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Aislinn Canarr of Winterport is a Master’s of Social Work student at the University of Maine.

In the coming days, the Maine Legislature will be voting on LD 174, which pushes forward the recommendations in a report developed by the Ending Hunger by 2030 Advisory Group. The recommendations are comprehensive and look to solve food insecurity and hunger by leveraging federal programs and addressing the root problems of hunger by working to lift Mainers out of poverty.

Hunger affects Mainers in all 16 counties, at all ages of life. According to the report, 40 percent of seniors face hunger or are at risk of going hungry. Two-thirds of single-parent households face food insecurity. Children are going hungry when they leave the school day. One in 5 Mainers faces hunger.  

These are our neighbors, friends and co-workers. Hunger not only affects an individual’s well-being, physical health, economic and academic success, it also affects the family and the entire community.

Food insecurity is correlated with chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and others. This leads to poorer quality of life, lost productivity and increased health care costs. The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that food insecurity costs Mainers $629 million in health care services. That same study found that adding in lost productivity, special education services and loss of earnings costs our economy $709 million annually.

While our economy is important, the worst impact of food insecurity is its effects on families.  Food insecurity doesn’t occur because of a lack of food on the grocery store shelves. Hunger and poverty go hand in hand. Navigating a life for yourself and your family while in poverty is incredibly stressful. This takes a toll on everyone in terms of mental and physical health and quality of life. Poor nutrition in childhood can impact their entire lifespan.

The recommendations of the Hunger Advisory Group address the root causes of food insecurity and current and future needs. First it calls on the state to leverage federal programs by removing barriers and red tape. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the most effective anti-hunger program in the state. In 2020, it provided 62.4 million meals to Mainers. Still 37 percent of food insecure people do not qualify for the program. The state has some flexibility to increase accessibility and eligibility. Creating a system of automatic enrollment to multiple programs, such as the Women, Infant & Children program, SNAP and Medicaid programs. This would provide needed services for people with fewer barriers. There are opportunities to increase farm participation for the Maine Senior FarmShare Program, and encouraging schools to start after-school meal programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

In the long term, we cannot end food insecurity if we do not develop strategies for systemic change. The report offers several bold, yet attainable suggestions. We must foster economic stability. This includes a broad range of factors such as education, wages, health care, child care, transportation and housing. Many reports on hunger in Maine for the past decades have come upon these issues as a clear cause of food insecurity and hunger. Addressing these needs is the only way to make lasting change for Maine people and families. Each priority and strategy area includes clear and actionable items including training programs for higher wages, vouchers or affordable housing bonds, and increased assistance for weatherization to reduce heating costs.

Maine is currently in a solid place economically. It is time to look at ways to help better the quality of life for all. Finding ways to streamline and utilize federal programs, increasing stability in housing, training for higher wage jobs and addressing health disparities that are connected to food insecurity benefits everyone in our communities and our state. LD 174 is important legislation to address this need. I hope people contact their representatives in support of this bill and the people of Maine.