Ninety-eight cents a meal ain’t much. And yet that’s what 160,000 Maine food stamp recipients (almost 11,000 of them in Portland), whose benefits are prescribed by the Farm Bill, have been getting for years.
The 2007 House-approved version of the Farm Bill, however, gives a much-needed boost to this program, which recently took criticism in Maine for having the nation’s highest error rate (at the beginning of this month, Governor John Baldacci had to sign a $1 million emergency financial order that will help hire workers to fix the problems). “We really like the House version,” says Maine Center for Economic Policy federal-budget analyst Nicole Witherbee, who points out that by linking food stamp allocation to inflation, the bill would gradually restore food stamps’ purchasing power. “It won’t rise very quickly, but steadily at least.” All told, the House bill allots $4 billion for food stamps, and hundreds of millions more for school lunch programs. It also pumps up the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps stock food banks and shelters, from $140 million to $250 million between 2008 and 2012.
In addition, the House bill raises the minimum benefits for the elderly, changes the regulations to remove service members’ combat pay from income calculations, and makes it possible for people to save money for education without the risk of going hungry (in the past, people with more than $2000 in savings were not eligible for food stamps). “We want poor people to save money so that they will no longer have to use these programs,” Witherbee says.In a more roundabout way, the 2007 Farm Bill is a step on the road to ensuring that disadvantaged people can still eat healthy foods. One of the reasons that junk food is so cheap is because it costs so little to produce the corn syrup (a corn byproduct, obviously) and oils (many from soy) that comprise the bulk of sodas, candies, chips, and cookies. By increasing aid to Maine farmers, the government can make it more cost-effective to grow fruits and vegetables — and those savings could be passed down to consumers.
: News Features
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