Food Insecurity and Wages Panel Discussion

October 18, 2016

We’re co-sponsoring a panel discussion on Food Insecurity and Minimum Wage, Wednesday 10/19/16 at the Bangor Public Library from 9:30 – 11 AM. There will be a number of speakers, followed by a Question and Answer session.

Scheduled to speak:

  • Jack McKay, Director of Food AND Medicine and President of the Eastern Maine Labor Council
  • Nicole Hoad- Mother and experience with the SNAP program.
  • Irene Dixon- experienced in the SNAP program. 
  • Chris Hastedt- Public Policy Director of the Maine Equal Justice Partners.
  • Katie Corlew- University of Maine at Augusta, Assistant Professor of Psychology.
  • Rev. Dr. Mark Doty-  Senior Pastor at the Hammond Street Congregational Church
  • Carmine Leighton– local restaurant worker. 
  • Sarah Austin- Policy Analyst at the Maine Economic Policy Center
  • Rev. Dr. Sue Davies- Member of the International Economic and Ecological Justice Movement Oiko Tree.

 

For Immediate Release                                                                                     October 19, 2016

Bangor, ME – Workers, faith leaders, policy analysts and community members to discuss Maine’s worsening food insecurity along with  the minimum wage referendum at a forum at the Bangor Public Library on October 19th from 9:30 to 11 am.  The forum was organized by Food AND Medicine (FAM), the Eastern Maine Labor Council (EMLC) and Faith Linking in Action (FLIA).

Chris Hastedt, Policy Director for the Maine Equal Justice Partners observes that “While new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that fewer families across the nation are struggling with food insecurity, that good news is not shared here in Maine.  As the rest of the country improves, Maine is heading in the wrong direction.  Maine’s food insecurity levels have fallen from the 12th worst in the nation to 9th worst.  Even more troubling, we rank third worst in the nation for very low food security—meaning that families are facing stretches where they just don’t have enough food to eat.”

Hastedt continues “It does not have to be this way.  In recent years, Maine policymakers have made decisions that have made things worse instead of better.  By penalizing workers who can’t find jobs and taking food assistance away from seniors with very small savings accounts that give them some security against disaster these policies have contributed to rising rates of hunger.  These policies can and must be changed.  Maine people have a long tradition of caring about our communities and each other.  We all need to work together to send that message to Augusta.”

The importance of food security is noted by UMA assistant professor psychology Kate Corlew, who said “Food insecurity can have acute and lasting impacts on an individual’s cognitive processes and health, both in terms of ambient stress and in terms of a brain’s need for consistent calories to function effectively.”

According to FAM director Jack McKay, “In recent years, Maine has gained the distinction of throwing people off SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) at an alarming rate.  The LePage administration has accomplished this through a host of measures including demanding people have photo IDs when using SNAP benefits, eliminating the work requirement exemption, and requiring people to sell assets worth over $5,000. Further, last December, Maine had the slowest processing rate of people on food stamps anywhere in the country.  According to the USDA, Maine had 251,630 people on SNAP in July of 2011 and that number has decreased to 186,372 in July of 2016.”

Familiar with food insecurity, FAM is in the planning stage of delivering 1,200 Thanksgiving baskets source from local farmers and food producers to be distributed to families in hard times throughout the state in its annual program Solidarity Harvest.

Nicole Hoad, a mother who has utilized the SNAP program described the process of gaining food stamps. “In addition to the hoops we have had to jump through to even get assistance, whenever there has been an issue where I have needed to contact DHHS or a specific worker, it has taken me days and sometimes weeks to do so.”

The panel will also discuss the benefits of increasing the minimum wage.

Sarah Austin, Policy Analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy notes that “The cost of groceries, housing, healthcare, and other basics are rising each year, but wages haven’t kept up. For too many Mainers, working full-time simply isn’t enough to make ends meet. Right now 1 in 5 workers is unable to afford basic needs for themselves and their families. Question 4 to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 will increase wages for 1 in 3 Maine workers—putting economic security in reach for thousands of Maine families.”

Local Restaurant worker Carmine Leighton adds, “Increasing the minimum wage allows us to live in this state, not just survive in it. For a restaurant employee, at the current minimum wage, we must choose between basic necessities every month. This leads to higher stress levels, which impact health, meaning missed days at work, lower energy, and lower production.

Working full time at minimum wage, without health benefits, a common narrative in restaurant work, does not allow individuals to financially plan for the future. Many of us have two or three jobs to compensate. If an employee is able to feed their family, pay for healthcare, put gas in their car, and enjoy leisure activities every now and then, it reduces stress, which makes for a happier, healthier, more productive employee.  Increasing the minimum wage may, in fact, help reduce the economic disparity in our community.”

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