The Online Resource for Massachusetts Poverty Law Advocates

Prohibition on photo ID/SSN requests by food pantries - Atty General guidance issued Dec 2020

Date: 
12/11/2020
Author: 
MLRI
On December 10th, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office (AGO) issued guidance directing local food pantries to suspend practices where food pantry clients are asked for photo IDs or SSNs as a condition of getting emergency food. Attached is the AGO guidance. "The advisory recognizes that certain populations, including immigrants and homeless residents, have been especially hard hit by the pandemic and may face particular barriers to access food. To reduce these barriers, food pantries should not require photo identification or Social Security cards from clients seeking food. Many vulnerable residents may not have a photo ID or Social Security card. For example, immigrants often lack state IDs, driver’s licenses, or Social Security numbers. They may also fear providing these documents because of their immigration status. Homeless residents also face difficulty in obtaining these documents."  AGO media statement and advisory linked here 12/10/2020.
 
Background: MLRI was alerted to this issue last spring and worked with the Dept of Early and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Mass Dept of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to issue guidance in July (see attached, sampe letter sent to the Greater Boston Food Bank, identical letters sent to Worcester Co, Western MA and Merrimack Valley Food Banks). Unfortunately this problem persisted with variousfood pantries, creating significant barriers for immigrant and homeless households.
 
This fall, MLRI, Central West Justice Center and the four MA Food Banks worked closely with the AGO team to address this issue.The AGO's guidance also highlights the state privacy and civil rights considerations, as well as reminding pantries of other nutrition benefits that food pantry clients can be access. We are very grateful to the AGO for issuing this document and urge you to distribute it robustly. Please share the AGO guidance with your community based organizations. Please let MLRI's AmeriCorps Aparna Raghu or Pat Baker if you become aware of local food pantries continuing to demand photo IDs or SSNs.  araghu@mlri.org  pbaker@mlri.org
 
Huge thank you to AGO Maurra Healey, the AGO Civil Rights Division, MDAR and DESE for their support and willingness to tackle this very important issue.. 
 
Attached also is a copy of the 7-23-2020 DESE guidance sent to the four MA food banks. Here's an updated website of food pantries in the four regions. And for more background in the wayback machine, also attached is similar guidance issued by DESE in 2010 regarding the same. 
 
 

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