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Food Assistance Programs in Massachusetts

In the state of Massachusetts, low-income residents or residents with dependents can qualify for several different food assistance programs. These programs may offer financial aid, discounted services or support in the form of nutritionally dense foodstuffs. Recipients include residents with incomes below a certain amount, pregnant women and new mothers, individuals with disabilities or chronic conditions, as well as parents with dependent children.

While many of these programs use federal dollars, the programs are administered in the state of Massachusetts by either the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the Department of Public Health or the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Each has a separate location and registration process so applicants may need to apply for multiple programs. Additionally, eligibility requirements vary from one program to the next. Therefore, an applicant who does not qualify for one program may apply and qualify for other programs. The following programs are the more popular food assistance programs accessed by residents of the state.

SNAP in Massachusetts

The Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that provides financial benefits to low-income citizens, temporarily unemployed residents, children and senior citizens. The benefits are intended for the purchasing of food items. After applying, which can be done online, in person or through the mail, qualified recipients receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, also known as an EBT card. This card works much in the same way as a debit card. When shopping, the user need only to swipe the card, and the system deducts the total from his or her monthly allotment. A participant's monthly allocation of benefits varies depending on need.

In the state of Massachusetts, this program is administered by the DTA. The Massachusetts DTA determines eligibility for the SNAP program with a screening and application process, available in several languages in addition to English. As with SNAP programs in other states, food stamps are not accepted at every retailer. Only certain businesses accept EBT cards, and certain items are precluded from purchase with an EBT card.

MEFAP in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP) aims to stop hunger and better the health of low-income families and individuals. It is a state program that partners with and helps fund a private, nonprofit food distribution network that consists of four major food banks in the state. The goal is to not only provide food assistance to recipients, but to provide nutritional and educational support as well. MEFAP strives to distance itself from traditional food bank fare that is high in preservatives and sugar and provide as much fresh produce and nutrient dense food as possible.

The network member food banks are The Greater Boston Food Bank, The Merrimack Valley Food Bank, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and The Worcester County Food Bank. Together, these organizations provide for hundreds of food pantries, meal kitchens and food distribution centers throughout the state of Massachusetts. Each food bank has its unique participation requirements, but some locations require recipients to only to be present at a location to receive assistance.

WIC in Massachusetts

Another federal program, the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC) is administered in the state of Massachusetts by the Department of Public Health. The WIC program offers supplemental foods, nutritional education, health care referrals and more. While financial assistance goes towards the purchasing of healthy foods, educational support comes in the form of free counseling, literature and even a smartphone app that will allow users to scan items to determine if the item is WIC approved and track available benefits.

Eligible recipients include low-income women who are breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding post-partum, or those who are pregnant, as well as infants and children who are five years of age or younger. Applicants to the program can apply over the phone or in person at one of the six WIC centers. There are centers in the western, central, northeast, southeast, cape and Boston areas of Massachusetts. Beneficiaries of Medicaid, SNAP and the TANF programs are automatically qualified for the WIC program.

Once accepted into the program, recipients will receive a WIC card that functions similar to an EBT card. The card is restricted to the purchasing of items that are deemed appropriate for children and mothers.

Massachusetts Senior Nutrition Program

Senior residents of Massachusetts that have lower incomes or are at nutritional risk can apply for one or more of the programs that make up the Senior Nutrition Program. This program is administered by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA). Prospective participants can apply at senior nutrition agencies throughout the state or by phone, in which case a meeting with a representative can be scheduled in the applicant’s home.

There are several congregate meal sites throughout the state of Massachusetts where seniors can receive a heavily discounted or free meal. Trained personnel staff these meal sites to ensure safety and nutritious food. Times and types of meals include, but are not limited to, weekend, breakfast, homeless and therapeutic.

For senior citizens who cannot attend congregate meals, are unable to prepare meals alone adequately, need assistance in preparing nutritional meals, or are caretakers of immediate family members who are disabled or homebound, there is the Home Delivered Meals program. It provides supper and weekend meals delivered to participants' residence.

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