HATFIELD >> At The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, we have a vision of a region where no one goes hungry, and everyone has access to healthy food. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of our neighbors who are going to bed hungry despite the fact that we provided the equivalent of 9.2 million meals last year. From young children to vulnerable seniors, the overwhelming reach of food insecurity in our community continues to widen.
A recent White House report revealed that the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is one of the most effective methods of lifting people (especially children) out of poverty. SNAP has a dramatic impact in our region. Last year, SNAP provided vital food assistance to 150,000 people in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties, allowing them to purchase healthy food from local grocery stores, farmers' markets and farm stands. Not only did SNAP feed so many people, but it also injected nearly $20 million of federal nutrition dollars into our local economy.
While SNAP continues to be a critical lifeline for households across our region, we also know that it is not reaching everyone that it can, leaving thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors at risk of hunger. Currently in Massachusetts, there are more than 1.35 million MassHealth recipients who are also potentially eligible to receive SNAP. However, only 785,800 of them actually are receiving SNAP benefits, leaving more than 570,000 people without SNAP benefits — otherwise known as the "SNAP Gap."
We have an opportunity to close the SNAP gap and put more nutritious food on the tables of our neighbors in need so that they can be healthy and productive members of society. Both MassHealth and SNAP are managed by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Currently, each program requires a separate application, despite having the same eligibility requirements and documentation forms.
A single application portal would streamline the process for clients, making it possible to apply for both programs at once. It would also cut down on redundancy and make the administration of both programs more efficient. The federal government has even offered to cover 90 percent of the cost for the necessary IT upgrades to make this portal operational.
This manageable and cost-saving technological advancement would solve hunger for thousands of children, seniors, working families, veterans and disabled individuals across the commonwealth. It would leverage an estimated $841 million in federal SNAP benefits annually that would stimulate the Massachusetts economy, generating an additional $1.5 billion in annual economic activity.
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is urging the legislature to support the Baker administration's efforts to close the SNAP Gap. You can support your community by urging your state legislator to "close the SNAP Gap" (visit malegislature.gov to contact your legislator). By lending your voice, you can bring about positive change and help feed our neighbors in need.
Andrew Morehouse is executive director at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.