Southern Maine soup kitchens and food pantries to get emergency federal aid

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced this week that soup kitchens and food pantries in southern Maine will be getting some lost federal funding restored.  Pingree said federal officials have agreed to dip into some unspent funds to help organizations in Cumberland County meet a growing demand for their services.  Last summer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed the way they distributed funding for food and shelterprograms, resulting in a complete loss of funding for a number of Maine counties, including Cumberland County.  FEMA adopted a funding formula that favors urban areas over rural communities.

“The formula FEMA is using just isn’t fair to Maine,” said Pingree.  “We lost nearly 60 percent of our funding, while the rest of New England saw much, much smaller cuts.  Shelters and food pantries are struggling right now and this was not the time to pull the rug out from under them.”

Pingree and Congressman Mike Michaud wrote to FEMA last year protesting the change in formula and the funding cuts, and asking FEMA to allocate funding that was “unallocated”— mostly money that was turned back to FEMA because the organizations that had received it were not in compliance with federal standards. Recently FEMA agreed to release $93,000 of unallocated funds to Cumberland County.

Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, said they lost about $30,000 in FEMA funding, enough to pay for 50,000 meals.  Swann welcomed the news that federal officials had agreed to restore some of the lost funding.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and the need now is greater than I’ve ever seen it.  Demand is up by about 50 percent over two years ago and this is the worst possible time to suddenly lose that federal funding. Congresswoman Pingree has been relentless in pushing FEMA and gave us the idea of going for these unallocated funds, which means at least some of the lost emergency funding is going to be restored,” said Swann.

Joanna Moore from CrossWalk Community Outreach in Naples said she was disappointed the funding had been cut last year but relieved to hear that at least some of it is being restored.

“I cannot tell you just how astounded I was to hear that our voices were heard in Washington. When news hit last year that funding had been completely cut from six counties in Maine, including Cumberland County, and that we would be losing all this federal funding, we were feeling quite discouraged. We didn’t understand the full implications of this cut until in the fall of 2011 the demand for free, nutritious meals, and food boxes steadily rose over 40 percent, and would continue on that trend throughout all of 2012. We were caught in a dilemma,” said Moore.

In addition to $93,000 in funding being released to CumberlandCounty, federal officials said they were sending about $10,000 to Franklin County to help with food and shelter programs there.