Maine takes third place for the highest rate of ‘very low food security’ in the nation according to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture annual hunger data ("USDA ERS - Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics", 2013). The USDA defines ‘very low food security’ as ‘missing multiple meals for an extended period of time or eating food that is inappropriate for that meal.’ The number of Maine residents in this category is currently 7.1%, up from 4.3% since 2000-2002. Food insecurity as a whole has risen almost 6% in Maine during this same period (Coleman-Jensen, Nord, & Singh, 2013). Government programs attempt to fill the nutritional needs of many Mainers, but often fall short, thus necessitating other means of ensuring food on the table. This section will briefly look at several of the most widely utilized federal programs.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
SNAP evolved from the nation’s first food stamp program established by John F. Kennedy’s 1961 executive order. The program continues to expand while restrictions on benefit eligibility simultaneously tighten. SNAP benefits are limited to households with gross income below 130% of poverty level and net income below 100% of poverty level (with the exception of those with disabilities in whose households the gross income restriction is waived) (USDA, 2014).
A 2013 Portland Press Herald editorial states approximately 250,000 Mainers currently rely upon SNAP benefits ("Our view: Federal," 2013). Though exact numbers are not available, many qualifying households choose not to participate. Some individuals do not wish to suffer the embarrassment of accepting assistance. Others find the application process poses logistical, cultural and language challenges (Gundersen, C., Kreider, B., & Pepper, J., 2014, 292).
Benefit spending has increased more than threefold since 2003, up from approximately $116M to almost $371M in 2013 (Tice, 2013). Jason Hall, Director of CSFP and TEFAP, as well as former administrator of agency relations for Good Shepherd Food Bank, states SNAP benefits, at $ 122.79 monthly per person as of FY2013 ("SNAP Average Monthly Benefits per Person", 2014), often fail to cover food costs for an entire month, thus forcing many to rely upon food pantries and/or other sources to see them through (Hall, 2014).
WIC (Women, Infants and Children)
WIC was introduced in 1972 to meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as infants and children up to age 4. To qualify, a family must earn less than 185% of the federal poverty line and meet criteria for being at "nutrition risk" as determined by a health professional. ("WIC program overview"). According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 24,380 Maine households participated in WIC during 2013. ("WIC program: Total," 2014)
Budget cuts have recently threatened WIC funding, which suffered cuts by the House Appropriations Committee in 2014 from the proposed $7.14B to $6.6B for 2014. The...