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Food Insecurity in Maine

WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?: On their website, Good Shepherd Food Bank breaks down food insecurity in Maine, as of September 2018.
  • 14.4% of Maine's households are considered food insecure, much higher than the national average of 11.8%.
  • 1 in 5 Maine children are food insecure.
  • Maine is ranked 9th in the nation for food insecurity.
  • Maine is ranked 16th in the nation for childhood food insecurity.
  • 14% of Mainers participate in SNAP as of September 2016.
  • 37% of Maine's food insecure population does not qualify for public assistance.

HUNGER PAINS: In 2017, Maine Hunger Initiative and Good Shepherd Food Bank collaborated to produce Hunger Pains, a study that aimed to provide a clearer understanding of who is struggling with hunger in Maine and what challenges they face in their attempts to attain food security.

This research focuses on people who receive food assistance through hunger relief organizations in Maine and examines their household demographics, use of charitable food assistance, participation in SNAP, and employment. 

"Food-insecure Mainers report skipping meals because they can't get the food they need. One U.S. Navy veteran in Knox County describes eating one soup kitchen meal per day and meeting the rest of his food needs by stretching the food from the one pantry box he receives each month. He often only has the resources to eat one meal per day."

Some background for the report:
  • As of December 2016, GSFB had 399 partners: 303 food pantries, 50 meal sites, and 46 other organizations, including homeless shelters, youth programs, and group buying clubs.
  • A 2014 report by GSFB & Feeding America  counted more than 178,000 Mainers who regularly sought assistance at local food pantries and meal sites, not including children and families who participate in school-based initiatives.
  • The same study found that people were visiting a local hunger relief charity 11 out of 12 months of the year.
  • As of November 2016, 188,425 Mainers were participating in SNAP. Since 1980, households with full-time, year-round workers have grown as a share of SNAP recipients more than any other group. This suggests that more people who are working full time are not paid a wage high enough to sustain their families.
  • In 2015, the Summer Food Service Program, funded by the USDA, reached only 25% of eligible Maine children with summer meals.
  • Access to reliable transportation is important for employment options as well as food access. In the study region of a 2006 study of a rural welfare-to-work program, 1/3 of the study sample didn't own a car or have reliable access to a car or public transportation.

Some highlights from Hunger Pain's findings:
  • 87% of households surveyed contain a child, a senior, or a person with a disability, and some contain members of more than one of these groups.
  • 86% of respondents use a food pantry at least once a month. 
  • Many food pantries only distribute food once a month, so those visiting monthly might reflect the pantry's limited operations, not their need.
  • 59% of respondents are using the food pantry more in 2016 than they did in 2015, including 8% who did not use a pantry at all in the previous year.
  • 57% of respondents receive monthly SNAP benefits. Of those who receive SNAP benefits, 83% report that their benefits last two weeks or less.
  • 1/4 respondents lost SNAP benefits in the past year. Nearly 1/3 of this group were removed from the program because of recent state policy changes. The three-month time limit accounted for 24% & the asset test accounted for 7%.
    • Out of those who lost benefits because of the time limit, 59% report looking for work & not being able to find it or not having transportation to get there. 
    • 79% of those who lost SNAP benefits because of the time limit & 58% of those who lost SNAP benefits because of the asset test report using food pantries more this year than they did last year.
  • 73% of respondents have to sacrifice other necessities in order to be able to afford food. Trade-offs reported most often were between paying for food and paying for utilities and other bills, medication and health care, and transportation.
    • 86% of those who lost SNAP benefits because of the time limit had to make difficult choices between getting food on the table and paying for rent, heat, health care, and transportation. This number was the same for those who lost SNAP benefits because of the asset test.
  • The median response to the highest hourly wage at respondents' last job was $10 an hour, which is below the federal poverty level for a family of 4.
    • Only 15% of respondents have access to health insurance through their current or most recent employer.
    • Of those currently working full or part time, 78% still have to make difficult trade-offs between food and other necessities.
  • 90% of respondents say that Maine has a high rate of hunger. Three key factors were brought up: the ailing labor market, lack of access to SNAP benefits, and lack of transportation options.