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  • Maine’s Growing Hunger - Farm Bill needs to add to SNAP not take away

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The federal Farm Bill (H.R. 2) that would increase hunger and hardship in Maine and throughout the nation by cutting the effective anti-hunger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

    Maine’s failed experience with similar policies increased hunger in the state, hurting children. Maine now has the 7th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, dropping from previous year’s ranking even as other states are making progress in alleviating hunger.  

    The Farm Bill is expected to be marked up on Wednesday, April 16, 2018.

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) .

    US Rep. Bruce Poliquin has pushed for including some of the harshest provisions in this bill, such as unrealistic work requirements modeled after Maine’s own failed policies.  

    In a statement last week, Poliquin mischaracterized the real experience of Maine following the institution in 2015 of similar policies under the LePage administration.  Data reveal a starkly different picture of how harmful and ineffective these proposals actually are. 

     MEJP urges Poliquin to take an honest look at Maine’s real experience with these SNAP benefit restrictions. 

    “Maine is absolutely a cautionary tale for the nation because we have already seen that people in our state lost food assistance by the thousands and most didn’t find work,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice. “Instead, they were left with empty dinner plates and no wages. The promise of how these policies will work and story of what really happened to Maine people are vastly different.”

    MEJP recently published a report, which shows that in the one year period following implementation of this policy, only 4 percent more of the 6,866 people who lost their SNAP benefits for failing to meet the work requirements found jobs (30 percent compared with 34 percent). Even this small gain was likely due to the improving economy. At the end of the year, 66 percent of these individuals remained unemployed, but were also without needed food assistance.

    “Beyond the data, the stories we’ve heard from Mainers who have run up against this complex system tell us that more restrictions in SNAP just add more layers of red tape and bureaucracy. We should be helping to make these programs work better for all of us – not adding hoops to jump through for people who have fallen on hard times," said Robyn Merrill, MEJP’s executive director. 

    The Farm Bill is historically a bipartisan piece of legislation, which addresses hunger and supports farms and rural communities, but the radical changes to SNAP in H.R. 2 threaten to derail bipartisan cooperation and prospects for passage.   

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry.”