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Baker, Polito say state working to fight food insecurity; families struggling

Volunteer Abigail Driscol carted cabbage for distribution at the South Shore YMCA Germantown Neighborhood Center Food Pantry in Quincy on May 29.
Volunteer Abigail Driscol carted cabbage for distribution at the South Shore YMCA Germantown Neighborhood Center Food Pantry in Quincy on May 29.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito on Thursday laid out steps the state is taking to battle food insecurity and support small businesses as Massachusetts continues to gradually reopen its economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Briefing reporters following a tour of the Greater Boston Food Bank, Baker said applications were opening Thursday for the state’s $36 million food security infrastructure grant program.

The program, announced last month, is designed to ensure individuals and families can access food. Eligible applicants include entities that are part of the “Massachusetts local food system including production, processing and distribution, the emergency food distribution network, Buy Local, community and food organizations, school meal programming (including summer meal sponsors), urban farms and community gardens, non-profits, and organizations that provide business planning, technical assistance and information technology services,” the Baker administration said Thursday in a statement.

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Mass. fighting food insecurity amid COVID-19
Governor Charlie Baker laid out steps the state is taking to battle food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff, Video: Handout)

“We recognize that this crisis has made things more difficult for families that were food insecure," Baker said. “... Ensuring that families have the food that they need will always be one of the crucial priorities” during the continued recovery.

Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, said food insecurity is becoming more dire in Massachusetts.

She said the longstanding problem has been “exacerbated" by the pandemic, and that Massachusetts is now “the second highest state in the nation for increased risk of food insecurity among children. This now puts us at one in seven people will experience food insecurity, and one in five is a child. That is what we are facing now. ... Those are deeply painful numbers. Those are numbers that will require us to stay focused.”

In its statement, the Baker administration also announced a separate initiative related to food insecurity. The initiative is a drive to “strategically onboard new agricultural vendors for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which will allow the Administration to leverage federal SNAP funding and $5 million in new state funding for the program,” the statement said.

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Polito also briefed reporters and announced that additional grants will soon be available to support cities and towns trying to build up curbside retail and outdoor dining at restaurants. The grants, as low as $5,000 and as high as $300,000, will support projects including sidewalk expansion and improvement, as well as re-purposing streets and parking lots, she said.

Baker was also asked during the briefing about his proposal to create a statewide certification system for police. The idea of licensing officers has languished for years on Beacon Hill, but has gained new prominence amid intensifying scrutiny of police brutality and tactics following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Baker said Thursday that the proposal grew out of regular conversations he and his team have had with the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus over the past several months.

“We expect and anticipate we’ll file legislation on this shortly,” Baker said. " ... I hope everybody at this point understands that there needs to be more transparency and accountability around law enforcement. And I say that as somebody who is a big believer in and supporter, and I know the lieutenant governor is as well, of the law enforcement community. They do some really important things, and the vast majority of them live up to the oath that they swear."

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However, Baker said, “there needs to be checks and balances in that system.” He said the bill his office plans to file will create “more transparency and accountability, so that the law enforcement officers who are doing the right thing” get support and proper training, “but there’s a very fundamental and explicit process to deal with those who don’t.”

Matt Stout of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.