Undoing changes to SNAP food assistance programs

Pushing back on the Governor’s Changes to Food Assistance


Adapted from materials created by Maine Equal Justice Partners



Last year, the legislature failed to pass LD 1052, a bill that would have restored food assistance to thousands of Mainers who lost it, due to administrative changes the Governor made.  (The bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled House, but failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.)  We urge lawmakers to support policies like LD 1052 in the future to ensure Mainers do not unnecessarily go hungry.

What happened?

Since January, 9,000 Maine people lost their Food Supplement (FS) benefits.  This is because the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) adopted a rule that limits FS benefits to 3-months in a 3-year period.  This rule applies to certain people between the ages of 18 and 50 without children at home if they can’t find a job, get into a training program, or find a volunteer position no matter how hard they are trying.   


The Governor also passed requirements, mandating able-bodied public assistance recipients must work, volunteers, or be in a work training program.  Unfortunately, if people cannot find work, volunteer placement, or live in a rural area without transportation, they can still lose food assistance no matter how hard they try.  It’s absurd to deny benefits because people cannot accomplish what in many cases is impossible.

Many parts of the state—especially rural areas—are still struggling to recover from the deepest recession in most of our lifetimes.  Jobs are not available for all who need one; neither are training programs or volunteer opportunities. Lack of transportation options in rural communities makes it even harder to meet these new requirements. To learn more about the new rule visit www.mejp.org.

What did the legislature try to do?

LD 1052 required Maine DHHS to request a federal “waiver” of the 3-month limit on food assistance for those areas of the state where jobs are scarce. This means that the 3-month limit would not apply in those areas. That is what 42 other states did this year—including every other New England state.  They chose to provide food to people in areas of high unemployment.  Maine is one of only 8 states that did not. Since 1997, when the 3-month time limit was created, Maine has asked for a federal waiver of the 3-month time limit every year for areas of the state where there were not enough jobs. This year Maine DHHS decided not to seek a waiver.  This decision cannot stand.

We believe it is likely that Aroostook, Washington, Piscataquis and Somerset counties would all qualify for a waiver, along with the municipalities of Farmington, Lincoln, Millinocket, Pittsfield, Sanford, Rumford, Belfast, Bridgton, Ellsworth, and Waterville and some of their surrounding towns.  A number of smaller municipalities outside of these areas would also qualify.


Why hunger is such an important issue

Maine already has the 4th highest rate of hunger in the nation.  This 3-month time limit will make that shameful statistic even worse.

Maine still trails both New England and the nation in recovering from the recession.  While the statewide unemployment rate was 5% in February 2015, several counties and other areas have rates that are 50% to 100% higher than that.  Many of those who lost their FS are actually working but if they can’t get at least 20 hours a week from their employer or find a second job, then they lose their FS benefit. Training programs are scarce.  DHHS created only 1,000 short term training slots to serve the nearly 9,000 individuals that have already been affected by this limit. —Even worse, these slots are only available to people within 30 miles of Portland, Lewiston, Augusta and Bangor.  Non-profit agencies throughout the state have been overwhelmed by people who want to volunteer; they don’t have the resources to meet the demand.

Many low income Mainers affected by this limit live in rural areas with no public transportation; they don’t have reliable transportation of their own. Under the DHHS rule, this does not matter.  These individuals will still lose food assistance even if they have no means to get to work or to a volunteer position.

Approximately 12% of all FS households include a veteran.  Based on this we estimate that over 1,000 veterans have already lost food assistance.

Local grocery stores are losing millions of dollars as a result of this cut. The Food Supplement program is an important economic stimulus in Maine.  It brings about $300 million dollars a year into the State. The 9,000 Mainers that have already lost benefits mean a loss of $12 Million dollars to the state’s economy.  As months go on this loss will be even greater.  These cuts are felt hardest in Maine’s rural areas.

Food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the state are already facing more demand for food from hungry people than they can meet.  As thousands more lose food assistance this crisis will become more acute.