When the president of the United States is being investigated for potential criminal acts, it’s going to dominate the news.

That’s as it should be, and every American has a responsibility to follow these stories and make sure that members of the House and Senate carry out their constitutional duties to investigate fully, and take appropriate action, regardless of their political party.

But while this investigation plays out, it’s important for the public to not lose sight of a number of important policy decisions that will have a deep impact on millions of lives. Such proposals include rule changes that would withdraw nutrition assistance (“food stamps”) from 1 million families and cut off free lunch programs for 500,000 children. An estimated 44,000 Mainers would be affected, including children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Under the new rules, working families on the edge of poverty would not get any aid putting food on the table. Under current law, families are eligible for food stamps if their income is less than 200 percent of poverty, or about $50,000 a year for a family of four. Free school lunches and food stamps help these families stay out of poverty and meet their other obligations. Cutting assistance to this group of people saves the taxpayer very little, but creates great upheaval in the lives of those affected.

In fact, the U.S. Census reports that nutrition assistance helps keep 3.2 million people out of poverty. Removing food aid means less money is available to pay for rent and other bills, creating more hungry children. That affects their health, their ability to perform in school and their ability to grow up as productive members of society.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has proposed the changes, closed a public comment period Monday after hearing from 75,000 individuals and organizations imploring the department not to cut back aid. Among the comments was a letter signed by 17 governors, including Maine’s Gov. Mills. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement deploring the change.

Just last year, a bipartisan coalition in Congress was able to strip an eligibility rollback from the farm bill that would have denied nutritional assistance to 2 million people. But despite that history, the Trump administration appears determined to change the rules, no matter how many people speak out against it.

And because of the turmoil in Washington over the impeachment inquiry, it’s the kind of development that might pass without many noticing except the families who are directly affected.

The public’s attention may be rightly focused on the cascading revelations of outrageous conduct by the president, but Congress should not lose sight of these 1 million families who will suffer as a result of this administration’s cruel and unnecessary policy.

 

 


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