Is DHHS SNAP mismanagement putting Maine families at risk of hunger?

In a blistering editorial published in today’s Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Central Maine Morning Sentinel, MaineToday Media condemned the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for its administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), earning the dubious distinction of “worst administered in the whole country, ranking 53rd out of 53,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

MECEP has repeatedly emphasized that persistent hunger remains one of Maine’s greatest challenges, as this excerpt from an October 28, 2015 post on our blog details:

“The statistics on hunger in Maine remain daunting. Nearly 1 in every 4 Maine children remain food insecure. And it is not only Maine’s children who too often go hungry. Nearly 1 in six Mainers are food insecure, including almost 5.5 percent of seniors. Our state is the most food insecure in New England and in the top one-fifth for poor food security in all category rankings nationally.”

Hunger in Maine cropped_small-borderMECEP has also advocated for improvements to make SNAP more efficient and provide strong support to those who most need it by, for example counting job-seeking toward the eligibility work requirement and waiving the able-bodied work requirement for high areas of unemployment.

We continue to battle misconceptions about who receives SNAP benefits. According to the USDA, over 60 percent of the program’s participants in 2013 were children, elderly, or people with disabilities. In December 2014, USDA also confirmed that many working families still must rely on SNAP benefits to put food on the table: “About 31 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2013 and nearly 43 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings.”

The MaineToday editorials single out DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew for conflating ideology with responsibility for the wellbeing of nutrition insecure Mainers, citing her statements touting recent reduction in the numbers of Mainers receiving SNAP benefits:

“In her celebratory October news release, Mayhew took credit for a drop in the food stamp rolls, saying: ‘People on food stamps are living in poverty, and more food stamps does not equal less poverty.’ That may be true, but it’s also true that fewer food stamp clients does not equal less hunger. The cure for that problem is food, not ‘tough love.’ The USDA should take a close look at Maine’s mismanagement of this program and make sure that hungry people are not the ones who have to pay the price for it.”