NEWCASTLE — Our food pantry in Newcastle started back in 1989.

Since then our services have grown. Today, eight churches work together to operate the pantry, as well as a Help Desk, where individuals and families going through a rough patch can meet with a caseworker to connect with services to help meet housing and other needs.

We know that while we can’t help everyone who needs a hand up, the Help Desk can make a difference. We’ve helped families avoid eviction, cover their utilities and keep a stock of clean diapers for newborn babies. Some of the Mainers who use our services have zero income. Some are living in their cars or in tents. Others are employed but still having a hard time making ends meet.

It’s inspiring to see the community come together to help our neighbors. Volunteers like myself run the food pantry and process applications for other kinds of assistance. Generous families, businesses and groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts contribute nonperishable items, cheese, butter, eggs, coffee and meat year-round. In the summer, local farms give fresh produce.

We all pitch in because we know that when families can meet their basic needs, they can get back on their feet. But we know there’s still unmet need. Maine’s rate of food insecurity is growing, and food pantries like ours can’t close the gap between nutrition and hunger by ourselves.

Private charities don’t have the ability to single-handedly end poverty. The truth is, federal food assistance is among the most powerful and effective anti-poverty programs we have.

But today, its future is in doubt.

One out of every eight Americans uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to afford food. Here in Maine, it’s even more than that: SNAP helped one in seven Mainers put food on the table in fiscal year 2017. The impact of the program on kids can last a lifetime. Research shows that adults who received food assistance as young children are more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to suffer conditions such as obesity and heart disease.

Despite the program’s proven track record, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a farm bill that would take food assistance from 2 million Americans, including children, seniors and veterans.

The partisan bill (written by Republican lawmakers and lacking any support from Democratic representatives) cuts SNAP by nearly $19 million.

The House farm bill won’t create jobs, increase wages or spur businesses to offer more hours to workers. But it is guaranteed to increase hardship by taking food off Americans’ tables: It establishes unforgiving penalties for people who can’t prove every month that they work enough hours or qualify for an exemption.

The House will vote on its farm bill again later this month. It should scrap the partisan, harmful bill and consider a better alternative.

Luckily, such an alternative already exists in the Senate.

The Senate farm bill is the result of bipartisan work in the Senate Agriculture Committee, and it protects and strengthens SNAP, ensuring the program will continue to feed children and their parents, seniors, people with disabilities and working people with low pay and inconsistent hours. On June 13, the committee approved the Senate farm bill by a bipartisan 20-1 vote.

The Senate farm bill focuses on work, but includes none of the harmful, unnecessary cuts contained in the House version.

Instead of looking for reasons to take food assistance away, it expands a 2014 pilot program focused on job training and other employment-related activities for SNAP participants. Instead of creating onerous new paperwork for American workers, the bill makes it easier for seniors on fixed incomes and individuals with disabilities to get the nutritious food they need. What’s more, the bill creates new incentives for smart, nutritious food purchases by improving retailers’ incentives to offer health foods to SNAP participants.

Our senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, should support their colleagues’ bipartisan work and support the bill when it is taken up by the Senate. They should oppose any floor amendments that would take food assistance away from struggling families who need help.

SNAP helps fill the gap for workers with low wages and unsteady hours – people like so many Mainers served by our food pantry in Newcastle. A farm bill that supports SNAP would go a long way toward ensuring that those Mainers and others all over the country can get back on their feet.


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