Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: Farm Bill harmful for SNAP

Congressman Bruce Poliquin may not appreciate the bitter harvest in store for Maine’s 2nd Congressional district were the Farm Bill passed by Poliquin and his Republican colleagues to become law. As a physician, taking care of the broad range of his constituents, I can only imagine the potential harm.

Just last December Poliquin and his GOP colleagues pushed the federal budget farther out of balance with a tax bill giving over 80 percent of the benefits to the richest 1 percent. Now, with their budget consciousness seemingly re-born, the GOP House majority and Poliquin seek to cut government spending at the expense of the most vulnerable, including our children. The bill passed by the House would tighten the existing work requirements and penalties in the provision of the Farm Bill known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Since the heaviest food stamp users live in rural counties, Maine’s Second District residents would see more hunger and food insecurity if the Senate accepted the changes.

The Farm Bill containing the food stamp program has been revised and renewed every 5 years since its inception in 1933. Members of Congress have understood the legislation’s enormous impact, so until this year the deliberations around its renewals have been exercises of bipartisanship reminiscent of days gone by. Program changes have been thoughtful, practical, and effective.

Congressman Poliquin and his colleagues put new provisions in the bill that ignored Republican moderates like Senate Agriculture Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), who commented that “it’s unfortunate that’s where the House wants to go” and expressed “hope that at least some part of the Farm Bill will pass.”

SNAP currently serves 42 million Americans. About 18 percent of Mainers use food stamps each year but the numbers approach 25 percent in the rural counties of the Second District. Residents of those areas perform seasonal and other less reliable work. Food stamps can tide these workers through the lean times that are part of rural life. This support is critical in Maine, which ranks behind only Alabama and Louisiana in the number of people without adequate access to food. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the stricter work requirements would cut the food stamp rolls by 1 million people.

Current food stamp regulations already contain work requirements for those between 18 and 49. The proposal expands the requirements and the exclusions would only apply if there are children under 6 in the household. Beneficiaries would be expected to be employed within a month of receiving benefits and failure to comply would result in a loss of their benefits, possibly affecting entire households.

Because some House members view the current program as “too soft” they are expanding the bureaucracies responsible for oversight by $14 billion while cutting benefits by an estimated $24 billion. Anyone understanding the lives of rural residents of this District would view these proposed provisions as cruel and unnecessary. The cash benefit of the food stamp program is about $125 per month. Although not enough to support families outright, the sum makes a big difference to those working low wage jobs. Here in Maine, according to the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s statistics, 97 percent of current recipients required to work are already doing so. Adding an additional paperwork burden could cause lapses due to seasonal employment or illness. I have seen simple issues like problems with transportation or child care leading to families losing their benefit and therefore access to stable nutrition.

Congressman Poliquin’s own net worth has been estimated at $12 million, making him the 17th wealthiest member of the House. So, he may not have experienced hunger nor spend much time with those that do. But, I see the results of hunger every day in my clinical practice. Food insecurity leads to higher rates of illness and to medical expense. Families with inadequate nutrition have more emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and overall medical costs. They lose time at work and are less productive.

The good news might be that this House version is predicted to fail, as the Senate has already rejected the House’s amendments. Poliquin and his colleagues probably realized that their proposals would be non-starter for Roberts and Senate moderates. Nevertheless, they chose the Farm Bill for an ideological display and crafted a bill that was doomed to fail. Rather than support legislation that draws on common sense and the successes of the past they threatened to blow it up.

As the November election approaches voters may want to consider Poliquin’s willingness to crash the Farm bill and put millions of Americans in food jeopardy. They might also ask him the question posed by his opponent, Majority leader Jared Golden: “(is it) worth causing more hardship to claim some meaningless political victory?”

Steve Bien

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9 Responses »

  1. I live in Augusta but I would never Vote for POLIQUIN He thinks because he is one of the richest men in congress that no one needs food stamps or any extra help. If Mr.Poliquin had to live on what I do and many other SENIOR CITIZENS and DISABLED he would find that if Congress takes the food stamps away and the farm foods he is in for a big surprise. Poliquin is an idiot in my opinion. Hope he does not get elected

  2. Well said and fully agreed, Dr. Bien. Poliquin is also a top beneficiary of the NRA's largesse, so gun responsibility here in Maine and elsewhere across our great Nation isn't a concern of his. NRA = Not Really American or New Russian Advocate. I agree with Ms. Grover, a vote for Poliquin is one I'll never make.

  3. ...This proud Veteran is voting FOR Bruce Poliquin....The National Rifle Association is a fine and honorable organization. (John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a 'Life Member' of the NRA as were other great Americans throughout history. The Liberals who embrace the 'dark side' will be left in the backwash of their own obstruction and misdeeds. The 'train left the station back on November 2016 and so many are still crying at the 'dock' waiting for a boat.

  4. Today's NRA isn't anywhere near the NRA of the 1960's that JFK may have been part of. It originally promoted gun safety and wildlife conservation (like Ducks Unlimited). Now it's part of the gun industry and GOP machinery. Kennedy would have nothing to do with today's NRA, just like Reagan wouldn't have anything to do with today's Republican Party. NRA = Not Really American.

  5. Proud Veteran forgot one,,,,
    JFK would also have nothing to do with today's Democratic Party.
    Since we're on here speaking the minds of deceased people..
    Silly huh......
    (I'm a vet too (under Reagan)but fail to see what that had to go with of this??).

  6. I'm a veteran too, under Johnson & Nixon and I say good, more people getting off their fat duffs and going to work.

  7. The good doctor is correct, there is so much evidence written up in medical journals that prove SNAP benefits help reduce medical costs, in a way that outweighs the costs of the nutritional food provided, especially for older folks such as those that inhabit rural Maine. And as for younger folks, ever try finding a job in rural Maine that pays a decent wage?

  8. Seems everywhere i drive around the state nowadays, theres a NEW small farmer. Growing on a small few acres with high tunnels, that seem to be flourishing, along with more farmers markets everywhere. Now it seems to me, as someone whos grown lots of different types of gardens , in ground ,container, raised bed etc.
    And anyone who has grown a garden before ,knows theres always more than YOU can eat. If your hungry , GROW SOMETHING , its really quite easy.

  9. If you grow your food, as suggested by Observation, please have your soil tested. I'm from Franklin County, lived in Portland (now back home) and started a garden/composting etc. The soil was tested - extreme lead contamination.