New Data Shows Hungry Residents Across Eastern Massachusetts Are Not Eligible For Federal Nutrition Assistance

Media contact:
Jan Saragoni

New Data Shows Hungry Residents Across Eastern Massachusetts Are Not Eligible For Federal Nutrition Assistance
31 percent of Residents of Eastern Massachusetts Who Are Food Insecure May Only Be Able to Turn to Charitable Food Programs for Help

BOSTON – May 2, 2018 – Catherine D’Amato of The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), the largest hunger-relief organization in New England, released new data that reveals despite slightly improved numbers of people struggling with hunger in Eastern Massachusetts, the cost of food remains higher than ever. Additionally, 31 percent of residents across Eastern Massachusetts who are food insecure are likely ineligible for federal nutrition assistance under current program requirements just as Congress looks at further restricting eligibility for these programs through the Farm Bill. Statewide, the figure is slightly higher at 34.7 percent.

“In Massachusetts, one third of folks struggling with hunger are ineligible for government programs, as compared to a quarter nationwide,” Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank. “And even those who do receive government assistance regularly run out of benefits before the end of the month. In both situations, the emergency food-relief assistance becomes the only alternative for these families.”

Map the Meal Gap 2018, the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food in the U.S. at both the county and congressional district level, reveals that food insecurity exists in every county in GBFB’s service area, which includes Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk. Overall, food insecurity rates range from 7.3 percent in Essex County to 14.2 percent in Suffolk County.

The average across Eastern Massachusetts is 9.1 percent—about 460,000 or 1 in 11 people—down from 9.9 percent since last year’s report. Statewide, the food insecurity rate is 9.6 percent—estimated at 650,000 people and down from 10.3 percent, or 1 in 10. In the U.S., 12.9 percent, or about 1 in 8 people, is food insecure, totaling about 41 million.

Children remain at a higher risk of food insecurity than the overall population, although it has slightly improved over last year. In Eastern Massachusetts,1 in 9 children is food insecure; in Massachusetts 1 in 8; and nationally, 1 in 6.

Food insecurity is a measure defined by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The study, which analyzed data from 2016, finds food-insecure individuals in Eastern Massachusetts now face an average weekly food budget shortfall of $20.53 per person, up 2.8 percent from $19.97 reported in last year’s report and 21.5 percent higher than the nationwide average.

“One in eleven Massachusetts residents not only don’t know where their next meal is coming from but can’t even afford to buy as much food as they could last year,” D’Amato said. “The situation has gotten worse for those struggling with hunger in the Commonwealth. A family of four is short more than eighty dollars a week. That’s an unsurmountable amount for many hard-working, low-income people scrambling to also meet the high cost of housing, health care, utilities, transportation and other basic needs in our state.”

Massachusetts ranks fifth highest in the country for weekly food budget shortfall and average meal cost, after the District of Columbia, Maine, Alaska and Vermont.

Other key local findings:

  • The average cost per meal in Eastern Massachusetts is $3.65 (up from $3.38); in Massachusetts, $3.38 (up from $3.25); nationally, $3.00 (up from $2.94).
  • The Meal Gap (the annual household budget shortfall converted into meals) is 79,159,100 in Eastern Massachusetts; in Massachusetts, 111,542,200; and in the U.S. 7 billion.

Eastern Massachusetts County by County findings:

County Food Insecurity Rate Weekly Budget Shortfall Average cost per meal Meal Gap
Barnstable 8.2% $22.89 $4.06 2,997,200
Bristol 10.3% $18.83 $3.34 9,813,500
Dukes 9.5% $20.44 $3.63 278,500
Essex 7.3% $20.30 $3.60 9,567,400
Middlesex 7.9% $21.58 $3.83 21,166,600
Nantucket 8.3% $20.08 $3.56 152,100
Norfolk 7.8% $20.58 $3.65 9,194,900
Plymouth 8.5% $21.22 $3.77 7,342,600
Suffolk 14.2% $22.83 $4.05 18,646,200
Eastern MA 9.1% $20.53 $3.65 79,159,100


The Greater Boston Food bank (GBFB) is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network. GBFB distributes more than 50 million healthy meals annually through its 526-member agencies—food pantries, meal programs, and shelters—across Eastern Massachusetts, serving more than 140,000 people a month.

“Map the Meal Gap 2018” uses data from the USDA, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

Dr. Craig Gundersen, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group is the lead researcher of “Map the Meal Gap 2018.”

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at

Join the conversation about “Map the Meal Gap 2018” on Twitter using #MealGap.

About The Greater Boston Food Bank
The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country. GBFB provides the equivalent of 50 million healthy meals annually, distributed through its network of 526-member food pantries, meal programs and shelters across Eastern Massachusetts. GBFB operates four direct service programs at nearly 70 sites throughout the area. A member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, GBFB serves more than 140,000 people every month in its goal to create a hunger-free Eastern Massachusetts. For more information, visit us at, become a fan on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@gr8bosfoodbank) and Instagram, or call us at 617.427.5200.

About Feeding America

Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through food pantries and meal programs in communities throughout America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at

Let's Connect

Sign up for email and stay informed on our mission to end hunger here.