Food insecurity ballooned in 2023

State House News Service

Between 2021 and 2023, the number of Massachusetts residents living in food-insecure households increased by close to 50%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A Hunger Free America analysis of USDA data shows that 363,433 Bay Staters were without enough to eat between September and October 2021, compared to 535,920 between the same months in 2023 — a 47.5% increase.

Across Massachusetts, 9.1% of residents lived in food-insecure households between 2020 and 2022, compared to 11.9% nationwide, the report says.

The study, which focuses on hunger trends across the country, concluded that food insecurity is on the rise due to the expiration of federal benefits that were subsidizing nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many federal benefit increases have either gone away entirely, or are being ramped down, even as prices for food, rent, health care, and fuel continue to soar,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America. “Our report demonstrates child and adult hunger are serious problems in ru-



ral, urban, and suburban areas of all 50 states. This report should be a jarring wake-up call for federal, state, and local leaders.”

Between March 2020 and March 2023, Massachusetts residents received additional federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars to help combat the economic impacts of the pandemic. These extra payments were authorized by the first big federal pandemic package, at the time providing extra funds to about 60% of Massachusetts families, Victoria Negus of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute said this spring.

In 2021, the Biden administration updated the policy guaranteeing all SNAP households at least $95 in extra funds. On average, the SNAP emergency allotment added an additional $151 to a household’s normal monthly benefit of $335 in Massachusetts, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance.

Around 630,000 households in Massachusetts received these extra benefits, which accounted for approximately $90 million in federal nutrition dollars flowing into the state each month, Negus said.

But a year-end package approved by Congress last December disconnected the extra SNAP benefits from the end of the federal public health emergency, meaning the federal payments came to an end in March this year.

Massachusetts lawmakers temporarily extended these nutrition payments with $130 million in state dollars to create an “off-ramp” for families who had to adjust how they paid for food, but those funds lasted only three months.

Lawmakers and Gov. Maura Healey did, however, move to permanently expand one pandemic-era nutrition benefit: free universal school meals.

Written into the fiscal year 2024 budget was $172 million to continue the universal school meals program, making Massachusetts the eighth state in the country to make the free meals programs permanent after the policy began in the pandemic with federal money.

Supporters who helped push it over the finish line in both the House and Senate claimed the program would dramatically decrease childhood hunger, with two meals provided by the state for every child during school days.

Between 2020 and 2022, 11.6% of Massachusetts children were living in food insecurity, according to the report, compared to the national average rate of 15.8%.

Massachusetts joined Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont and Michigan in making school breakfasts and lunches permanently free to all students starting this academic year. California and Maine had already implemented this policy. In California, 15.3% of children were reported as living in food-insecure households between 2020 and 2022, and 13.7% of children in Maine were.

The states with the highest rates of food insecure children were Delaware (21.4%), Nebraska (21%), Texas (20.7%), Georgia (20%), Kentucky (19.7%), and Louisiana (19.7%).

“Effective federal public policies over the previous few years were spectacularly successful in stemming U.S. hunger, but as many of those policies have been reversed, hunger has again soared. At exactly the moment when so many Americans are in desperate need of relief, many of the federally funded benefits increases, such as the Child Tax Credit and universal school meals, have expired, due mostly to opposition from conservatives in Congress,” Berg said of the nationwide hunger trends.

The states with the lowest rates of food insecurity overall were New Hampshire (6.1%), Minnesota (7.3%), Vermont (7.7%), Colorado (8.4%), and North Dakota (8.6%).