Pending food system legislation

PDF files:

2018 Food System Legislative Priorities

MFSC testimony on 2018 Environmental Bond

2019 Policy Issues

The Massachusetts legislature is considering many bills in the 2017-18 session that relate to the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. This list includes bills that most closely align with goals and recommendations from the Plan, with short summaries, links to the full bill text, and links to the actions or recommendations from the Plan that are most closely related to the legislation. We encourage committees to consider these bills and priorities, and look forward to working with legislators to further shape these and other bills that move the Commonwealth toward a more sustainable and equitable food system.

Two bills under consideration are the direct result of initiatives undertaken by the Collaborative and allied groups to address key priorities from the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan:

H.2465: An Act relative to Agricultural Commission input on board of health regulations, Rep. Stephen Kulik
Many municipal boards of health have no expertise around farming, but are tasked with making decisions that can impact the viability of local farms. This bill will require that municipal boards of health give local agricultural commissions an opportunity to weigh in on new or changing regulations related to agriculture, so that farmers’ perspectives and needs can be taken into account.

Farming 2.3.1: Develop a system of checks and balances to support appropriate engagement of municipal boards of health and conservation commissions in agricultural issues and reduce unwarranted or unjustified regulations.

H.2131: An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program, Rep. Paul Mark
The Healthy Incentives Program doubles SNAP recipients’ purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers, improving health outcomes for vulnerable communities and increasing sales for local farms. This bill will establish the framework for the program's long-term sustainability.

Food Access, Security and Health 3.1.1: Leverage and maximize the FINI grant award to increase use of SNAP and complementary benefit programs at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and for community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Identify, support, and implement methods to sustain FINI-related healthy food purchasing incentive initiatives.

The Collaborative also supports the following budget priorities:

Urgent item for a supplemental budget amendment in April 2018:

  • $1.5 million for the Healthy Incentives Program, which doubles SNAP recipients’ purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers, to avoid suspension of the program, currently scheduled for April 15. (4400-1001)

Budget items for Fiscal Year 2019:

  • The Healthy Incentives Program, which doubles SNAP recipients’ purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers: $6,200,000. (4400-1001, H2 request is $1,350,000.)
  • The state’s buy local organizations, and their work to increase consumer awareness and sales of local agricultural products: $500,000. (2511-0100, H2 request is $300,000)
  • Mass Farm to School, which assists public schools, universities and state agencies in sourcing and expanding offerings of healthy, Massachusetts-grown and -caught foods: $120,000. (2511-0100, H2 request is $120,000)
  • The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which provides needed food for vulnerable communities via Food Banks: an increase from 2017 levels, with 10% allocated to the MassGrown program which purchases eggs, dairy, fruits, and vegetables from Massachusetts farms. (2511-0105, H2 request is $17,673,831.)
  • The Massachusetts Food Trust, to distribute loans and grants to projects that improve access to healthy food and jobs in low and moderate income communities: $100,000 for program administration. (2511-0100)
  • Funding for community partners to conduct technical assistance and education for the Healthy Incentives Program: $275,000. (2511-0100)
  • In the upcoming environmental capital bond, support proposed funding of farmland protection (2000-7075); farm viability and infrastructure investments (2500-7021); and the continuation of prior authorizations for farmland protection and farm viability and infrastructure investments (2500-7011, 2500-7012, 2500-7013, 2500-7014, 2500-7023, & 2500-7024).

Additional bills the Collaborative supports include:

S.838/H.3327: An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need, Sen. Eileen Donoghue/Rep. Hannah Kane
Would provide civil liability protection for persons who donate food directly to consumers, as well as for food establishments that donate food whose labeled date has passed and a tax credit to Massachusetts farmers in the amount of the fair market value of the donated food, with a $2,000 annual cap per farmer.

Farming 3.1.6: Implement a tax credit for farmers who donate their surplus crops.

