One in seven Mainers struggles with hunger. Maine’s food insecurity rate, measured each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is now 20 percent higher than it was 10 years ago. For 200,000 Mainers, each month is a struggle to cover basic needs and each month the questions persist: Should I pay my rent or buy food? Should I buy my medication or food?

Across Maine, tens of thousands of people rely on a helping hand – a hand up – in order to access food each month. For some, this help comes from the local food pantry, and for many, the help comes in the form of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). One in seven Mainers uses SNAP in order to put enough healthy food on the table.

As a member of the Board of Directors at Good Shepherd Food Bank, Maine’s largest charitable hunger relief organization, I have gained a better understanding of who is struggling with hunger in our state. I want to tell you about the people we serve. Thirty-five percent of the households we serve have children in them, and 40 percent contain at least one senior. Nearly 90 percent of the households we serve have children, seniors, and/or people with disabilities. Three quarters of households report making difficult decisions between paying for food or paying for utilities, rent, and medical care.

The people we serve are some of the hardest working people in Maine. Like Michael, who visits his local food pantry in Auburn. He beams with pride when he talks about his three little girls and then his eyes look down as he explains why he found himself at the food pantry. He and his wife together work four different jobs. None of them are full-time, so they have no benefits, and the wages aren’t enough to put food on the table every day. I want to see a day where Michael doesn’t feel ashamed that he has to rely on a food pantry.

And then there is Elton, a Navy veteran who worked for decades in welding and machine repair. Elton struggles to find steady work where he doesn’t have to be on his feet all day, which he can no longer do because of injuries. Due to time limits in Maine’s SNAP program, Elton lost his food stamp benefits and now spends three hours every Thursday, taking a cab because he doesn’t have a car, to visit the food pantry. I want to see a day where we support our veterans with more than just platitudes of honor and respect.

For those who qualify for it, SNAP is a lifeline. There is no way that charitable organizations could provide the level of assistance that SNAP does. In fact, for every one meal provided by food pantries and other charities in our country, SNAP provides 12 meals.

Members of Congress are currently putting together a new Farm Bill, the legislation that will reauthorize SNAP. It appears House Republicans are considering changes that would take SNAP benefits away from millions of Americans by implementing harsher time limits. For the first time, older people between the ages of 50-65 and parents with children over 12 would be limited to three months of food assistance unless they are working or volunteering at least 20 hours a week.

Many SNAP recipients are struggling with mental and physical limitations, lack of transportation, or they simply cannot find work. Taking away access to nutritious food after three months doesn’t actually make finding a job any easier; in fact, it makes it harder because the person has to spend time visiting the food pantry instead of training or looking for work.

As Congress considers shrinking SNAP and further limiting people’s access to nutritious food, food banks and pantries struggle to keep up with the need.

Here in Maine, Good Shepherd Food Bank and our network of 400 partner organizations across the state are doing more than ever before with the vast majority of our support coming from private charitable dollars. If even more of the need is shifted onto us, there is no way we will be able to keep up.

Food is the most basic of human needs.

We have some big challenges in our state, but hunger does not need to be one of them. Programs like SNAP and our charitable hunger relief sector exist to solve this problem – if only they were given the support to do so.