State Senate hopefuls discuss food security and more at the Shea

  • State Senate candidate Ryan O'Donnell said some of his first choices for committees would be climate change or broadband, which he said he believes is an issue that effects residents in Western Mass. in particular in the debate at the Shea Theater on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Recorder Staff/Melina Bourdeau

  • State Senate candidate Steve Cline spun the wheel which landed on the topic of transportation. He said one solution he sees to help fund regional transportation in Western Mass. is to have a sales tax which is guaranteed like the MBTA during the debate at the Shea Theater on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Recorder Staff/Melina Bourdeau

  •  State Senate candidate Chelsea Kline spoke about the ways she would help local farms like expanding connections to schools or hospitals in order to keep farms strong in the debate at the Shea Theater on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Recorder Staff/Melina Bourdeau

  • When she spun the wheel of topics, State Senate candidate Jo Comerford landed on the topic of the transgender ballot question, she said to vote yes on the anti-discrimination bill, especially as a member of the LGBT+ community herself. Recorder Staff/Melina Bourdeau

  • The Shea Theater on Ave A in Turners Falls. June 8, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2018 11:43:34 PM

MONTAGUE — The four state Senate candidates running for the Democratic nomination for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District debated how to tackle food insecurity at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Tuesday night.

Candidates Chelsea Kline, Jo Comerford, Ryan O’Donnell and Steven Connor participated in three rounds of questions, one round from the sponsors of the two-hour long debate — the Food Bank of Western Mass., the Franklin County Resource Network Public Policy Task Force, the League of Women Voters of Franklin County and CISA — one round from the audience, and another spinning a wheel with various topics attached.

During each round, each person had 90 seconds to answer the question or one minute during the wheel of topics segment.

Candidates were also asked about ways to prevent children from becomes victims of food shaming because their parent can’t afford to pay for food.

Candidates were asked what they could do to sustain the Healthy Incentive Program (HIP). The HIP allows SNAP recipients to maximize their benefits by offering them a $1 for $1 reimbursement to purchase foods and vegetables at farmers markets, farm stands and mobile markets. The program, which ran out of funding, served roughly seven percent of the total users.

Each of the candidates agreed the HIP and food stamps are important and need increased funding.

Comerford said the Food Stamps program needs to be prioritized rather than being at the bottom of the economy.

“It’s the way, the beginning, the doorway that helps a family begin to send kids to school with full bellies and help people look for jobs,” Comerford said. “The legislature must make this a priority. We must core fund it and make it the legislative priority for this district.”

O’Donnell’s approach was that the increase in the 2019 budget for the HIP program is not enough but there are other solutions as well.

“Apart from funding, the question is what specific policy steps we can take to make it sustainable and I think there are a couple,” O’Donnell said. “There are a lot of people on MassHealth who would be eligible to participate and take advantage of it and we should make it easier to access those benefits. Massachusetts leads in where our federal government has failed.”

Connor said the program was insufficiently funded and when the money ran out, people stopped to using the program.

“We need to do a better job of acting quickly,” Connor said. “We were about ready to reach a crisis in not being able to get things at the farmers market. The state of Massachusetts needs to act even quicker when we try to give out these things to our people.”

Kline said food insecurity is at a higher rate than it was a decade ago and the way to solve it is to look for other places of revenue.

“We need to be looking for other ways of revenue and funding the things we care about, I am tempted to suggest a sugar tax, which has been used places like Berkeley, California and Colorado,” Kline said. “The funding generated by those things decreases the consumption of sugary drinks and then brings money into nutrition programs.”

Kline is the only candidate on the ballot and Comerford, O’Donnell and Connor are all write-in candidates. The primary will take place on Sept. 4.




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