August 21, 2018
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The farm bill’s food stamp cuts will hurt Maine veterans

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Jerry DeWitt, Special to the BDN

Last month, the House Agriculture Committee released the 2018 farm bill, HR 2. You might associate the farm bill with corn subsidies, but this important piece of legislation also funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is our nation’s most important program for fighting hunger.

SNAP is a crucial and reliable safety net program for veterans. It’s a sustaining resource for vets when they return home from deployment, looking for work and transitioning back into civilian life. The program is especially vital in our rural areas, where access to transportation is unreliable and year-round work is hard to secure.

Maine has the highest rate of hunger in New England and one of the highest per capita populations of veterans in the nation. An estimated 10,000 Maine veterans currently receive SNAP. In 2014, when Gov. Paul LePage reinstated a work requirement for SNAP, cutting off benefits for those who don’t meet it after three months, many veterans ended up losing their benefits as a result.

This arbitrary, punitive time limit takes food off Mainer’s tables because they are simply unable to find a job, including veterans who have served their country. Without food, veterans find themselves unstable, hungry and in crisis. In my experience, Maine veterans want to work and taking food away makes that goal less attainable.

The plan for SNAP in the House farm bill calls for $17 billion less in food assistance for those in need over the next 10 years. These savings will be achieved by requiring every state to follow Maine’s example by limiting food assistance to a mere three months for people who can’t get a job no matter how hard they are trying. These inflexible requirements would also apply to a wider range of people, including parents of young children.

When implemented here, the time limits failed to achieve their stated goals, and instead, two-thirds of those whose benefits were terminated remained unemployed after a year, with neither wages nor food assistance.

As retired military service member of 28 years and the state commander for a program that helps veterans living in poverty, I am very supportive of helping people, especially veterans, get back to work and find stability and productivity in our community. But the reality is that time limits are harmful and counterproductive to those goals.

That’s why a group of more than 40 Maine veterans and veteran advocacy groups came together to write a letter to Rep. Bruce Poliquin to ask him to rescind his support for the farm bill and withdraw his own bill, the Food Stamp Integrity Act of 2017, that contains similar proposals. In our letter, we asked Poliquin to meet with us or contact us to set up a meeting by the end of April, but he and his staff have not gotten back to us. Ignoring a request from so many veterans shouldn’t be a surprise — after all we encountered a locked office when we went to deliver the letter during working hours — but it shows a lack of respect for those who have served our country in the armed forces.

As social service providers, we are unable to provide the financial assistance necessary to give our veterans access to the food they need. The food pantries and soup kitchens in our communities are vital, but with limited resources, hours and locations, they cannot meet all our neighbors needs. SNAP is a lifeline in our state, and the farm bill would take food off the tables of thousands of Mainers and their families.

It is abundantly clear that the legislators who drafted this bill have never had to rebuild their lives from the ground up. It is shameful that we continue to cut our social service programs, forcing more of our veterans and fellow Americans into poverty.

For the sake of our veterans and fellow Americans, do not let proposed House farm bill become the law of the land. Educate yourself on the details of this legislation and make sure that you are fully aware of the negative impact it will have on your friends, family and neighbors.

All Americans, including veterans, need to be able to eat to succeed. No American should go hungry. Tell Reps. Poliquin and Chellie Pingree to say no to SNAP cuts in the farm bill.

Jerry DeWitt is the state commander for American Veterans, a nonprofit advocacy group for veterans. He is also the veterans program coordinator for Tri-County Mental Health Services.

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