In Era of Federal Cuts, Senator Lesser Urges More State Funding for Programs to Help Elderly, Needy

“The uncertainty we’re facing at the federal level means Massachusetts needs to step up and protect our families and our farms,” Lesser said

BOSTON — On Wednesday, Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with representatives from the Massachusetts Coalition of Food Banks, hosted an information session where the theme was clear: federal cuts to assistance programs put the burden on state agencies to fill the gap in funding for critical state programs.

“The potential for dramatic cuts to federal agriculture and nutrition assistance programs, including Meals on Wheels, make these assistance programs more important than ever. The uncertainty we’re facing at the federal level means Massachusetts needs to step up and protect our families and our farms,” said Senator Lesser, Chairman of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee.

Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) funding is responsible for a fourth of the food that is distributed by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. A significant number of food recipients are elderly, who also rely on Meals on Wheels, a federal food delivery program that is likely to face extensive cuts in next year’s federal budget.

“MEFAP is more than a line item in the state budget, it’s a lifeline of support for elders, children, veterans and even working families earning minimum wage who are all struggling to keep up with bills and still put nutritious food on their tables every day.  More than 800,000 citizens across the Commonwealth count on MEFAP to avert winding up in a hospital, to be able to learn in school and be productive at their jobs respectively,” said Andrew Morehouse, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The information session was held to discuss MEFAP’s FY2018 budget funding request. MEFAP is requesting $20 million for its 2018 budget, which will provide 22 million meals — an increase of two million meals compared to last year.

MEFAP spends close to $1.5 million each year on fresh vegetables from local farms, making it an important state investment in the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy in addition to essential nutritional assistance for the hungry. Local farms rely on this income and use the investment to grow their businesses and, ultimately, feed more residents.

MEFAP’s budget request is a $3 million increase from last year, which is due to rising food costs and high demand for food assistance. Food prices in Massachusetts are about 10 percent higher than the national average. The extra funds will enable food banks across the state to provide two million more meals than last year.

“This is a win for everyone. This funding supports local farms and local families. Our communities in Western Mass and across the Commonwealth are better off because of this emergency food assistance program,” Senator Lesser said.