Nearly one-third of adults in Mass. are facing food insecurity, new survey shows

The burden of struggling to get enough to eat falls most heavily on Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities.

A volunteer helps load groceries in Ivania Merlo’s truck outside of the Open Table, a food pantry and meals program serving 21 MetroWest communities, last November. Their prepared meals program has soared from 150 a week before the pandemic to about 800. Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch family budgets and drive up food prices, new estimates show that at least 1.8 million adults in Massachusetts struggled in 2021 to get enough food to eat. That amounts to roughly 32% of the state’s adult population, up slightly from 30% facing food insecurity the year before. 

The new survey from the Greater Boston Food Bank, or GBFB, conducted from December 2021 to February 2022, found that food insecurity rose across the commonwealth and that food pantry use increased, largely driven by an increase in food prices and decreases in income.

The burden of food insecurity falls most heavily on Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities, with all three communities reporting that more than 50% of adults faced food insecurity, according to the report.


The study was conducted at a key time when people had started feeling the effects of rising inflation, and assistance programs like stimulus checks and expanded child tax credit programs came to an end, according to the GBFB.

The survey found that with adults facing food insecurity, more were using food pantries — nearly one in two, compared to almost one in three in 2020. Latinx communities and families with children saw the biggest increase in usage of food pantries. 

Survey respondents cited increased the costs for groceries as well as decreased income, among other factors, as reasons they started using food pantries. For some, increased federal food assistance allowed them to stop using food pantries, the survey showed. 

SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, enrollment among those with food insecurity has more than doubled from 2019, settling at 55% in 2022 as compared to 25% in 2019, according to the survey. Latinx communities and families with children also saw the biggest increases in this realm. 

“I’m grateful to the food pantry, I have been receiving more SNAP so I haven’t gone to food pantries as often as I used to,” a part-time worker from Marshfield and survey respondent said. “As grateful as I am, it’s embarrassing — not because of the staff, they are wonderful, but that I can’t always get nutritious food from supermarkets because of expense.”


SNAP wasn’t the only program that saw an increase in use; WIC and School and Summer Meals also increased significantly over the last two years, according to the report. And even though SNAP benefits increased during the pandemic, one in two participants said they still didn’t receive enough assistance, and had to turn to other support systems, the survey found.

The majority of respondents, 84%, also said they were worried about being able to afford enough food if SNAP increases came to an end.

“The survey responses not only show the prevalence of food insecurity in Massachusetts but also show that many more people are reaching out for assistance either by going to a food pantry or by signing up for SNAP,” Dr. Lauren Fiechtner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. “By focusing on removing some of the barriers and inequities that exist, we can help ensure that people gain greater access to the nutritious food that they need to live healthy active lives.”

While a higher percentage of people did access SNAP benefits, 45% of adults in the state with food insecurity don’t use the service, and 70% of those with food insecurity who were not enrolled said they didn’t know if they were eligible for it, the report said. 


Those facing food insecurity also reported higher levels of perceived everyday discrimination, with the survey showing 86% of those facing food insecurity had perceived discrimination in the past year. 

The report from the Greater Boston Food Bank included several recommendations for improving food assistance in Massachusetts, presenting three goals for tackling the issue: increasing awareness and support for food assistance programs, decreasing inequities in access, and improving the experience for those seeing services. 

The report also expressed support for the 2023 Farm Bill and Child Nutrition Reauthorization, as well as prioritization of policies that focus on helping vulnerable populations.

“The preexisting inequities and gaps in food access that were exacerbated by the pandemic persist in our state, continuing to disproportionately and detrimentally affect Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents,” Catherine D’Amato, GBFB President and CEO, said in a statement. “In the face of the highest increase in the cost for food we’ve seen in 40 years, which is contributing to the enduring inequity and unprecedented need for food assistance, we remain committed to our mission of ending hunger alongside our network of partners throughout Massachusetts.”

Read the full report below:

GBFB Food-Access Report22 V08c Singles by dialynn dwyer on Scribd


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