During the markup of the Senate Farm Bill, introduced as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 13th, anti-hunger advocacy groups including Good Shepherd Food Bank, Preble Street and Maine Equal Justice Partners praised the bill’s bipartisan effort to strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which is critical for hungry Mainers.
Unlike the highly partisan House Farm Bill, H.R. 2, which failed to pass in the House in early June, the Senate’s bill could help stem Maine’s growing hunger problem. More than 16 percent of Maine households are food insecure, placing the state 7thin the nation overall, and the trend is worsening.
“Maine should insist on a Farm Bill that strengthens and protects SNAP because it’s the single most effective tool we have for feeding hungry Maine families,” said Clara McConnell, director of public affairs at Good Shepherd Food Bank. “Food banks like ours offer essential food assistance, but cannot substitute for SNAP, which provides a regular source of nutritious food at a scale far greater than what charities do, and in a more accessible way. This is about families being able to put enough food on the table, and kids having enough breakfast in their bellies to learn and grow.”
The Senate bill strengthens SNAP by testing new tools to further improve program integrity, supporting states like Maine that want to try innovative solutions to helping SNAP participants get and keep a job, and enhancing access and reducing burdensome paperwork for older Mainers and people with disabilities.
Advocates expressed support for the bill as drafted by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow and urged US Sen. Susan Collins and US Sen. King to support the bill without any harmful amendments that could weaken SNAP.
Preble Street’s executive director Mark Swann added, “We encourage Maine’s senators to follow the committee’s lead in protecting SNAP by opposing any amendments that would cut SNAP or make harmful changes that would take away food assistance from struggling families in Maine.”
While the Senate bill provides adequate funding and promotes program integrity in SNAP, the advocates expressed a desire to work with Maine’s Senate delegation to improve funding levels for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a critical source of food for millions of individuals and families across the country.
The organizations applauded the Senate for not following the House’s lead on harsh and unworkable time limits and work requirements for SNAP recipients, a policy which Maine has tested unsuccessfully since 2014. In Maine’s experimentwith work requirements, thousands have lost benefits without finding work, leaving them hungrier and with few or no places to turn.
Chris Hastedt from Maine Equal Justice Partners cautioned, “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model wouldn’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They would 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. The Senate is taking the right approach by providing more work-supporting policies and maintaining benefits for people in need.”