Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday rolled out a new program to combat food insecurity as he stressed the importance of ongoing efforts to help financially strapped families keep food on their tables during the coronavirus pandemic.
The $36 million Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program is now accepting applications through Sept. 15, the governor said as he toured the Greater Boston Food Bank. The program — part of a $56 million plan announced last month to help combat food insecurity — is designed to keep fresh, local food flowing by bolstering food delivery, food banks and distribution services.
“This public health emergency has heightened the concerns and the needs of many of our vulnerable families and communities,” Baker said. “We recognize that this crisis has made things more difficult for families that were food insecure and has obviously increased the need.”
Food insecurity has surged by 53%, according to Feeding America. Massachusetts is now the “second highest state in the nation for increased risk of food insecurity among children” — meaning one in seven residents and one in five children will experience food insecurity, Greater Boston Food Bank President Catherine D’Amato said.
There’s also been a 50% increase in community need, with a nearly 400% increase in SNAP applications statewide. Facing record food prices and supply chain disruption, the Greater Boston Food Bank has gone from spending $60,000 a month on food up to $3 million, D’Amato said.
“Those are extraordinary numbers. Those are deeply painful numbers,” D’Amato said. “Those are numbers that will require us to stay focused.”
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito also announced a $5 million Shared Streets and Spaces Emergency Grant Program to help municipalities turn sidewalks, on-street parking spaces and parking lots into expansions for restaurants and businesses to give them space so “people can get out safely and enjoy the offerings at their local establishments.”
Baker said public health data continues to trend in the right direction during the first week of the second phase of reopening. While some states have seen infections rise, Baker said Massachusetts’ “careful and cautious and phased approach to reopening was to be sure that we would be able to deal with hot spots” and that additional openings “are going to be a function of a continued review of the data.”