SNAP turns 40: Providing sustenance for working poor families

Friday, September 29 marks the 40th anniversary of the 1977 Food Stamp Act, the landmark law that established the nation’s modern anti-hunger program—as it’s now known, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Forty years on and Mainers, especially Maine’s working poor families, struggle more now they than ever before in the SNAP program’s history to get food assistance due to misguided and dangerous state policies.

While SNAP is best known for feeding children, seniors, and people with disabilities, an emerging group of people also now rely on SNAP to put food on the table—working poor families.

A recent study by Preble Street and Good Shepard Food Bank reported that, “since 1980, households with full-time, year-round workers have grown as a share of SNAP recipients more than any other group.”

Working poor is defined as a family that earns below 200 percent of federal guidelines for poverty, according to the Working Poor Families Project. In 2015, a 200% poverty threshold for a family of four was $48,500. In Maine, 29 percent of families who work still do not earn enough to exceed poverty income levels.

The prevalence of working poor families is even greater in Maine’s rural counties (Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Washington) where 40 percent of families work but still live in poverty.

It is no surprise then that hunger rates are higher in Maine’s most rural counties than in the rest of the state: Washington (17.2 percent), Aroostook (17.1 percent), and Piscataquis (16.9 percent) compared to a statewide rate of 15.8 percent.

While Maine families are going hungry, especially in rural counties where jobs are hard to come by and poverty is above average, our state leaders have done everything they can think of to prevent working families from qualifying for food and other assistance.

Some of their policies are just political gamesmanship. Others are harmful and lead to potentially life-threatening, situations like utility cut-offs, eviction, and homelessness.

SNAP keeps people out of poverty, especially during hard economic times. And while some places in Maine are experiencing greater economic hardships than their ancestors did in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the governor and his health and human services officials continue to make it harder for Maine families to simply put food on the table.

Today, MECEP calls upon our state legislators to come together to turn back the LePage Administration’s failed anti-hunger policies in the same bipartisan fashion that Congress did 40 years ago when establishing the food assistance program.