Mainers to see cut in SNAP benefits

PORTLAND, Maine (WMTW) – Mainers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are about to take a big hit because the federal stimulus package is expiring.

More than $30 million a month goes to Maine residents through SNAP, or what’s commonly known as food stamps, but there will be big cuts across the board starting Nov. 1.

A family of four receiving the maximum benefit of $668 a month in October will see a $36 reduction.

Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the country and the highest rate in New England. With reductions on the way and the possibility of more cuts down the road, people who rely on the program said they are worried.

Jocelyn Harrington is a mother of four who works and goes to school full time. She’s also one of 250,000 Mainers who received SNAP benefits.

"I’ve always been in a 40-hour position and a couple of months ago, our hours were cut," Harrington said.

The cuts could be anywhere from $1 a month for someone receiving the minimum benefit to 5 percent for those who get the maximum amount, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

For a family of four like Harrington’s, that would mean $36 less per month.

"It’s frustrating for people like me who do work a lot, but we can’t make it because minimum wage doesn’t pay the bills for a four-person family," Harrington said.

The House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would cut the food assistance program by $40 billion over 10 years, removing tens of thousands of Maine residents from the program, possibly Harrington’s family too. The Senate has not voted on the bill yet.

Some people in Maine said if the bill passes, it would force them into soup kitchens and food pantries.

"If that happened, I would be back to eating all of my meals at the soup kitchen," said Thomas Ptacek, who uses SNAP benefits. "I would be back to going to the food pantry to get whatever food I could have."

Food pantries are already seeing more people and a greater need. In Biddeford, the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry has seen a 17 percent increase since last year.

"They’re coming in here, they’re supposed to come here once a month, but now they find themselves having to come here more than once a month," said Don Bisson of the Friends of Community Action Food Pantry.

Residents who receive SNAP benefits will be notified of exactly how the reductions will affect them. The Office for Family Independence plans to send notifications beginning early next week.