federal money. This is a welcome proposal, as demand for the program has far outstripped available resources since it began in 2020.
The governor’s budget proposes $5 million in new funding for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), and notes that it expects that funding to be supplemented with an anticipated $8 million in resources left over from the current year. The Collaborative’s Campaign for HIP Funding feels this is inadequate, and will work with legislators to increase the total funding for the program for FY24 to $24 million. The program has already spent more than $9 million so far this fiscal year, and adequate funding to ensure there are no disruptions to service is essential.
Environmental justice is cited as a priority throughout the budget, with funding for 28 full-time environmental justice employees across all EEA agencies, including two new EJ staffers in each department to foster internal and external engagement. Funds are also proposed for language outreach and translation services, and an environmental justice training program for internal and external entities.
The budget for MDAR calls for a $600,000 increase for new staff to facilitate farmland acquisition and protection, and $570,000 in new funding for MassGrown and Fresher advertising, agricultural fairs, farmers markets, and agricultural education.
The budget would also slightly increase spending for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP). It does not fund a continuation of universal school meals (USM), but a mention in the budget’s executive summary indicates support for funding of USM through other sources, including a supplemental budget. However, it would not make USM permanent.
The governor’s proposed tax plan also touches on food production issues, proposing a $2 million increase in the Dairy Farmer Tax Credit, and expanding the range of local hard ciders that can qualify for lower tax rates.
The governor’s budget is just the first step in a months-long process to determining spending levels for the next fiscal year. The House will propose and debate a budget in April, followed by the Senate in May. The two chambers and the governor then must reconcile the three proposals into a single budget by July 1. The Collaborative will work with legislators and stakeholders to ensure that food system issues are represented throughout the debate. Please watch our social media and newsletter for opportunities to support these efforts.