Lately, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting swept up into the bluster of Washington drama. I write this as a reminder for all of us to keep tabs on the happenings that are creeping behind sexy headlines about Stormy Daniels. The fact is that the current administration has been moving forward rapidly to advance questionable policies. The latest example being the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2), which cleared the House Agriculture Committee on April 18.

Maine has the third highest rate of hunger, or “very low food security,” in the United States. One in seven Mainers utilizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to put food on the table. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 68 percent of these Mainers are families, more than 46 percent are in households with a disabled or elderly person, and over 42 percent are “working poor” families.

We’re all well aware that Maine’s labor force is often seasonal, because of our strong economic dependency on tourism and hospitality. Well-paying, steady jobs are not easy to come by. There is a lot of good work going on to advance workforce and economic development across the state, but in the meantime many Mainers are left without enough money to buy nutritious food, make rent, pay for child care and heat their homes. SNAP is a lifeline, offering folks a very modest meal stipend based on household income and necessary expenses.

While many Mainers graciously volunteer their time, energy and resources to the charitable food system of pantries across the state, this “system” simply cannot and does not fight hunger. The reality is that many people in need do not have access to transportation. Food pantries are open for limited hours, and, in our rural areas, pantry locations are few and far between.

Further, food pantries receive very little to no fresh produce — a commodity that people need desperately in a state where 30 percent of the population is obese and 11 percent suffer from Type 2 diabetes. These conditions disproportionately affect our low-income individuals, and it’s clear that Mainers need access to more fresh produce, not preserved sweets. If you’ve never been to a food pantry before, I suggest you pay a visit — there will be cake and lots of it.

So, what does the Farm Bill have to do with hunger in Maine? SNAP is funded through the Farm Bill. The bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee cuts SNAP funding by more than $20 billion over the next 10 years, largely achieving those savings by imposing work requirements on recipients. This includes parents caring for small children, unemployed adults between jobs and underemployed “work-capable adults.”

Work requirements might sound nice as a concept, but they are historically ineffective. We already have work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents here in Maine. Thousands of Mainers have lost benefits, and there are no data to show that these folks are back at work. Work requirements necessitate available work, which – as referenced – is not readily available here in Maine.

Further, the Farm Bill’s work mandate requires SNAP recipients to turn in pay stubs to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services every month. This is nearly impossible when phone wait times are over 90 minutes and documents that are sent in on time are frequently lost or not filed.

I send in paperwork for my clients on a daily basis and have been told by four different DHHS caseworkers that I must “follow up on every document because (the department) does not have the time or manpower to file everything.” This bill would require spending additional resources at the state and federal level to effectively manage these new administrative requirements – that is the opposite of efficiently using taxpayer dollars and a bureaucratic nightmare.

Several other SNAP changes outlined in the Farm Bill pose further burdens on our social safety net and public resources. I beg you to look into this issue for yourself — before Congress returns from recess May 7. The Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger organization, provides ample analysis and information on this bill. Please call Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree today. Tell them to vote “no” on H.R. 2 and say “no” to SNAP cuts.

The United States spends significantly less money on social services than the rest of the industrialized world, and we are paying for our frugality in skyrocketing health care costs and rampant poverty. Withholding food from people will not help them get back to work. We need SNAP funding. Don’t sit idly by. If you do, I suggest you prepare yourself for the health care costs associated with forcing our neighbors to subsist on cake.

Blake McCartney of Portland is a social services worker and an alumna of Colby College in Waterville.


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