Tim Keefe found himself homeless in his tent in rural Maine. It was below freezing. He hadn’t had food in two days. “I’ve worked since I was 11. I’ve paid taxes my whole life. Now, they are denying me food stamps? I don’t understand this,” he said.
Keefe is a veteran, father, and widower in his 50s. He’s been homeless since 2015. After he served in the Navy for two years, Keefe found that he had little access to support when he reentered society. Even so, he was determined to find a job. He had a wife and two daughters to take care of.
Some assume that because these folks aren’t elderly, disabled, or raising children, they don’t need serious help. But Meredith Cook, who works at Preble Street, a Maine nonprofit, debunked these claims with the reality of the situation: Living on $12,490 a year — which is the federal poverty level for individual households — is very little money. Add in the labyrinth of government bureaucracy and cuts in domestic spending, and even more people are falling through the cracks. Waiver restrictions completely ignore surrounding circumstances that make able-bodied adults unable to find 20 hours of employment, work training, or community service a week.
“We see this as a cruel punishment for people living in poverty.” — Meredith Cook, Preble Street Social Change Advocate
The Trump administration is tightening work requirements for the federal food stamp program in a move that will slash benefits for hundreds of thousands of people.
The rule will restrict states from exempting work-eligible adults from having to obtain steady employment to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which feeds more than 36 million Americans.
The Agriculture Department says the change would save $5.5 billion over five years and cut benefits for about 688,000 recipients.
A rule change from the Trump administration could knock thousands of Maine families, seniors, and people with disabilities off food stamps.
Meredith Cook of the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative says the proposed rule jeopardizes other federal benefits like free and reduced lunches.
“Many families are directly certified into the school lunch program based on their SNAP eligibility. So, when we see families being kicked off the SNAP program, they’re also going to lose that direct certification,” Cook said.
Maine DHHS says 27 percent of Maine’s food stamp recipients could lose their benefit.
That’s 44,000 Mainers, including 11,000 children and nearly 10,000 seniors or people with disabilities.
(Act now to save SNAP! Submit a comment opposing this harmful proposal: bit.ly/30Rlva4)
Preble Street and other poverty relief organizations in Maine are relieved that the 2018 US Farm Bill has passed with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, intact.
The $867-billion dollar omnibus bill passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers, but not before a tense year of negotiations, including a House version of the bill that would have cut SNAP and imposed work requirements, potentially reducing or ending food benefits for some 2-million recipients.
“We absolutely needed this legislation to come through,” says Director of Advocacy for Preble Street, Heather Zimmerman. Zimmerman says their nonprofit organization served about 600-thousand meals to hungry Mainers last year. “Quite simply we are already stretched to capacity. We cannot fill the gap if government programs are eroded.”
“Yes, thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but to truly honor our veterans, we need to move beyond platitudes. Our nation must commit to providing reliable safety net programs for the many veterans who struggle with poverty and hunger when they return home.” – Tim Keefe, advocate and veteran
With Maine listed as having the third-highest rate of food insecurity in the country, Maine Medical Center’s pediatrics unit is teaming up with the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative to help reduce that number.
The Hunger Vital Sign program connects patients with food options that they may not have otherwise, the hospital said.
“It’s really about empowering people to know that we know you love your children, you care for them and you want to provide for them,” said Michelle Lamm, with Preble Street. “We care about your children too, and we want to help you provide for them.”
New research was released today on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to better understand the effects the program has on Mainers.
Two organizations, Maine Equal Justice Partners and Preble Street, partnered to survey families around the state.
The report written by a University of Maine Professor found 62-percent of respondents said they would get very little to no help to get the food they need if they lost SNAP benefits.
The LePage administration likes to tout how it has reduced the number of people who receive social services in Maine. If fewer people get government help, the thinking goes, the problems that caused their need for help also have been magically eliminated.
Data show this isn’t true.
Take hunger. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the percentage of people in Maine who don’t have enough food has risen. In the Pine Tree State, 16.4 percent of households reported being food insecure, on average, during 2014-16. During the previous three-year period, 2013-15, 15.8 percent of households reported being food insecure. Nationally, the percentage of food insecure households dropped from 13.7 percent to 13 percent in that time, continuing a downward trend. Meanwhile, Maine has risen two spots to become the 7th most food-insecure state.
Nearly half of all kids in Maine qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at school. During the summer months, when school is out, there haven’t been a lot of options for those families – but that’s starting to change.
In the past ten years, the number of summer meal sites in the state has more than tripled. But reaching students in rural Maine is still a major challenge.
In a small pavilion outside of Gray-New Gloucester High School, Rhondalynn LaMarca slices and scoops pizza to a long line of hungry students. This meal site, like many in Maine, emerged within the past decade. LaMarca says while it’s heavily used now, it was a struggle to get people to come in at first.
“There used to be a stigma,” she says. “‘Oh, you have to get a free lunch.’ That is completely reversed. Now it’s like, ‘Oh you’re getting lunch. I want to do that. I want to get together with my community.’“