Commonwealth Awards Over $5.9 Million to Support Food Security in Massachusetts

Continuing its ongoing efforts to support a resilient, secure local food supply chain in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth announced today $5.9 million in grants to address urgent food insecurity for residents across Massachusetts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including nearly $300,000 in grants to Cape Ann businesses and nonprofits.

This funding is being awarded as part of the fourth round of the new $36 million Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program, created following the recommendations from the COVID-19 Command Center’s Food Security Task Force, which promotes ongoing efforts to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have access to healthy, local food. 

The goal of the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program is to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have equitable access to food, especially local food. The program also seeks to ensure that farmers, fishermen and other local food producers are better connected to a strong, resilient food system to help mitigate future food supply and distribution disruption.

While project applications for the Food Infrastructure Grant Program closed in September, applications submitted before the proposal deadline continue to be evaluated for future rounds of funding.

The fourth round of the grant program includes 47 awards for a total of $5,895,554 to fund critical investments in technology, equipment, capacity, and other assistance to help local food producers, especially in the distribution of food insecure communities. When evaluating the applications, considerations included equity, economic impact and need, sustainability and scalability of efforts, and ability to support producer readiness to accept SNAP and HIP benefits. In the program’s first three rounds, the Commonwealth awarded over $11.7 million to more than 90 recipients.

Included in this round of awards are $200,000 for The Open Door and $95,000 for Russo Fishing Company. The Open Door will develop and implement an online ordering and delivery system, expand storage to increase choice of meals as well as store locally produced food, and expand their Mobile Market program to be able to reach more areas throughout the community. Russo Fishing Company will develop an automatic fish gutting and conveyor system on the deck of the Miss Trish that would significantly reduce the amount of time a catch would be exposed to ambient temperatures on deck before being stored safely below on ice, allowing vessels to catch fish at a higher quality with longer shelf life.

These grants are a great first step toward strengthening our ability to deliver food from the harvesters, our fishermen and farmers for delivery to the consumers. I am particularly pleased that in this round, preference was also given to food pantries which have been so important in ensuring food security for our most vulnerable. I look forward to watching the Commonwealth’s investment and growth in our food supply chain.

Ferrante Outlines House’s 2019-2020 Session Progress

During the ongoing Massachusetts 191st General Court’s 2019-2020 session – which has been extended through action taken by the Legislature – the House of Representatives has passed emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as major legislation relating to education, transportation, and climate change.

Following a decisive vote in July to extend the formal legislative session, the House remains at work on bills vital to the Commonwealth including the state budget and COVID-19 related matters. This action followed the passage of major legislation relating to the COVID-19 State of Emergency that included provisions to extend unemployment benefits, protect public health, and institute landmark provisions for remote voting in the House and mail-in voting for local, state and federal elections held in 2020. The emergency legislation creates opportunities for restaurants to serve alcohol, beer and wine for carry out service.

For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, the House voted on emergency rules to establish procedures to allow members of the House of Representatives to vote remotely during the height of the pandemic. These temporary changes enabled the House to vote on items requiring formal votes (such as a measure facilitating the postponement of the tax deadline) while reinforcing public health and safety.

Amid a difficult fiscal climate, the House also voted to level fund Chapter 90 at $200 million for key repairs for the maintenance and upkeep of municipal roads and bridges in Massachusetts. As part of a sweeping economic development bill which I helped to author, the House passed legislation to legalize sports betting, provide supports to small businesses and at-risk populations, increase funding for economic empowerment in Black and Brown communities, and make investments and zoning changes to promote more affordable housing. In recognition of the House’s commitment to a safe, accessible, and reliable transportation system, the House also approved an $18 billion investment in the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure.

In keeping with the House’s ongoing commitment to protecting public health and safety, the House passed health care legislation to facilitate the use of telemedicine as well as strengthen community hospitals. The House also passed legislation aimed at eliminating racial inequities in maternal health that have resulted in women of color dying of pregnancy-related causes at more than double the rate of white women. Under a policing reform bill, the House voted to establish a certification process for police, creating an independent and empowered oversight board, and codifying restrictions on use of force measures. The House also voted to protect public sector employee rights and to approve campaign finance reform.  

In building on the House’s history of leadership in climate change policy, the House passed legislation setting a statewide 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions limit, establishing environmental justice population criteria, increasing statewide renewable energy requirements, and bolstering green programs for underserved populations.

In keeping with the House’s commitment to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and at-risk children and families, in May, the House announced the formation of its Early Education and Care (EEC) Recovery Advisory Group, which I co-chair alongside House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Alice Peisch. The group is tasked with helping address the challenges facing childcare in this new and changing landscape, and established the EEC Public-Private Trust Fund, creating an infrastructure to foster public-private and philanthropic efforts for childcare providers, including providing $500,000 for technical and small business support during the recovery process. In July, in response to growing concerns about the significant drop in reports of child abuse and neglect during the COVID-19 crisis, the House also passed legislation to strengthen oversight policies and operations at the Department of Children and Families.

