How the Center for Environmental Peacebuilding is Building Local Resilience in Response to COVID-19
“It’s not just about access to food; it’s about access to hope” -Jeremy Huffman and Adam Ingrao: veterans, farmers, and SNAP beneficiaries and advocates.
Empty shelves at the grocery store. Cold, hour long waits in lines to be let in. Shrinking grocery budgets putting new strains on hundreds of thousands of people and families. For many, this is the new reality of what used to be a mundane task. In Massachusetts, over 722,171 unemployment claims have been filed over the past 6 weeks. Food insecurity in the state has already increased fourfold, from 9.3% pre-COVID to 38% and rising since the end of March. Families are struggling to put food on the table, and local resources such as food pantries are struggling to meet demand.
Federal feeding programs must become more accessible to meet rising pressures, and policymakers need urgent support to help their communities.
That’s why CEPB is working with the City of Cambridge to develop policy solutions addressing local food insecurity in the wake of COVID. Jessie McIsaac, a research fellow at CEPB, completed a policy recommendation urging the City of Cambridge to promote SNAP on a city-wide level, which is currently being reviewed. There have been a number of changes to the federal nutrition assistance program including no wait time to file an application, everyone eligible will receive the maximum household benefit, and all applications will be treated as urgent. Compiling these changes to the program along with SNAP information such as available benefits, application assistance, the new Pandemic EBT program, and a list of available resources such as food pantries, delivery programs, and free meals into a single cohesive document will provide critical information to families and people in need. The policy recommendation urges this information to be sent out in a municipal mailer to every resident in Cambridge, targeting areas of critical unemployment, with extra copies provided to food distribution centers.
Not only is increasing the spread of SNAP the most direct way to put resources in the hands of residents, it also is the fastest way to boost economic growth.
With more money in the hands of people who need it the most, that results in more money being spent immediately in the local community. The Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective options for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy: researchers have found that every $1 that is spent from SNAP results in $1.73 of economic activity. Increasing SNAP supports local business and drives growth when we need it most. Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program encourages the use of SNAP at local farms and farmers markets, directly supporting local farms who have also struggled with lost revenue.
We did the math.
There are currently 5,607 households in Cambridge on SNAP. If the rate of Cambridge food insecurity follows the 4x increase seen overall in the State, up to an extra 16,800 households will join the program. Because the ~$500 maximum household benefit is now offered to every SNAP household, this would result in $8.4 million of federal funding, directly into the hands of Cambridge residents who need it the most, fueling economic growth and supporting struggling local businesses.
SNAP is a critical resource, not only for fighting food insecurity and building community resilience, but also for supporting local business and fueling economic growth.
If you have lost your job or work hours because of COVID-19, you can apply for SNAP at any time. Call Project Bread’s Hotline for SNAP application assistance at 1-800-645-8333. Monday-Friday: 8am-7pm. Saturday: 10am-2pm.