Starting Friday, the approximately 250,000 Mainers who rely on food stamps will have fewer resources to spend on filling their plates.
That’s the day when a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill will expire. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will be cut by $5 billion nationwide. The average family of four will lose the funds for a week’s worth of meals per month.
What’s more, Congress is considering further food-stamp cuts. Of course, Maine’s network of food banks will step into the breach as best they can; there’s no way, though, for them to fill a gap this big. The onus is on elected officials to restore the expired funds, or sit back as the needy pay the price for lawmakers’ shortsightedness.
People who get SNAP benefits aren’t setting lavish tables, and they’re not people with a lot of other options for feeding themselves. Nationwide, the average recipient gets $133 in benefits per month, which works out to $1.48 per meal. From next month on, that allotment will fall below $1.40 per person per meal. Who’s bearing the brunt? The nearly 80 percent of Maine food-stamp recipients who are single parents, senior citizens, children or people with disabilities.
The health implications are huge. Children face developmental problems if they don’t have adequate nutrition in their critical early years. Needy families who have to spend more on food because of cuts in assistance often wind up forgoing preventive care, such as doctor’s visits and filling prescriptions, research shows.
There’s also a pragmatic argument for rolling back the cutbacks to SNAP, in that every $1 spent on food assistance generates $1.70 in local economic activity, including jobs in the retail and farm sectors.
Members of Congress haven’t taken any serious action to stop the SNAP rollback, apparently saving their energy for haggling over how much to pare from the program. A Senate proposal would make only minor changes. A House bill, on the other hand, would remove 3.8 million people — including 63,000 Mainers — from the food-stamp rolls over the upcoming year, largely by tightening eligibility restrictions.
The expiration of the SNAP increase will put extra demands on food banks in Maine and nationwide. Combined with the House cuts, the rollback would result in so much need as to swamp the charities, the head of Maine’s largest hunger relief organization said in a column published last month.
By allowing the downsizing of the food-stamp program, Congress is ignoring the humane and practical reasons for taking action to relieve hunger. The nonprofit world can’t maintain the social safety net all by itself — the federal government must be pressed to do its part to help the neediest among us.