Article and photo by Ramona du Houx
One in seven Americans relies on food pantries and meal service programs, according to a new study from the Feeding America Food Bank Network. Nationwide, that amounts to more than 46 million people, which includes 12 million children, out of a country of 316 million. Hunger has become an epidemic in the U.S.A.
For Maine that means more than 178,000 citizens use food banks to keep alive. The study showed Maine food banks receive an average of 11 visits per year from families. Having to go to a food bank every month, on average, is a significant hardship.
"People are coming back, they're needing to come back to their local pantry month after month," said Clara Whitney who is with Maine's Good Shepherd Food Bank, which is part of Feeding America's network of food pantries. "Our pantry network has become a huge part of how Maine families are accessing food on a monthly basis."
About 15 percent of Mainers experience hunger, and that number's been increasing since Governor Paul LePage was elected four years ago along with significant food stamp cut backs from Congress.
LePage made part of his platform out of cutting back "social services" to those in need while he gave Maine's 1 percent a hefty tax break. For average homeowners LePage's policies have led to property tax increases as local towns have had to make up for funds they used to get from former state revenue sharing policies.
Since LePage took office, Maine has experienced a job creation record among the worst in the U.S., ranking 46th out of 50 states in the latest report (July 2014). Additionally, Maine has the 6th highest rate in the country of people who work only part-time because they can't find full-time jobs.
Under his predecessor, Governor John Bladacci over 310 companies recieved Pine Tree Development Zone Status, a tax incentive program which grew thousands of jobs in the state. The jobless rate was under 7 percent, and the state had a surplus.
Now, with LePage, the state has had the second worst personal income growth record in the U.S., ranking 49th from 2009 through 2013. Plus, median household income is down $1,600 and $4,600 below the U.S. median.