May 15, 2023
Although it seems like 2023 has just begun, the Maryland legislative session for this year has already concluded. With only 90 days in the session, Maryland state legislators and advocates had to move quickly to introduce, negotiate, and pass key policies to avoid the risk of having to wait until the next legislative session. Maryland Hunger Solutions (MDHS) worked closely with our colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly and our advocacy partners on several anti-hunger– and anti-poverty–related bills this year, including legislation related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs.
We are excited about the passage of three key anti-hunger bills this session:
- Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards — Theft of Benefits (Prevent Electronic Benefits Theft Act of 2023): This act requires DHS to reimburse SNAP participants who were the victims of SNAP benefit theft between January 2021 and October 2022. It also requires DHS to prioritize EBT card security in selecting an EBT vendor and to take action to prevent future benefit theft. This state bill complements the fiscal year (FY) 2023 Omnibus funding bill passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2022, which included a requirement for states to reimburse SNAP participants who experienced Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) theft on or after October 2022.
- Maryland Meals for Achievement In-Classroom Breakfast Program — Annual Appropriation: This legislation provides full funding for Maryland Meals for Achievement, a longstanding and successful state-funded program allowing all eligible schools to serve breakfast in the classroom and after the bell at no cost to all students. Schools qualify for Maryland Meals for Achievement if 40 percent or more of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The passage of this legislation means that over 120 new schools will be able to serve breakfast after the bell to all students. Maryland Hunger Solutions and other anti-hunger and school nutrition advocates support in-classroom breakfast after the bell as this ensures that students who are running late to school can still eat breakfast and removes the stigma of requiring children to walk to the cafeteria to get breakfast.
- Maryland Food System Resiliency Council: This bill permanently establishes the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council within the Office of Resilience in the Maryland Department of Emergency Management and will allow the council to continue its important role in connecting all parts of Maryland’s food system and addressing food insecurity across the state.
More Work Remains to Reduce Hunger
While these bills will help to alleviate hunger in Maryland, additional opportunities to further reduce hunger were missed. Maryland Hunger Solutions strongly supported legislation to offer free school meals to K–12 students in all schools currently participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
Despite attracting 31 sponsors in the House of Delegates and two in the Senate, the Maryland “Healthy School Meals for All” bills ultimately did not advance out of committee. This was a missed opportunity for Maryland to join several other states who successfully passed Healthy School Meals for All legislation this year, including New Mexico, Colorado, and Minnesota.
Over the past two years, federally funded free school meals served as a critical resource to alleviate child hunger and promote child well-being in Maryland and throughout the country. The loss of federal COVID-19 pandemic-related funding for free school meals in the 2022–2023 academic year has been devastating for Maryland students and families, with hundreds of thousands of children losing access to free school meals. Maryland has made great strides to help mitigate the impact of this loss, such as covering the reduced-price copay for families with low incomes and expanding the number of students directly certified for free meals through Medicaid data matching. However, many families who struggle to meet their most basic needs still do not qualify for free and reduced-price meals. By failing to pass this legislation, Maryland missed an opportunity to advance equity and support students’ education and health.
In addition, the Maryland General Assembly did not pursue legislation to create a supplemental SNAP benefit for Maryland SNAP participants suffering the effects of the end of Emergency Allotments. On March 1, 2023, SNAP participants in Maryland and nationally suffered cuts to their monthly SNAP benefits. This affected more than 360,000 households in Maryland, according to the Food Research & Action Center, with each Maryland SNAP participant, on average, losing $82 a month, amounting to an estimated total loss of $69 million of federal funds in Maryland.
Maryland Hunger Solutions will continue to urge the Department of Human Services and the General Assembly to mitigate the effects of the hunger cliff by instituting a higher minimum SNAP benefit for all participant categories. Currently, the minimum for most participant categories is $23 per month, which is woefully inadequate to assist an individual in meeting their food needs for the month.
While we applaud Maryland policymakers for taking steps toward improving access to healthy food in Maryland, there is still work to be done. Maryland Hunger Solutions will continue to advocate for legislative and regulatory changes in the fight to end hunger. If you would like to get involved in anti-hunger advocacy in Maryland, please reach out to MDHS Deputy Director Elisabet Eppes at firstname.lastname@example.org.