The governor is taking the SNAP program off the rails

I’m not sure why, but Ozzy Osbourne popped into my head when I read about Governor LePage’s threat to end state administration of the SNAP program if his administration can’t get a waiver to restrict purchases. Maybe my brain was random associating people you wouldn’t expect to be preaching to others about health and healthy choices — unless they were speaking ironically, of course. Keith Richards also came to mind, but I’m going to let Ozzy provide a State and Capital Blog-styled soundtrack to read by.

(As if any reader familiar with Osbourne’s work didn’t know I was going to pick “Crazy Train!”)

Although in a totally different category than Osbourne or Richards, LePage doesn’t exactly look like a poster child for what good health looks like, which is one of the reasons it’s unsettling to think that he wants to control other people’s choices. Didn’t think I’d go there?  Well, you were wrong. This skinny single mom has gone hungry more than my fair share of times to make sure my children didn’t.

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29 at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

Gov. Paul LePage addresses the audience during a town hall meeting Sept. 29 at Bucksport Middle School. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

I’ve gone hungry while on SNAP and while earning too much to qualify. I’ve even gone hungry when I was forced to repay the program for an error I didn’t make and had no way of knowing happened. So, yes, I’ll go there.

The other reason this waiver obsession is unsettling is the LePage administration would do well to obsess about hunger in Maine as much as they obsess about controlling people’s choices. Even if purchase restrictions were a good idea, which they are not, they should fall far below ending hunger in Maine in terms of LePage’s priorities.

Almost 1 in 4 seniors and children in Maine experience food insecurity, and “35 percent of of Maine’s food insecure population makes too much to qualify for public assistance and must rely on the charity food assistance network.”  If I were governor and had limited resources with which to address the needs of the poor, I’d put ending hunger first, all by itself at the top of my list. Call me crazy, but the idea of children and senior citizens going hungry regularly bothers me greatly.

Crazier still, the idea of anyone going hungry regularly bothers me.

Call me going off the rails on a crazy train, but I fail to see how restricting the purchase choices of SNAP recipients insures children and seniors in our state won’t go hungry. Will such restrictions make healthy food cheaper and more readily available throughout our rural state that has minimal affordable public transportation? Will such restrictions stop cravings for sweets that certain medications are suspected to cause?

Will such restrictions allow for that occasion bottle of ginger ale you need to go with toast when your child is nauseous and can’t keep anything down?

I’ve written about my objections to this kind of policy before and only scratched the surface of my contempt for such measures. This post is more about the contempt I feel for an administration that makes such a big show about wanting to control poor people while ignoring Maine’s status as 12th in the nation and first in New England when it comes to food insecurity. Where’s the hullaballoo about children going to bed hungry and going to school hungrier still?

And what about worrying about every single one of these children when school’s not in session?

As for the governor’s threat to end state administration of the SNAP program? Frankly, I’m surprised the feds are still letting our state run it anymore, anyway. Between getting slapped for delays in providing services and funds to SNAP recipients and agency errors in administering the program, it’s a shocker the feds haven’t already taken it over.

Having some first- and plenty of secondhand knowledge of how the program has been run by the LePage administration, I say federal oversight would be an improvement.

Even more frankly, oversight by Osbourne or Richards would probably be an improvement.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.