State Legislature’s Food Caucus gearing up for push to fight hunger

By SAM DORAN

State House News Service

Published: 01-26-2023 6:20 PM

The Legislature’s Food System Caucus is getting ready to “fight like hell” for its priorities, Co-Chair Sen. Jo Comerford said Wednesday, and another caucus leader said money to combat hunger can be realized by the savings it will create elsewhere in the state budget.

Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Hannah Kane were among the panelists at a State House News Service/MASSterList forum looking at how to solve hunger in Massachusetts, coming on the heels of a White House conference last year that looked to end hunger in the U.S. by 2030.

Besides the “humanitarian reason” for tackling hunger, Kane said, addressing the issue would positively impact the health care system — and the government’s bottom line as a payer — because solving hunger “tackles a huge portion of diet-related disease.”

The Shrewsbury Republican said that although “people will think it’s gauche” to talk about the issue in fiscal terms, the funding to combat hunger can be found in the savings that can be realized.

“We need to help people understand that. This isn’t just something that’s nice to do, and will make us feel good about ourselves if we do it. It’s necessary to do, and it’s a way to alleviate a lot of the stress in our health care system,” she explained.

Comerford said the Food System Caucus is going to “drill down on a really good list” of hunger-related bills now that the Legislature’s filing deadline has passed.

“And that’s everything from food waste — how do we reduce food waste and get that good food to tables — all the way toward other kind of infrastructure programs that are going to help our farmers,” Comerford said.

It’s a new chapter for the issue of hunger. Another panelist, Greater Boston Food Bank CEO Catherine D’Amato, highlighted changes both positive and negative following the outbreak of COVID-19 nearly three years ago.

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At the food bank, she sees organizations getting involved that “never touched food before COVID.” And food distribution evolved out of necessity because of the pandemic, with increasing use of to-go or door-to-door delivery methods.

On the other hand, the supply chain is still a problem, D’Amato said, because of a shortage of commercial truck drivers to transport food.

“A tractor-trailer will show up at the Greater Boston Food Bank today,” she said. “It was scheduled to be here Dec. 10.”

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