BEHIND THE NUMBERS:
Slashed food assistance and safety net access in the middle of a recession
Policy changes resulted in 58,000 Mainers losing food assistance
Children fell into deep poverty at 8 times the national average
Maine was 9th hungriest state in the nation and the hungriest in New England
Rejected, hoarded, and misspent millions intended to help people in poverty
Restored and expanded access to social safety net programs
Committed to ending hunger by 2030 with sweeping plan
Continued free school meal program for all Maine children even after federal program ended
Targeted critical funding to child care and supports for working families
Boosted pay for low-wage workers
The percentage of children in poverty grew as LePage slashed safety net spending
Maine’s abnormally high hunger rate didn’t start with Paul LePage, but his policies made the problem more severe and entrenched. Since at least 2005, Maine has had the highest rate of food insecurity in New England, a region noted for its low food insecurity. Despite this emergency, LePage targeted food assistance programs for cost-cutting, instituting a raft of new qualification requirements that resulted in 42,600 Maine children losing food assistance through the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He also vetoed funding for Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot meals to older Mainers in need. By revoking SNAP eligibility, Maine lost out on $142 million in federal food assistance funds. While food insecurity rates were recovering nationally following the Great Recession, the problem in Maine grew even worse. Between 2013 and 2015, one in six Maine households was considered food insecure and Maine was ranked the third hungriest state in the nation.
While one in four Maine kids went hungry, the LePage administration cut supports to families in poverty from multiple directions. For a state where infant care is more expensive than college, LePage failed to secure $3 million in available federal funding for child care assistance. And instead of increasing access to health care by expanding Medicaid, LePage restricted it even further, resulting in 16,500 fewer kids accessing MaineCare. While simultaneously obstructing minimum wage increases, he instituted new lifetime limits for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — critical federal funds targeted to families with the greatest need. More than 8,700 Maine families and 16,000 Mainers lost assistance as a result. Maine children fell into deep poverty at eight times the national average. The strategy of restricting TANF didn’t save Maine taxpayers any money because the federal TANF funding came anyway, but instead of distributing the funds to families in need, the LePage administration misspent and hoarded more than $155 million — enough to run the program for two years. Far from serving as a model economic strategy, LePage’s approach extended the pain of the Great Recession and contributed to a sluggish recovery among the worst in the nation.
Increasing economic security
While poverty and hunger are still serious problems in Maine, efforts by Mills and the legislature are beginning to bear fruit. In addition to expanding Medicaid, Mills restored TANF and SNAP aid that LePage denied and signed new legislation to expand support for families in poverty and remove "benefit cliffs" - large drops in assistance triggered by small pay increases. These changes make it easier for people to succeed in transitioning off of public assistance and into jobs. Mills and the legislature also committed to ending hunger in Maine by 2030. As part of that effort, and spurred by additional needs exacerbated by the pandemic, school meals are now free for all Maine children, child care workers received wage supplements, the Earned Income Tax Credit was increased five fold, and federal nutrition funding is reaching more Maine people.