H.3915: An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms, Rep. Kate Hogan
Would lower the state estate tax on farms, by allowing farmland and forestland to be taxed at the same rate as it is for property tax purposes. Because of high land values, farm families can face steep estate taxes, reducing the viability of the farm for the next generation.

Land 3.9.1: Enact legislation to modify state estate tax to allow farmland to be valued according to its current use.

H.3908: An Act relative to the Dairy Farm Tax Credit, Rep. Stephen Kulik
Would increase the limit of the existing credit to $8 million from $4 million per year, to help offset the gap between the price of milk production for Massachusetts farmers, and the purchase price set by federal pricing programs.

Farming 3.1.7: Maintain the Massachusetts Dairy Farmer Tax Credit. 

H.3854: An Act to promote urban agriculture and horticulture, Sen. Linda Forry/Rep. Elizabeth Malia
Would allow cities with populations over 50,000 to adopt an optional property tax break for land used for urban agriculture, to help overcome the high price of urban land and promote the health, economic, and environmental benefits of growing food in cities.

Land 3.18.1: Support state and municipal tax incentives to encourage short- and long- term use of urban land and buildings for food production, such as for the installation of green roofs that include food production and the transformation of vacant lots into community gardens.

H.3549:  An Act relative to healthy eating in school cafeterias, Rep. Jennifer Benson
Would establish pilot programs to support schools in upgrading their kitchens to do more scratch cooking, provide mini-grants for farm-to-school programming, and set parameters for a Farm to School Interagency Task Force.

Food Access, Security and Health 4.2.2: Expand existing, and support new, farm-to-school programming to increase the amount of healthy and locally produced foods purchased and served by pre- and K-12 schools, childcare, and after-school facilities. Incentivize expansion and creation of farm-to-school programs with public and private funds to support school districts. 

S.242/H.327: An Act regarding breakfast in the classroom, Rep. Aaron Vega/Sen. Sal DiDomenico
Would require that all schools where 60% or more of the students qualify for free and reduced meals serve breakfast after the bell, in the classroom.

Food Access, Security and Health 4.3.3: Support more schools and school districts in implementing programming that serves breakfast in the classroom. Support increased awareness of Massachusetts DESE guidance to school districts that breakfast is counted as “time on learning.”

H.101/S.612: An Act improving public health through a common application for core food, health and safety-net programs, Rep. Jay Livingstone/ Sen. Sal DiDomenico
Would create a common application for Mass Health and SNAP benefits (as well as other DTA administered benefits), improving efficiency and increasing food security for over 570,000 people who are on MassHealth and qualify for SNAP.

Food Access, Security and Health 2.2.2: Explore use of a common application portal for other federal and state benefit programs including the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Income Eligible Child Care; housing assistance benefits; and Cash Assistance benefits to ensure families seeking these benefits are offered simultaneous applications for SNAP and health care programs. Encourage inter-agency referrals under existing programs as an interim measure until a new and improved system is in place.

H.3856: An Act relative to expanding agricultural land, Rep. Arciero, James
Would allow some non-contiguous agricultural lands under the same farm ownership be aggregated to benefit from Chapter 61A tax valuation.

Land 3.11.1: Enact legislation to expand Chapter 61A eligibility to parcels smaller than 5 acres. Consider requiring an increase in the value of production threshold on smaller parcels to ensure that those parcels are being actively used for commercial agriculture.

H2365/S1004: An Act to improve the Commonwealth’s economy with a strong minimum wage and a strong tipped minimum wage, Rep. Daniel Donahue/Sen. Kenneth Donnelly
Would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2021. Approximately 29 percent of the state’s workforce, or 947,000 workers earn less than this now.

Food Access, Security and Health 1.2.1: Support the adoption of a living wage standard for Massachusetts workers, with exceptions for time-limited youth training on production farms and associated retail operations.

H4438: An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity
This bill provides bond funding authorization for many critical agricultural programs. See the Collaborative's testimony here.