By Ramona du Houx
October 4, 2019
Anti-hunger advocates, including Maine Equal Justice, Preble Street, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Food AND Medicine, cheered a move by the Mills administration to bring millions in additional federal food assistance funds to Maine Friday. Maine has received a waiver for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that will help thousands of low-income people put food on the table.
The “geographic waiver” will allow Maine to take advantage of a federal option to provide food assistance to households in high-unemployment areas whose benefits would otherwise be limited to three months in a 36-month period unless they meet certain requirements for an exemption. The Dept. of Health and Human Services posted a list of more than 200 towns that fall under the new waiver online.
“Geographic waivers were a key tool Maine used to reduce food insecurity for nearly 20 years until the previous administration rejected the option in 2015,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, a policy analyst with Maine Equal Justice. “At that time nearly 10,000 people lost their food assistance, with thousands more losing help since then. A year later, two-thirds of those Mainers losing food assistance remained unemployed, undermining claims that these policies would get people to work.”
Today 36 states, including all the New England states apart from Maine, have adopted this option to tackle hunger in regions where people face the greatest barriers to work.
“Bringing these federal food dollars back will provide targeted resources for Maine, especially our rural areas, to fight our hunger crisis,” said James Myall, Policy Analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “Maine has high rates of food insecurity, with 568,000 households experiencing food insecurity, and 5.9 percent of Maine households experiencing very low food security—these are Mainers struggling with chronic hunger.”
“The areas eligible for a waiver to the three-month time limit are largely in rural parts of the state where jobs are most scarce and the economy could most benefit from the stimulus effect of SNAP benefits,” said Josh Kauppila of Food AND Medicine.
More than 1,500 Maine retailers statewide participate in the program, and SNAP injects more than $215 million dollars into Maine’s economy annually. Every five dollars in SNAP spending generates around $9 in economic activity, according to the USDA.
Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street concluded, “The waiver will help Mainers who are searching for stable jobs put food on their tables during a difficult time in their lives. We’re encouraged that the Mills administration is taking advantage of this common-sense option to address our high hunger rates in Maine.”