Maine Faith Leaders Speak Out Against Cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

May 8, 2018

Portland, ME — At a noontime press conference on Tuesday, more than 40 Maine faith leaders and people of faith and conscience gathered in the food warehouse at Wayside Food Programs to speak out against proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) proposed in the House Farm Bill. Speakers urged Maine’s representatives to oppose H.R. 2, the House Farm Bill, which proposes deep and harmful cuts to food assistance programs. A vote is expected in the coming weeks.

Speakers noted that many of their congregations already try to do their part to ease the suffering in their communities by donating food to local pantries and serving meals in local soup kitchens. They explained that this kind of work of compassion will always be necessary. But it is not enough and will never be enough, because for every meal that a food pantry or soup kitchen provides to a hungry family, SNAP is able to provide twelve.

They announced the launch of an electronic postcard campaign, through which signatures are being collected to urge Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin to oppose these cuts to SNAP. The text on the postcards concludes: “Having adequate food to eat is the most basic of human needs. No one, including you and your Congressional colleagues, should have the power to determine who gets to eat.” In just the first few days, they have received 414 postcards from Mainers around the state, and they expect that number to continue to rise.

Speakers included:

Speakers praised Rep. Chellie Pingree for announcing her strong support of SNAP and her opposition to the House Farm Bill. They urged Rep. Bruce Poliquin to find the strength and compassion to oppose harmful cuts to safety net programs like SNAP.

Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, Moral Movement Maine:  
“As people of faith and conscience, we are deeply concerned about these cuts to food assistance programs that are a critically important component of Maine’s social safety net. Any piece of legislation that puts up barriers that make it more difficult for struggling neighbors to access assistance and denies food to those who are hungry is morally wrong and dangerous.”

Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director, Maine Council of Churches:  
“These onerous additional work requirements [proposed in the House Farm Bill] aren’t really about getting people employed in dignified work that could lift them out of poverty. They’re punishments designed to withhold food from struggling, hungry people so that our government can pay for the tax cuts for wealthy people they voted in a few months ago. They’re intended to further stigmatize, blame and shame people who live in poverty, many of whom already have low-wage, insecure jobs.  And all they would do is create another two or three new levels of red tape that make it even harder for hungry people to participate in the SNAP program — a program that 2/3 of our fellow Americans say they don’t want to see cut. SNAP helps people you and I meet every single day: like the home health aide who cares for your aging mom, the cashier who helps you buy groceries, the fast food workers who serve you your lunch, and the farmers who raised the vegetables you’ll serve your family tonight — people who work hard at low-paying jobs and who still can’t make ends meet when the bills come due, the weather turns cold, or their children need new shoes. These neighbors don’t need another bureaucratic hoop to jump through. They don’t need another mess of red tape to untangle. They are hungry. Let’s tell Maine’s congressional delegation that everyone deserves to eat — no new work requirements for SNAP!”

Rabbi Jared Saks, Conregation Bet Ha’am, South Portland: 
“Just as in the society that the ancient rabbis envisioned, Mainers value community. We care about our neighbors. We look out for each other. We make every effort to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. We know that we are in this together. And we know that cutting SNAP runs contrary to what it means to be a Mainer. Simply put, a Farm Bill with cuts in SNAP would leave more Mainers, and more Americans, hungry. SNAP currently assists 1 in 7 Mainers, many living with disabilities, many retired and living on fixed incomes, many who have lost their jobs or are between jobs. To its credit, SNAP kept more than 47,000 Mainers out of poverty, including 16,000 children, every year between 2009 and 2012. Maine ranks 7th in the nation in food insecurity, with more than 1 in 5 children living with food insecurity. We owe it to our friends, neighbors, and fellow Mainers to protect SNAP.”

Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, First Universalist Church of Auburn, Unitarian Universalist:  
“We have been fed the lie that those who participate in SNAP are undeserving because it’s the only way to justify the morally reprehensible fact that in the richest nation in history there are people who are starving. It is our national shame that in this wealthy country there are already children who go to bed every night hungry and that instead of working to ensure they are fed our government is considering taking food out of the mouths of even more. It is our national shame that in this wealthy country we revere our military out of one side of our mouths and condemn veterans and active service members and their families as lazy, tell them to work harder if they want to eat, out of the other side. It is our national shame that in this wealthy country, our elderly, who raised us, taught us, sacrificed for us, wake to empty cupboards and sleep with aching bellies, and that in this nation that purports to
celebrate life those living with disabilities that prevent them from working are deemed undeserving of food. Let me be clear: the vast majority of SNAP participants are not failing themselves. We as a nation are failing them. We have the resources we need as a nation to feed our people. We only lack the governmental will to do so.”

Rev. Jim Gertmenian, United Church of Christ pastor, Cumberland:  
“On December 7 of last year, nine faith leaders were handcuffed and arrested at Senator Susan Collins’ office here in Portland. Our civil disobedience was a witness against the ill-conceived and mean-spirited tax bill that was then before the United States Congress.  Our action was part of a wider protest – spreading across Maine and across the nation – a protest rising from the depths of our faith – a protest on behalf of God’s beloved children who have been denied their share of the earth’s bounty. At the time, we predicted that once that bill was passed, corporate profits would rise, but wages would not; that the deficit would enlarge but the social safety net diminish; that those whose tables were already obscenely laden would get more but those whose tables were nearly bare would get less. Today, with the current farm bill being considered in the congress, those predictions are coming true. Bemoaning a deficit crisis that they created by giving tax breaks to corporations and millionaires, Republicans in the House of Representatives now want to try to fix that deficit by reducing the SNAP, or food-stamp, program, cutting 2 million people, including Mainers, out — just when they most need help to feed their families. And what is threatened next after food stamps? Medicaid?  Medicare? Social Security? Who can call this fair? Who can call this right? Who can call this compassionate?”

Photos and live-stream video footage from the vigil are available at the Moral Movement Maine Facebook page

Live footage
Photos (credit Tina Davidson)