Demand for social assistance increases as unemployment benefits end | News

BOSTON — The elimination of federal unemployment programs last year has prompted increased demands for food stamps and other public assistance programs.

That’s according to recently released data from the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance, which shows the number of Massachusetts households seeking food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program has risen to more than 570. 000 – a 27% increase from pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. .

The state has also seen an increase in applications for the main cash assistance program, transitional assistance for families with dependent children, and another program, emergency assistance for the elderly, disabled and children. .

As of November, 79,981 people were receiving TAFDC benefits, up from 73,801 in December 2019, according to the state. The EAEDC program workload was about 23,743 in November, a 6.5% increase from the previous month, according to state data.

Advocacy groups say demand for food aid has soared amid the current economic crisis created by the pandemic and the loss of federal unemployment benefits for workers still hit by unemployment.

Three pandemic-related unemployment benefits established by the March 2020 CARES Act, including a $300 weekly payment, expired on September 6, with approximately 300,000 workers losing federal unemployment benefits.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to allow federal unemployment benefits, including one for workers in the “gig” economy who did not qualify for regular state unemployment benefits. It was one of the last states to end the programs, allowing unemployed workers to collect benefits until the end of the federal deadline.

Labor Secretary Rosalin Acosta had warned the loss of federal unemployment benefits was ‘the biggest workforce challenge in our lifetimes’ and pushed for more training and job placement efforts to absorb the impact on workers. The state also held a number of job fairs late last year.

Overall, the state has seen a steady decline in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits. According to the US Department of Labor, 9,361 new claims for state benefits were filed for the week ending Jan. 15. This is 2,176 less than the previous week. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December.

But advocates expect the issue of food security to linger for several years as workers affected by the pandemic slowly find their way back to work.

Heads of State have responded to the global demand for food aid by making it easier for people to access benefits and by injecting more money into food programmes.

The Baker administration has diverted more than $100 million in state and federal funding into the fight against food insecurity during the pandemic, helping overstretched food banks and providing meals directly to families in need.

The US Department of Agriculture has also taken steps to make it easier to get food stamps by easing verification requirements for new applicants.

Anti-poverty advocates are pushing to expand social benefits as part of a campaign to lift tens of thousands of children out of “deep poverty”.

A proposal, backed by more than half of the state’s 200 Legislature, would increase social benefits through the state’s main cash assistance program, known as Transitional Assistance. to families with dependent children, 20% each year until payments reach 50% of the federal poverty level.

This would bring benefits for an average family of three to $915 per month.

In 2020, lawmakers approved a plan to increase child welfare benefits for the first time in two decades, but advocates say more help is needed.

Sue Gabriel, executive director of Bootstraps Food Pantry in Beverly, said food insecurity during the pandemic had skyrocketed and showed little sign of easing, with people losing unemployment benefits and facing housing challenges. .

“The need is huge and there is no doubt that the loss of these programs has affected people,” she said. “We are still seeing strong demand.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.