I spend a lot of time thanking our veterans. As a veteran, I know our troops and their families make huge sacrifices to defend our nation’s freedom. In light of these sacrifices, honoring our veterans should be a priority.
How we go about honoring our veterans is of great importance. Yes, thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but to truly honor our veterans, we need to move beyond platitudes. Our nation must commit to providing reliable safety net programs for the many veterans who struggle with poverty and hunger when they return home.
As it stands in Maine, thousands of veterans struggle to access the food, housing and mental health services they need. Social service providers, like Preble Street Veterans Housing Services, connect veterans living in poverty with the programs and resources they need to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. This includes connecting veterans to SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps — our nation’s most important and effective anti-hunger program.
An estimated 10,000 Maine veterans receive SNAP benefits. For these veterans, who sacrificed and risked everything, SNAP provides a reliable way to put food on the table.
Across Maine, SNAP is a lifeline for the one in seven people struggling to access enough food. However, since 2014 thousands of Mainers, including many veterans, have lost SNAP benefits because of punitive time limits that take food assistance away from people who are unable to find a job after just three months. Harsh time limits do not help people find work; instead, it forces thousands of people to lose food assistance when they need it most. For veterans, who often face added challenges access good wages and stable employment, three months is not enough to adjust to civilian life after watching our brothers and sisters die beside us.
I know first hand how harmful and counterproductive time limits are for veterans struggling to find work and stability. Participating in SNAP provided me with a sense of relief, and once I had access to food, I could use my time and energy to get back on my feet. In contrast, when I lost access to SNAP benefits because of the three-month time limit, I felt like a second-class citizen abandoned by the nation that I had served. This is not about my single experience, it’s about every veteran and American who lack access to the food they need.
Despite evidence that time limits and harsh work requirements take food away from households struggling with hunger, House Republicans — including Rep. Bruce Poliquin — have pushed to expand work requirements to a wider range of people, including parents with children over age 6 and adults up to age 59.
The farm bill, which funds SNAP, expired Sept. 30 and needs to be reauthorized. Currently, there are separate Senate and House versions of the bill, which need to be reconciled. The strong, bipartisan Senate bill provides the right path forward by protecting and strengthening SNAP, including building on the program’s history of supporting work by investing more funding in SNAP employment and training pilot programs.
In June, the Republican controlled House passed a version of the farm bill — which Poliquin voted for — proposing harmful cuts and changes to SNAP that would make approximately 2 million Americans, including many veterans, ineligible for this vital food assistance program.
The House must now look to the strong, bipartisan Senate farm bill that provides the right path forward by protecting and strengthening SNAP benefits.
To honor veterans and their service to our nation, we must support provisions in the Senate’s farm bill that would ensure SNAP continues to help feed struggling Americans, including veterans, children and their parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and working people with low pay and inconsistent hours.
Tim Keefe is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He lives in Washington, Maine.