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Portland, ME [May 24, 2017] – As President Trump proposes major cuts to anti-poverty programs in the federal budget, Mainers brace for increased homelessness and hunger. The president’s proposed budget rides the coat tails of deep reductions by Maine state government that resulted in 20,000 Mainers losing food assistance in recent years.
“We need a government that invests in people, not just artillery,” said Timothy Keefe, a U.S. Navy Veteran who was dropped from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last year due to state-level policy choices like the proposals in the president’s budget. Keefe, who was injured at work, became homeless and slept in a tent all winter. He lacks access to healthcare and food assistance and now must skip multiple meals each day.
Maine ranks third in the nation for hunger, a rate of food insecurity well above the national average. While hunger is decreasing nationally, Mainers struggle to get enough food. In 2015, Maine’s food insecurity rank worsened, rising from 12th in the nation to 9th. Nearly 16 percent of Maine households, or more than 200,000 people, are food insecure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.The federal budget would cut the SNAP program by more than 25% and slash millions from the Supplemental Security Income program that provides basic lifeline support to Americans with disabilities.
In this case, as Maine goes, the nation should not follow.
Alarmed by the persistence of hunger in Maine, Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative and Good Shepherd Food Bank conducted the largest-ever research study with people seeking assistance at food pantries in Maine and released the results in February this year. The study, Hunger Pains: Widespread food insecurity threatens Maine’s future, shows that recent policy changes to the food assistance program in Maine have deepened chronic food insecurity.
“When we started Preble Street 41 years ago, Maine had only 40 food pantries total. Now there are at least 400. Every week, hundreds of families line up for second-hand and donated food at our pantry. These small food pantries simply cannot fill the gaps these cuts will create. Further cuts to the food assistance program will create a statewide emergency,” said Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street.
Instead of an emergency resource, as originally intended, food pantries now serve as an ongoing means of survival for hundreds of families in communities all across Maine. In addition, the study found that:
- 87% of households seeking assistance at hunger relief organizations include a child, a senior, and/or a person with a disability
- 86% of survey respondents use a food pantry once a month or more
- 59% of survey respondents are using the food pantry more this year than they did last
- 73% are making trade-offs between paying for food and paying for other necessities like housing and healthcare
One in four survey respondents reported being dropped from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the past year, many due to two recent state policy changes that reduced eligibility in Maine’s food stamp program.
When asked about making trade-offs, 86% of those who lost access to SNAP due to state policy changes reported making difficult choices between paying for food and other necessities.
“If I’m working as hard as I do, I want to have the right to survive and live instead of going hungry,” said a middle-aged Hancock County Man who participated in the research study.