McGovern: Federal govt. should ‘step up’ to address food insecurity

  • McGOVERN

Staff Writer
Published: 7/18/2020 4:55:33 PM

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said he doesn’t want to see things “go back to normal.”

“Normal wasn’t acceptable,” he said. “Normal was when we had 40 million people in this country who were hungry. … We need to do better than normal.”

At a remote Town Hall meeting hosted Thursday by Reps. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, and Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, McGovern called for the federal government to “step up” in its efforts to address the nationwide issue of food insecurity.

Two months ago this week, McGovern said, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, better known as the HEROES Act, in response to COVID-19’s impact on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals and businesses.

“In the previous bills that we passed, it really didn’t address the issue of food insecurity and hunger adequately. … It didn’t do anywhere near enough,” said McGovern, D-Worcester. “In the HEROES Act ... we included things like boosting the maximum SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit by 15 percent, increasing the monthly minimum SNAP benefit from $16 to $30, and placing a hold on all the harmful rules that have been proposed by the executive branch, by the Trump Administration, that …. literally would have thrown millions of people off the benefit.”

As good as the act was, McGovern said, he is still waiting for Sen. Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote in the U.S. Senate.

“For two months to do nothing, while people in this country go hungry, is unconscionable,” he said.

In Western Massachusetts in particular, the issue of hunger and food insecurity is only getting worse, according to Christina Maxwell of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

“Before the pandemic began, in Western Mass., approximately 1 in 10 people was food insecure,” Maxwell said. “By the end of this year, we estimate it’s gong to be 1 in 7 people, including 1 in 4 kids.”

She said the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and 174 member agencies — food pantries, meal sites, brown bag programs — have served an average of 16 percent more people each month since the pandemic began than at the same time last year.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who have never needed to get help for finding food before, so they don’t know where to go, they have no idea who to call to ask, they don’t know how to find these places,” she said. “So we’ve been trying to do a lot of outreach to the general community and let people know, ‘We’re here, we’ve got food and we can help you find resources, too.’”

A number of those resources were represented at the remote meeting on Thursday, including representatives from the Amherst Survival Center, Granby to Go and The Brick House Community Resource Center in Turners Falls.

Erin McAleer, executive director at Project Bread, said she “sleeps well at night” knowing McGovern is down in Washington, D.C., working on behalf of organizations like her Boston-based nonprofit.

“This was a crisis before COVID. … There’s no reason that anybody in America should have been hungry prior to COVID-19,” McAleer said, noting that the crisis has only gotten worse since the pandemic hit.

She said the good news is there are programs out there, including food pantries, food banks, supplemental assistance programs, school meal sites and Meals on Wheels.

Still, she echoed McGovern’s push for the U.S. Senate to take up the HEROES Act.

“Our congressional delegation is strong on this,” she said. “So if you don’t want to call them, call friends in other states and tell them to push for it, because it matters to families in Massachusetts that we increase the SNAP allotment.”

McGovern said he was inspired to hear about the work being done by various organizations across the state.

“For all the great work you all collectively do,” he said, speaking to attendees at the meeting who work or volunteer at food banks, food pantries and other social service providers, “it is not a substitute for the federal government actually stepping up to the plate and funding these programs in a way that will make a real difference.”

He emphasized the importance of remaining focused on addressing the issue of food insecurity.

“People are going hungry,” he said. “We need to make sure people know where they can get relief and we need to be focused on changing our policies.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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