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With demand soaring at food banks, advocates call on Maine to restore expanded SNAP benefits

In this Monday, March 27, 2017 photo Sunny Larson, left, and Zak McCutcheon pick produce while gathering provisions to take home at the Augusta Food Bank in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
In this Monday, March 27, 2017 photo Sunny Larson, left, and Zak McCutcheon pick produce while gathering provisions to take home at the Augusta Food Bank in Augusta, Maine.

Advocates for low-income households are calling on Maine lawmakers to temporarily restore a federal pandemic-era program that expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

About 100,000 Maine households received additional SNAP benefits during the pandemic, but it ended back in March.

A new bill from Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, would partially restore those benefits for another six months, with the benefits gradually decreasing over time.

The demand is soaring for donated food through Maine's local pantries, including the community bank that Stover helps run.

"It is a help-yourself shed, and even though we source and place food in there daily, we cannot keep it stocked," she said.

Advocates say Maine households lost $19 million in SNAP benefits when the pandemic-era program ended back in March. Some food banks have reported a 25-to-30 % increase in demand since the expanded benefits program ended in March.

And Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank, estimates that with the end of the pandemic-era program, 60 million meals a year will be lost in Maine.

"We are hearing from our partners across the state. Pantry shelves are empty, and neighbors in need are coming to their doors," she said. "They are calling us in tears, because they are feeling like they are failing their communities. They are not failing. The system is failing."

Advocates say the expanded SNAP benefits decreased poverty in Maine by about 9% and contributed to a drop in the state's food insecurity rate, the lowest in nearly two decades.

Advocates are also urging Congress to boost SNAP benefits in the upcoming farm bill, but Miale said that legislation is at least several months away from being enacted.