Last week, Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin touted two of his proposals that would result in fewer people receiving food stamps. They are being included in a farm bill due for reauthorization in 2019.
One proposal would increase work requirements for people to be eligible for the nation’s food stamps program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The other would make people who are delinquent in their child support payments ineligible for the benefits.
“It’s critical we help those trapped on welfare learn the skills they need to be successful,” he said.
However, kicking more people off food stamps doesn’t magically give them a job. It just adds to their struggle to find food.
The proposals assume that people are choosing to live in poverty to collect small benefits amounting to $5 per day. They ignore the realities that many people living in poverty face.
“Many such individuals do work when they can, but they often face significant barriers to work, such as low education and skills or physical or mental health issues,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded.
Poliquin said his proposals were based off Maine’s “success,” but it’s unclear what that success has been.
When Gov. Paul LePage’s administration rolled back the federally funded assistance program, it caused thousands of Maine adults to lose SNAP benefits. Today about 178,000 Maine residents receive SNAP, down from 222,000 in September 2014, a drop of nearly 20 percent.
Meanwhile, food insecurity is a growing problem in Maine. About 16.4 percent of households in Maine are food insecure, greater than the U.S. rate of 13 percent, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which measured average rates of food insecurity between 2014 and 2016. That dropped Maine from ninth worst in the country to seventh worst.
A survey of food pantry clients by Good Shepherd Food Bank, which distributes food to a network of more than 400 pantries, and the social services organization Preble Street gives an indication of what happened to the people who lost their benefits. They didn’t become less hungry. Their financial situation didn’t improve. Instead, they turned to an emergency source of sustenance: food pantries.
Poliquin’s work requirement proposal is also not new.
Since 1996, SNAP has imposed work requirements on non-disabled adults without children. Adults ages 19 to 49 who don’t fulfill work requirements — generally, spending at least 20 hours per week working or participating in training — can receive no more than three months of SNAP benefits every three years.
Poliquin would make them ineligible if they failed to work, volunteer or train for three months in a four-year period
That wouldn’t help anyone, let alone those in rural areas of Poliquin’s Second Congressional District where jobs are limited. Congress should discard what would be a harmful policy for the country’s poorest.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.