At the start of this session, in 2019, the House passed several pieces of landmark legislation including an historic $1.5 billion statewide investment in public schools – known as the Student Opportunity Act

The House also passed nation-leading legislation to modernize tobacco control and ban all flavored tobacco as well as legislation to reduce distracted driving. In addition, the House passed legislation to protect college students by ensuring higher education financial stability and oversight. The House also banned conversion therapy for minors, ensured no student in-need would go hungry by requiring breakfast after the school bell, and provided supplemental funding for women’s reproductive health organizations as a result of federal cuts to the Title X program, which was included as part of a supplemental state budget.

Helping to protect the most vulnerable children and families in the Commonwealth prior to the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the House voted to lift a decades-old family welfare cap to extend cash benefits to the 8,700 Massachusetts children and their families who had previously been excluded. The House also passed legislation creating a care registry to protect persons with intellectual or developmental disability from abuse. To address the complex health and wellness needs of the Commonwealth’s 1.4 million children, the House led efforts this session passing comprehensive legislation to ensure increased access to services and a more holistic approach to children’s health and wellness supports.

The House acted to address climate resiliency by advancing a $1 billion investment – known as GreenWorks – over the next 10 years to help communities across Massachusetts adopt technologies that cut greenhouse gas emissions, fortify infrastructure, and reduce municipal costs.

The House passed following legislation over the General Court’s two-year session between January 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020. Due to the public health emergency, the House and Senate have extended the legislative session through December 31, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

  • An Act to Facilitate the Delay of the Income Tax Filing Deadline (H.4677)
  • An Act Providing Additional Support to Those Affected by the Novel Coronavirus Through the Unemployment Insurance System (H.4648)
  • An Act Addressing COVID-19 Data Collection and Disparities in Treatment (H.4672)
  • An Act Relative to Voting Options in Response to COVID-19 (H.4820)
  • An Act Making $15 million in Appropriations for the Fiscal Year 2020 to Provide for Supplementing Certain Existing Appropriations Relating to the Coronavirus (H.4561)
  • An Act to Further Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities, School Districts and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4616)
  • An Act to Address Challenges Faced by Municipalities and State Authorities Resulting from COVID-19 (H.4598)
  • An Act Granting Authority to Postpone 2020 Municipal Elections in the Commonwealth and Increase Voting Options in Response to the Declaration of Emergency to Respond to COVID-19 (S.2608)
  • An Act Authorizing Waiver of the One Week Waiting Period for Unemployment Benefits (S.2599)
  • An Act to Expand Take-Out/Delivery Options in Response to COVID-19 (H.4856)

COVID-19 Legislation Awaiting Final Passage

  • An Act Relative to Long Term Care Facility and Elder Housing COVID-19 Reporting (H.4667)
  • An Act Addressing Challenges Faced by Food and Beverage Establishments Resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic (H.4774)

Other Enacted Laws

  • An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth (H.4932)
  • An Act Relative to Collective Bargaining Dues (H.3854)
  • An Act to Mitigate Arbovirus in the Commonwealth (H.4851)
  • An Act Regarding Breakfast After the Bell (H.4218)
  • An Act Relative to Educational Opportunity for Students (S.2412)
  • An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids (H.3594)
  • An Act to Support Improved Financial Stability in Higher Education (H.4099)
  • An Act Requiring the Hands-Free Use of Mobile Telephones While Driving (H.4203)
  • An Act Modernizing Tobacco Control (H.4196)
  • An Act Relative to Abusive Practices to Change Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Minors (H.140)
  • An Act Relative to Children’s Health and Wellness (H.4210)
  • An Act Relative to Campaign Finance (H.4223)
  • An Act Relative to Strengthening the Local and Regional Public Health System (H.4503)
  • An Act to Protect Persons with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities from Abuse (S.2367)

Other Legislation Awaiting Final Passage

  • An Act to Reduce Racial Inequities in Maternal Health (H.4818)
  • An Act to Reform Police Standards and Shift Resources to Build a More Equitable, Fair and Just Commonwealth that Values Black Lives and Communities of Color (H.4886)
  • An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth (H.4887)
  • An Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment (H.4547)
  • An Act Financing Improvements to Municipal Roads and Bridges (H.4803)
  • An Act Creating a 2050 Roadmap to a Clean and Thriving Commonwealth (H.4933)
  • An Act Relative to Transportation Finance (H.4530)
  • An Act Relative to the Host Community Agreements (H.4367)
  • An Act Relative to GreenWorks (H.3997)

DMF to Distribute $28 Million in Relief for Fishing and Seafood Industries

The Commonwealth’s Division of Marine Fisheries is distrubuting $27.8 million in federal disaster relief funding to mitigate the financial impacts to the fishing and seafood industries from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) worked with fishing industry stakeholders and legislators to develop a plan to distribute the federal fisheries assistance, which has now been approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In March, the CARES Act was signed into law providing $300 million of aid for the seafood industry with $27.8 million coming to Massachusetts, the third highest of all coastal states. The funds were allocated among the states based on the relative contributions to the economy of four distinct sectors: commercial fishing, marine aquaculture, seafood processing, and for-hire (party and charter boats) fishing businesses. 

