How Peace Rising is Building Local Resilience in Response to COVID-19

How Peace Rising is Building Local Resilience in Response to COVID-19

“It’s not just about access to food; it’s about access to hope” -Jeremy Huffman and Adam Ingrao: veterans, farmers, and SNAP beneficiaries and advocates.

Empty shelves at the grocery store. Cold, hour long waits in lines to be let in. Shrinking grocery budgets putting new strains on hundreds of thousands of people and families. For many, this is the new reality of what used to be a mundane task. In Massachusetts, over 722,171 unemployment claims have been filed over the past 6 weeks. Food insecurity in the state has already increased fourfold, from 9.3% pre-COVID to 38% and rising since the end of March. Families are struggling to put food on the table, and local resources such as food pantries are struggling to meet demand

Federal feeding programs must become more accessible to meet rising pressures, and policymakers need urgent support to help their communities.

That’s why Peace Rising is working with the City of Cambridge to develop policy solutions addressing local food insecurity in the wake of COVID. Jessie McIsaac, a research fellow at Peace Rising, completed a policy recommendation urging the City of Cambridge to promote SNAP on a city-wide level, which is currently being reviewed. There have been a number of changes to the federal nutrition assistance program including no wait time to file an application, everyone eligible will receive the maximum household benefit, and all applications will be treated as urgent. Compiling these changes to the program along with SNAP information such as available benefits, application assistance, the new Pandemic EBT program, and a list of available resources such as food pantries, delivery programs, and free meals into a single cohesive document will provide critical information to families and people in need. The policy recommendation urges this information to be sent out in a municipal mailer to every resident in Cambridge, targeting areas of critical unemployment, with extra copies provided to food distribution centers. 

Not only is increasing the spread of SNAP the most direct way to put resources in the hands of residents, it also is the fastest way to boost economic growth.

With more money in the hands of people who need it the most, that results in more money being spent immediately in the local community. The Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective options for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy: researchers have found that every $1 that is spent from SNAP results in $1.73 of economic activity. Increasing SNAP supports local business and drives growth when we need it most. Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program encourages the use of SNAP at local farms and farmers markets, directly supporting local farms who have also struggled with lost revenue.

We did the math. 

There are currently 5,607 households in Cambridge on SNAP. If the rate of Cambridge food insecurity follows the 4x increase seen overall in the State, up to an extra 16,800 households will join the program. Because the ~$500 maximum household benefit is now offered to every SNAP household, this would result in $8.4 million of federal funding, directly into the hands of Cambridge residents who need it the most, fueling economic growth and supporting struggling local businesses. 

SNAP is a critical resource, not only for fighting food insecurity and building community resilience, but also for supporting local business and fueling economic growth.

If you have lost your job or work hours because of COVID-19, you can apply for SNAP at any time. Call Project Bread’s Hotline for SNAP application assistance at 1-800-645-8333. Monday-Friday: 8am-7pm. Saturday: 10am-2pm.

Tackling COVID-19 and Food Security Challenges

Tackling COVID-19 and Food Security Challenges

Thank you to those who have been helping us find our niche in making a difference as the world is changing so much. Here is what we’ve been up to recently, together with some opportunities to give and receive support for those who are interested.

1) We’ve had a number of collaborations in development in Ceará, Brazil. While our potential partners have put a lot of their work on hold for now, our team member Max is working with the state government to develop protocols for regulating economic activities based on coronavirus caseloads and the challenges low-income residents are facing. (Food security and maintaining social distancing are huge challenges, particularly in Fortaleza.) If you are doing similar work and would like to connect or share information, I would be happy to introduce you.

2) We’ve been doing behind-the-scenes research supporting policy development in Cambridge, including leveraging SNAP benefits and opportunities to safely use them. It’s involved synthesizing existing research and local impacts, and putting the information together in ways useful for policy development. If you are, or know, a policymaker who would like some back-end support for immediate work, please let us know and we’ll do our best to support. (We’re currently at capacity but working to increase it!)

3) True to our core mission, we have been tracking the confluence of major global events and their potential for humanitarian crisis and conflict. These events include the simultaneous COVID-19 pandemic, locust outbreak in the MENA region, and collapse of oil prices impacting oil-export + food-import dependent low-income countries. So far, it appears that with famine looming and efforts to combat the locust outbreak struggling but in process, the best way we can make a difference is by preparing for what comes next. We have the ability to study how people are being impacted, predict where migrants and refugees may move, and support planning for farming communities and preparation at migrants’ intermediate destinations. Our plan is to leverage existing work by the UNFAO and Gro Intelligence, together with our own analysis, to support a few policymakers who want to take action but need more information for planning. We are in the outreach process and expect to have more specifics on project scope available soon. In the meantime, if you know policymakers in impacted areas who feel this work could be helpful to them, we would appreciate the opportunity to connect with them.

4) We are working to support our local student community by providing as many paid summer opportunities as possible. We are doing this by leveraging creative funding strategies, including creating work study positions and helping students develop proposals for university research funding. If you are, or know, a professor who would like to support related research opportunities by serving as a summer PI, please let us know! If you are a student in need of a summer job, we’d be excited to work with you!

5) Related to our creation of summer opportunities, we are seeking student advisers / mentors who would be available to share their skills for an hour once every week or two in any of the following areas: Fundraising / capacity building; partnerships development; communications / writing / media; policy analysis with local context knowledge; data engineering; and geospatial data analysis. If you are looking for a social, high impact, low time commitment volunteer opportunity this summer, we would love to have you and can introduce you to our students starting in mid-May.

6) Lastly, we are trying hard to create permanent coordination capacity for this work, particularly to facilitate the development of ongoing research collaborations that could multiply our impact. ($20k would fund all of these projects over through August, including supporting a team of 10-15 people, and allow us to create permanent coordination capacity at the same time.) If you know of individual funders or programs who might be interested in supporting our work, we would deeply appreciate a warm introduction.

Thank you again to our supporters! Many extraordinary people have come together to make a difference, and each day we work together brings excitement and hope for the future.

Data set building: All systems go!

Data set building: All systems go!

Our servers are up, and we are now ready to start building our data set! We are looking for any and all data sources potentially related to climate change, its impacts, sociopolitical instability, and conflict.

If you are a member of an academic community with access to some interesting data sets and would like to share, please get in touch! We would deeply appreciate your contribution!

Reaching out to the MIT community at PKG event, Community Climate Conversations

Reaching out to the MIT community at PKG event, Community Climate Conversations

This February, we were excited to attend MIT’s Community Climate Conversations event, organized by the the MIT Priscilla King Gray Center, Office of Sustainability, and Radius, and hosted by the MIT Museum. With over 20 local organizations present, the event created opportunities for environmentally-oriented students, faculty and staff, organizations, and investors to meet each other and discuss strategies for tackling climate change.

Other organizations present included Climigration, working to support discussions on managed retreat from climate impacted coastal areas; ClimateX, an online community for climate learning and action; and the local conservation group Boston Harbor Now. We were excited to connect with amazing students and local climate organizers at the event, including Quinton Zondervan, Cambridge City Council member and board member of Green Cambridge. MIT community members have an incredible potential to use quantitative skills and technology to effectively address climate change. We are very excited to stay connected with students and local organizations who are driven to make a difference.

Click on the images below to reach more about the event in the MIT Tech and hear our pitch!


Community Climate Conversations in the MIT Tech

Climate Conversations Pitches — PKG Facebook Video