The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Prohibition on photo ID/SSN requests by food pantries - State guidance to MA Food Banks

Date: 
07/28/2020
Author: 
MLRI
On July 23rd, the Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE) in coordination with the Mass Department of Agriculture (MDAR) sent guidance to the four Massachusetts Food Banks advising them that partner food pantries that receive state (MEFAP) or federal (TEFAP) emergency food assistance cannot require a photo ID or a Social Security card as a condition of giving pantry food. Further, DESE's notice is a reminder that households may self-declare income and cannot deny food for not proviing proof of income.
 
After consutling with the MA food banks, MLRI pushed for this state guidance after hearing from multiple sources about this growing practice among food pantries and the chilling effect this has on families needing emergency food resources, especially homeless and immigrant households. As DESE notes, "the imposition of a requirement may violate federal and state non discrimination laws as well as data collection and privacy laws."
 
The four MA Food Banks are in agreement that food pantries should not create such excusionary policies and they welcome this state level guidance to share with their member food pantries. We will note, this very issue surfaced in 2010, and DESE promptly notified all food banks to advise their partner food pantries that this practice was not permitted.( See attched 2010 DESE letter). It is possible that, with the Pandemic and new food pantry volunteers, this problem needs to be monitoried and addressed more frequently. 
 
Attached is a copy of the 7-23-2020 DESE guidance sent to the Greater Boston, Western MA, Worcester County and Merrimack Valley Food Banks. The state also recently released an updated website of food pantries in the four regions
 
If you happen to see food pantries that are continuing to require photo IDs or SSNs families to access emergency food, please contact MLRI: Pbaker@mlri.org 
 
 

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