Eligible recipients include tribes, commercial fishing businesses, charter/for-hire fishing businesses, aquaculture businesses, and seafood wholesalers and processors whose residence is in Massachusetts who have suffered at least a 35% loss of revenue due to the ongoing pandemic. 

Each state was required to submit a spending plan for the disbursement of its allocated funds following certain federal guidelines. DMF worked with an industry‐based advisory panel, including coastal legislators, on the development and administration of the spending plan, with members from the various affected industry fishing sectors.

The resulting spending plan has allocated funds to each of the four industry sectors, proportional to the scale of each sector:

  • Seafood Processors – $13.8 million
  • Commercial Fishermen – $11.8 million
  • Aquaculturists – $1.2 million
  • For-Hire Boats – $1 million

Applications will be mailed over the next month to all potentially eligible fishery participants to the address on their DMF-issued permit. Applications will include instructions to fill out the required information, due dates, and documentation needed for appeals, if necessary. More information on the CARES Act funding and how to apply can be found on DMF’s website.

MassGrown Exchange Platform Launched

I am pleased to announce that today the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), in collaboration with the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), has launched the MassGrown Exchange online platform to link food system channels and help facilitate business-to-business connections within the local food system for products and services.

When COVID-19 hit in earnest in March of this year, I was deeply concerned about a market and supply chain collapse for fish, seafood, and shellfish. Realizing that shuttered restaurants would be demanding less food from our fishermen, coupled with grocery stores stocking less fish, seafood, and shellfish due to a downturn in the economy, I had reached out to Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, to ask if the state could create an “interface” to match fishermen to consumers.

At the same time, my colleagues in the western part of Massachusetts joined the discussion to ask for something similar for local farmers. Finding ourselves in a predicament familiar to both our districts, Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and I teamed up with Hannah Kane (R-Shrewsbury), Senator Jo Comerford (D-Northampton), and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito to brainstorm about how to meet this challenge for fishermen and farmers. 

After months of meetings, I am proud that in a bipartisan, bicameral, legislative and executive branch effort, we were able to work together to make state government work for harvesters of the sea and the land.

The platform was created to support the Massachusetts food system, which has been severely impacted by COVID-19. It will connect Commonwealth agriculture and seafood businesses, such as farms and fisheries, with buyers, including grocery stores, restaurants, and food banks.

Who is the platform for?

The platform is open to businesses looking to sell and purchase Massachusetts products and services, including:

  • Farmers, fishers, specialty food producers with wholesale products to sell to restaurants, grocery stores, and other outlets.
  • Buyers (including supermarkets, institutions, schools, food banks, restaurants, and retail outlets) looking for local food products.
  • Farmers, fishers, specialty food producers searching for equipment or services, such as storage and distribution.
  • Service and equipment providers working with businesses in the food system.

What are the key features?

The MassGrown Exchange assists farmers, fishers, food buyers, and agricultural related businesses to connect, exchange, and find products and services. Key features include:

  • Simple registration process: Buyers and suppliers are only required to register when adding a listing. Registration is not required to browse listings. 
  • Businesses can act as buyer and supplier: a business can act as a buyer and a supplier depending on whether they are looking for or looking to provide a product or service.
  • User notifications: This feature eliminates the need for businesses to re-visit the site to check for new listings. If a business creates a listing or alert, the system automatically notifies a business when the product/service becomes available. 
  • Automatic listing expiration: Listings expire after an end date specified by the user. A notification is sent with the option to remove or extend the listing.

Visit https://massnrc.org/farmexchange to access the platform and learn more.

Food Security Infrastructure Grants Available

Applications for the Commonwealth’s Food Security Infrastructure Grants are now being accepted on a rolling basis through September 15, 2020.

The goal of the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program is to ensure that individuals and families throughout the Commonwealth have access to food, with a special focus on food that is produced locally and provides equitable access to food. The Program will award up to $36 million to ensure that farmers, fisheries, and other local food producers are better connected to a strong, resilient food system to help mitigate future food supply and distribution disruption.

Eligible applicants include, but are not limited to: agricultural operations, fisheries, food banks and pantries, municipalities and school districts, processing and distribution organizations, non-profits, and farmers’ markets.

Examples of Eligible Projects:

  • Food storage, processing, and delivery equipment
  • Equipment that supports community gardens & urban agriculture
  • Mobile markets
  • Equipment for remote ordering and payment
  • Information technology needs
  • Equipment to support the extension of the growing season
  • Vehicles, including refrigerated trucks for distribution of food products and meals
  • Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) enabled SNAP processing devices
  • Other infrastructure upgrades

Participants selected to participate in the Program will be provided with reimbursement grants up to $500,000. Please see the Request for Responses for full program details, eligibility, and a full list of eligible projects.

Visit the Food Security Infrastructure Grant Program website for more information and to apply online. For technical assistance or additional questions about the grant, please email: foodsecurity.grant@mass.gov.