SOUTH PORTLAND — Gov. LePage recently announced his plans to “cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program.”

Help me follow the logic. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (also known as food stamps) are paid for 100 percent by the federal government, and their rules allow recipients to buy non-nutritious foods.

However, because Gov. LePage claims he wants the whole benefit to go toward healthy foods, he’s threatening to eliminate all emergency food assistance for the 200,000 Mainers – the moms, dads, young children and seniors – who rely on SNAP in order to eat and stay healthy.

Did I get that right? I agree that nutrition assistance money should be spent on foods and beverages that provide nutrition – no argument here – but shutting down the entire program to punish poor Mainers for making the same food choices that you and I make does nothing to help families escape poverty and hunger.

Consider that on his watch over 60,000 Maine children battle food insecurity and Maine has the highest rates of both child and senior hunger in New England.

Yet his solution to hunger is more hunger?

As a legislator and a policymaker, I want to take a step back from the heated rhetoric and divisive politics of “Mars bars and Mountain Dew” because Maine families living in poverty deserve better, especially from their leaders.

His attacks on people living in poverty need to stop. Mainers in poverty deserve our respect. They deserve a governor who always has their back and honors the values that built our state.

Here’s a sobering truth. Since LePage took office, extreme child poverty has spiked faster in Maine than anywhere in the United States. And today, Maine has more food-insecure children per capita than any state in New England.

And now, instead of being part of the solution, he wants to completely shut down the food assistance program that children, seniors and disabled Mainers rely on to buy groceries.

Food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, and poverty is not something people choose. Yet his policies treat both like moral failings that can be modified through increasingly harsh penalties. He can attack low-income families all day long, but that won’t help people put food on the table.

He attacks people in poverty when he vilifies the poor and blames their food choices instead of working to make healthy food more affordable and accessible for all Mainers.

He attacks people in poverty when he siphons off $110 million from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, designated for our most vulnerable children and families.

He attacks people in poverty when he builds barbed wire fences around the social safety net instead of crafting bridges to opportunity and employment.

Instead of attacking the poor, let’s attack poverty – together.

And while we’re at it, let’s attack hunger instead of attacking the hungry. If we approach food insecurity as the public health crisis that it is – rather than as a deviant behavior to be corrected through reward and punishment – we recognize that it’s far less expensive to ensure people have access to proper nutrition than to pay for their avoidable, diet-related health care costs.

Here’s a real solution to hunger: Let’s make healthy food more affordable to all families. There are federal programs available to help low-income households purchase fruit and vegetables, which are otherwise too expensive. There are farmers throughout the state eager to feed their neighbors in need. And we have nutrition education programs that teach food-insecure Mainers how to make healthy food choices on a budget.

If we can stabilize people’s diets and help them access healthy food options, evidence shows that we will see significant savings in our state’s public health care system. So let’s do it!

Ending SNAP benefits would devastate hundreds of thousands of Mainers including unemployed millworkers, seniors whose fixed income hasn’t risen with increasing costs and families whose kids are going to school hungry.

It’s time for solutions. Let’s bring together experts from the public and private sectors, and work together to strengthen SNAP without hurting Mainers.

If the governor chose to attack poverty and hunger instead of Maine’s poor and hungry, he’d be amazed by the support he would receive from organizations and individuals, including me, who are ready to help him become the first governor in America to end hunger.

In an agriculturally rich state like Maine, the solution to hunger is growing right in our backyard.