Preble Street Advocacy Director Jan Bindas-Tenney addressed the 2016 National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Summer Meeting, which convened in Orono, Maine, in early August.
Here’s what she had to say. .
Thank you for inviting me to be part of this panel on the 2018 Farm Bill. My name is Jan Bindas-Tenney and I am the Advocacy Director for the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative. At Preble Street we provide accessible barrier-free services to empower people experiencing problems with homelessness, housing, hunger, and poverty, and to advocate for solutions to these problems.
Not many people realize that if you took the 5 largest cities in Maine, there would be more Mainers living in food insecure homes than the total population of those five cities. One in six Mainers are food insecure. There are more Maine people living with food insecurity than the total number of people living in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, and Auburn combined.
Maine has the third highest rate of hunger in the nation which is shameful. We have higher rates of hunger than any of the Northeast or Mid Atlantic states.
To give a more national perspective on hunger for those of you who are here from outside of Maine courtesy of our friends at the Food Research and Action Center:
1. More than one in seven Americans – 48.1 million of us – lived in households struggling against hunger in 2014. Of this number, 15.3 million were children.
2. Rural areas (probably where most of you work and live) experience considerably deeper struggles with hunger compared to those inside metropolitan areas (17.1 percent compared to 13.5 percent).
3. Hunger hurts us all. Eliminating hunger would save the nation billions of dollars in doctor and hospital bills, special education, and lost economic productivity. On the contrary, when we create policy that addresses hunger while supporting sustainable agriculture such as the Farm To School programs and EBT at Farmers Markets, everyone wins.
4. SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) provides crucial support to people struggling through challenging economic times. More than 80 percent of people who participate in SNAP are either working or cannot work because they are children, senior citizens, or have disabilities.
Just like clean water, public safety and education, making sure that everyone has enough to eat is an obligation of a just society, not something that’s done only when individuals feel generous.
At the Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, we advocate for policy change that would eliminate hunger. In the 1970s the United States succeeded at virtually eliminating hunger and it’s possible again now, if we have the political will. Livable wage jobs and increased access to USDA nutrition programs like SNAP and childhood nutrition programs in school to fill the gaps make ending hunger easy and possible.
Programs like SNAP stimulate the economy. Five dollars of SNAP generates nine dollars in the local economy.
Over and over again, the people we serve at Preble Street credit SNAP with being the temporary support that paved their way to self-sustainability. SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger, a critical bridge that helps individuals and families re-establish financial stability and move out of poverty.
There is trend in Maine and perhaps around the country to limit access to programs like SNAP. You may have seen Maine in the news recently when our state threatened to end the SNAP program here all together.
Since Maine refused a waiver from the USDA and implemented a three month time limit for unemployed childless adults without disabilities to access SNAP, tens of thousand people have lost assistance. Still unable to find work that pays enough, many who lost their SNAP benefits are struggling with hunger. They are now turning to food pantries and soup kitchens when they are unable to find work.
We serve 1200 meals per day at Preble Street soup kitchens and provide emergency groceries to approximately 200 families every week.
At Preble Street we’ve run a farm to pantry project that has been enormously successful at bringing fresh local produce to our food pantry and other pantries in our region. Our partner Good Shepherd Food Bank has expanded on this idea to create the statewide “Mainers Feeding Mainers” program that brings local produce to pantries all over the state.
Our pantry is full of fresh produce and every Thursday our pantry is packed with families who want this produce. We know that people with low-incomes want fresh local produce as much as everyone else. It’s just about facilitating access and supporting affordability.
But we’d like to stop having to serve this many soup kitchen meals and emergency groceries. Food pantries are not the solution to hunger. We’d rather see Mainers with the income and access to buy local food from farmers for themselves and to cook that food in their own homes.
So, what can we do?
• Find ways for the anti-hunger movement and sustainable agriculture movement to work closely together on Farm Bill advocacy. Thank you for inviting me here today!
• Make a priority in the next Farm Bill to protect and strengthen SNAP. SNAP reduces poverty and is good for the local economy, good for farmers. Not only should we protect SNAP, but strengthen the program by eliminating time limits, restrictions, asset tests; stop focusing on policing poor people and expand access to SNAP. The maximum SNAP benefit is equivalent to $4/day, which is not enough to prevent hunger.
• Expand the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program that provides grant funds to organizations conducting fruit and vegetable incentive projects for SNAP participants, such as double dollar programs for SNAP at farmers markets, food cooperatives, and other retailers.
• Expand Healthy Food Financing Incentive programs to create healthy food purchasing options in areas where people have few options for food: between fast food and convenience stores. Bring fresh food options to these areas.
• Build our sustainable and local food system, as the panelists invited by Congresswoman Pingree described this morning. A sustainable local food system benefits the farmers, the local economy and facilitates healthy food access for people with low-incomes.
We ask the sustainable agriculture movement to join us in this effort, following the ancient words of asking for bread for those who hunger and hunger for justice to those who have bread.