PORTLAND, Maine — Maine, like many states across the nation, faces a pressing issue—hunger. Behind closed doors, countless individuals are grappling with food insecurity.
According to Maine's Roadmap to End Hunger by 2030, a shocking 160,000 Mainers rely on SNAP benefits to put food on their tables.
However, the availability of these crucial federal nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is hanging by a thread as the 2023 Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of this month.
Justin Strasburger, the executive director of Full Plates Full Potential, shed light on the urgency of the situation.
"Every day that we wait on this are days that folks are going hungry," Strasburger said.
Strasburger emphasized that hunger is an invisible and insidious problem.
"Hunger is a really tricky thing; it's an invisible thing to a lot of people. The reality is your neighbor could be struggling with food insecurity, and you would never know," Strasburger said.
The Farm Bill is not just any piece of legislation; it affects everyone, regardless of whether they reside in an urban or rural part of the state.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, D-ME 1st District, emphasized the critical need for extending the Farm Bill.
"Right now, the most important thing is to get that extension passed," Pingree said.
However, time is running out, and Pingree acknowledged the challenges ahead.
"I think it would be ideal if we could finish the Farm Bill by the end of the year, but some fights we won't back down on, like cutting SNAP benefits," Pingree added.
The Farm Bill encompasses various components, including SNAP, expanding broadband access in rural areas, and supporting local farmers' markets.
Pingree also brought attention to the gravity of SNAP benefits.
"A SNAP benefit gives you six dollars a day per person, so try to imagine feeding yourself for six dollars a day," Pingree said.
But there's a lifeline for those struggling to make ends meet. Many local farms accept SNAP benefits or participate in programs like Farm Fresh Rewards and the Double Bucks Program, where individuals can use their SNAP cards to receive twice the amount when purchasing local fresh produce.
As winter approaches, Mainers are faced with heart-wrenching decisions.
"Keeping themselves warm or keeping themselves fed are terrible choices to have to make," Strasburger said.
Despite the challenges, Pingree aspires to secure an extension that would allow work on an updated bill until the end of the year before it is reestablished for another five years.
That vote is expected in the next two weeks to extend the current Farm Bill until the end of the year.