As the coronavirus continues to impact jobs and the economy, food insecurity is rising in Massachusetts, and food assistance programs are seeing more people look to the federal government for help feeding their families.
The anti-poverty agency ABCD reports 10,000 families coming to its food pantries since mid-March, compared to 4,000 families seeking help most years.
The ABCD pantries get food from the Greater Boston Food Bank, which distributed nearly 10 million pounds of food in August — the equivalent of over 8 million meals. That's 65 percent more than they distributed in August last year, the food bank reported.
A week after $600 federal unemployment checks disappeared at the end of July, the number of Massachusetts families applying for food stamps — known as SNAP benefits — doubled from the week before.
For families having a hard time feeding children, one lifeline has been the continuation of school meals. When classrooms closed down in March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a waiver to allow school meals to be distributed at community locations outside of schools, like YMCAs and public housing complexes. The USDA also issued other waivers to allow more than one meal to be given at a time, to let parents to pick up food without kids present, to allow meals to be given for free without the usual eligibility requirements, and to enable distribution of meals to children who aren't yet school-aged.
Until this week, it looked like these changes would expire when the school year starts, forcing 400 meal distribution sites around the state to close. But the USDA announced Monday it is allowing these programs to continue until Dec. 31. Groups like the YMCA and Project Bread are pushing for those waivers to be extended through the school year.
The USDA says Congress hasn't authorized enough funding for meals to be provided outside of schools through the entire school year. Both the House and Senate have passed their own relief bills that include billions for child nutrition. But they haven't managed to come to any agreement and pass a law providing that money.
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