Our governor has once again submitted a request to remove sugary beverages and candy from the list of eligible items that people can purchase using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”) dollars. This, in itself, is not surprising given the waiver he applied for last year – and was denied.

More surprising, however, is that Gov. LePage’s new waiver request asks for critical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program funding to be given to food banks to distribute food instead of being used to help families make their own healthy choices.

These SNAP-Ed dollars are intended to provide opportunities for SNAP-eligible families to learn more about shopping for, preparing and cooking healthy meals on a budget and provide more opportunities to access affordable, nutritious food locally.

Why would our governor want to restrict funding that supports families’ own capacity to make healthy choices? Requiring low-income families to go to food pantries to access food is needlessly burdensome and potentially humiliating by singling out families that can’t make ends meet. And what if you don’t live near a food pantry?

Because of substantial cuts to statewide obesity prevention efforts over the past five years, Maine needs SNAP-Ed more than ever. In fact, Maine SNAP-Ed is the single largest statewide program working on reducing obesity and other chronic diseases for those most vulnerable. Last year, an independent study found that parents of children who participated in SNAP-Ed reported a significant increase in their child’s positive nutrition behaviors: requests for fruits and vegetables, eating a variety of fruits, eating fruit with dinner or for dessert, and eating vegetables for a snack.

Providing low-income families with healthy food is a laudable goal. However, equally or more important in the long run is building families’ own capacities for nurturing the love of healthy food along with the knowledge, resources and skills to buy and prepare it.

Michele Polacsek