Andrew Morehouse: Baker balances budget on backs of vulnerable

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HATFIELD — Like many people throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts, we were distressed to hear Gov. Charlie Baker's announcement on Dec. 6 of $98 million in 9C budget cuts to address his administration's perceived gap between projected revenue and authorized spending.

Included in these cuts is $665,000 to the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which ensures that neighbors in need have access to nutritious food. These dollars allow the four food banks in Massachusetts to purchase healthy staples, including fresh vegetables, dairy and protein-dense food - much of it locally sourced.

200,000 neighbors

During the last year, MEFAP-funded food accounted for one-fourth of the 10 million pounds of food The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts distributed throughout Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties. It allowed us to purchase half a million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables from approximately 28 local farmers in the Pioneer Valley.

We work with 200 local feeding programs (including food pantries, meal sites and shelters) to provide this healthy food to more than 214,000 of our neighbors in need annually. We also distribute much of this food through our own direct-to-client feeding programs, including our Mobile Food Bank, and our Brown Bag: Food for Elders program.

We vehemently disagree with Gov. Baker's decision to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. The $665,000 cut to MEFAP funding will strip nearly two million meals from the emergency food network throughout the commonwealth. It will directly impact working families that are struggling to make ends meet, children striving to succeed at school despite their empty stomachs, seniors forced to choose between paying for heat or food, and veterans who bravely served our country and now find themselves in need of assistance.

Lend your voice

We know that we are not alone in taking this stand against the recent budget cuts. Many of our elected officials have already taken action to defend MEFAP. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg have already stated their intentions of introducing a supplemental budget bill, which would reinstate funding for this and other critical programs.

The Food Bank stands alongside our legislators, community leaders and private citizens to demand reinstatement of these vital MEFAP funds. By lending your voice, you can bring positive change. We urge you to contact your elected officials, including Gov. Baker, to voice your concerns about his decision and to ask them to support the reinstatement of these critical funds. Together, we can create a western Massachusetts where everyone has access to healthy food, regardless of their circumstances.

Andrew Morehouse is the executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

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