Maine’s slow job and employment recovery makes food benefit cuts worse

November 1, 2013 by

On November 1, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for a quarter of a million Mainers will decrease by $11 to $36 per month depending on household size. At this benefit level, thousands of Maine people will go hungry.

In 2009 Congress increased food stamps to ease the widespread hardship brought on by the Great Recession, stipulating that the increase would end in mid-2014. At the time perhaps, it was logical to conclude that our recovery would be further along than it is and fewer people would need food benefits. Instead, our economy is still struggling and Congress has decided to move up SNAP cuts to October 31, 2013. In Maine, where we have recovered only one-third of the jobs lost from the recession and 100,000 Mainers are still unemployed or can only find part-time work, people still need help to put food on their table.

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Even before the cuts take effect, food benefits are not enough. The federal government bases benefit levels on estimated food costs in the Thrifty Food Plan, which, in 2013, is $1.70 to $2 per meal.

I tried eating on $2 last night. My supper of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, a glass of milk, and a banana came to $2.42 per serving. I chose the lowest, sale-priced ground beef (80% lean) and only the lower-cost store brands. I could have saved $0.12 per serving by buying canned green beans, but I chose fresh because they are salt-free. In either case, my meal was 15-20 percent higher than what the Thrifty Food Plan says will feed a person.

After November 1, the average food supplement for people in Maine will be less than $1.40 per person per meal. The cuts are the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four. People cannot maintain a healthy diet with this cut.

Maine people want to work. Those that can work would if jobs were available. The least we can do is to lend them a helping hand until they can get back on their feet. Congress should restore and extend the temporary increase in food benefits and refrain from further SNAP cuts.

Meanwhile, the governor and legislature can do more to create jobs here at home. Investing in Maine’s infrastructure, education, and research and development can create thousands of jobs. Accepting federal funds to expand health care for low-income Mainers will create 3,100 jobs. The more the governor and legislature do to create jobs, the fewer people will suffer from hunger.

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