At the end of September, all four of Maine’s congressional members voted to pass a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
As a part of this continuing resolution, several critical anti-hunger programs will continue to receive funding. Programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and the Pandemic-EBT have become essential supports to the sharply increasing number of Mainers who have recently found themselves unable to meet their families’ hunger needs.
Before COVID-19, 13.6% of Mainers experienced food insecurity.
The lack of access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious, and culturally relevant food placed Maine’s hunger rate far higher than the national average of 11.7% and ranked our state as the hungriest in all of New England.
Calculating the impact of COVID-19, early estimates from Feeding America show a 40% increase in food insecurity. An increase of this magnitude will translate into just over 20% of Mainers not having the food they need to feed their families. Here in Knox County, a 40% increase would mean 17.3% of our community members could become food insecure within the coming year.
In Knox County, countless programs and organizations are working together to meet the needs of our community. Yet, the impact of these local efforts will be more substantial when they are working alongside robust, frontline, federal programs such as SNAP.
We can learn a lot about meeting the hunger need when considering the emergency provisions and additional funding that has resulted from COVID.
For many of us, who rely on programs like SNAP or WIC, the past eight months have been the first time we have been able to feed our families and not carry the stress and uncertainty of where and when our next meal might come.
In our role as food security advocates, we are grateful for this level of support. It means that with the food insecurity induced stress out of the equation, we can now refocus our attention elsewhere.
Several of us seek employment, and the extra focus means we can dedicate our time to job applications and interviews. Others of us are students in the final stages of earning our degrees, and being food secure means we can turn our attention to our studies and graduation. While others are homeschooling children, the extra focus means we can be more present and engaged.
We are all asking, “Why has it taken a global pandemic for us not to be hungry?”
We urge our members of Congress to actively pursue ongoing funding and an expansion of programs like SNAP. Specifically, we are calling for a 15% increase in the SNAP program, which is the same increase that SNAP experienced during the 2008 recession.
We urge the school and summer meal program’s ongoing flexibilities that allow communities to feed any child under the age of 18 and do so in a fashion that provides the most significant and most flexible distribution of this food. We understand that the growth and development of our children depend on access to consistent, high-quality food.
We also know that our children see us, their parents, as role models, and if they see us eating poorly, they will continue this cycle. We recognize that food insecurity is not pandemic specific, and being food secure should be a life goal, not a pandemic goal.
The Building Advocates Leadership Program Participants
Keisha Beal, Rockland
Mandy Dennison, Rockland
Rebekah Falla, Tenants Harbor
Geri Hayward, Rockland
Tim Keefe, Rockland
Holly McLain, Rockland
Meg Taft, Alna