Senator Timilty Hosts Legislative Briefing on Food Insecurity
(BOSTON) State Senator Walter F. Timilty cohosted a Legislative Briefing on “Food Insecurity: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic” recently, with the Greater Boston Food Bank, in an effort address hunger throughout the Commonwealth.
“The pandemic has fueled a hunger crisis, unlike any other in our lifetime,” said Timilty. “Norfolk County’s childhood food insecurity rose by 163% from 2018 to 2020. That figure is staggering. Behind that staggering figure is a lot of pain and a lot of hardship.”
During the briefing, Timilty highlighted two bills he has filed to combat hunger.
Senate Bill 145, An Act establishing a commission to study childhood hunger in Norfolk County as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, would establish a Commission to study what led to the large increase in childhood hunger in Norfolk County during the pandemic. By establishing a Commission to specifically examine Norfolk County, the county can serve as a case study and draw conclusions as it relates to the growth of food insecurity throughout the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 146, An Act relative to establishing an emergency food assistance committee, would establish a permanent emergency food assistance committee under the Department of Agriculture. While an Emergency Food Assistance Program has existed since 1995, the language in Timilty’s bill codifies a committee, lists required members of the committee, and establishes annual reporting requirements.
“It is our responsibility in the Legislature to understand the root causes of this large increase in hunger and to adopt informed legislation ensuring that this never happens again,” Timilty said. “The goal of this legislation is to ensure that all partners in the Commonwealth, including the state and private non-profit groups, are working together to combat hunger. It is a further goal of this legislation that we are evaluating and improving upon resources.”
Catherine Lynn, Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs, and Molly Kepner, Senior Government Relations Coordinator, both from The Greater Boston Food Bank, discussed the food bank’s experience as a member of the COVID-19 Command Center Food Security Task Force. The task force has since disbanded.
“In the beginning of COVID-19, back in early March 2020, the Greater Boston Food Bank was on the phone with many of our state agencies making sure the food pantries were deemed essential providers so they could stay open during the lock down. Many people often forget that we work with closely with the Department of Transitional Assistance, Department of Public Health, Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, and so many others. Food touches so many different programs and state agencies. The Commonwealth was really trying to figure out what to do and they pulled together the task force,” Lynn said. “Senator Timilty’s bill is looking to continue that collaboration on a permanent basis and address food security in an ongoing basis,” stated Lynn.
However, even with an infrastructure in place to deliver much-needed food, there are still barriers. Two such factors are the misconceptions on eligibility for assistance and the perception of social stigma.
“There need to be more unified communication to the public. Food pantries should have the least barrier for access to food and we must remove the stigma associated with assistance,” said Lynn.
The statistics during the pandemic show that more residents than ever have been impacted by food insecurity.
“We must enact a comprehensive plan, with better access to and awareness of food resources here in the Commonwealth,” said Timilty. “As we are all, painfully, aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity because of increased unemployment and financial hardship. According to a May 2021 Greater Boston Food Bank report, food insecurity in Massachusetts rose by 55% during the pandemic.”
The briefing also included Lauren Bartell, Executive Director of Healthy Living from Old Colony YMCA, and Beth Collins, Manager of In-House programs from My Brother’s Keeper Food Pantry.
“The legislation filed by Senator Timilty is a win for all of us and most importantly, for the people we serve, and the Greater Boston Food Bank has been there to offer us support,” said Bartell.
To watch the Legislative Briefing on “Food Insecurity: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” click here: www.tinyurl.com/bj75wayz.