The pandemic is about to be put behind us, administratively.

Boxes loaded with dry goods, bread and bananas sit preloaded at the Harrison Food Bank last fall. The expiration of pandemic SNAP benefits is expected to shift the demand for help onto charitable and other entities around Maine and the country. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal, File

If only the same could be said for the acute economic hardship temporarily blunted by its emergency supports.

Consider the latest example of a precipitous social welfare “cliff.” After almost three years of being paid out at an elevated level, food assistance for 100,000 low-income families in Maine is about to be converted back to where it was pre-pandemic.

More than 41 million Americans (one in eight) used federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits last year, when the average payment was $231. In 2019, with 35 million participants, the average payment was $130. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the coming changes (already in action in some states) will leader to a loss in benefits of $132 per month for the average one-person household in America.

In Maine, starting in March, that average loss will be more like $190 per month.

The monthly loss to Portland resident Lisa Franklin, who the Press Herald interviewed earlier this week, will be $233 – leaving Franklin with $23 to spend on groceries.


Maine is in a position to use state funds to offset some of the loss or serve as a bridge, and should; some state governors have signed in similar legislation already.

This transition has led to opportunism on the part of parties opposed to the provision of food stamps without very stringent terms and conditions. It has left advocates for the benefit filled with anxiety about what’s ahead for people in need.

“Families are experiencing this real challenging time right now where a lot of supports that were put in place to help them feed their kids and actually be able to have enough for their grocery budgets is all going away,” Anna Korsen, advocacy director for the Maine-based childhood food insecurity nonprofit Full Plates Full Potential, told the Press Herald. “It’s a dire situation.”

We return once again to the concept of “emergency” help prompted by the pandemic.

A number of weeks ago, this board lamented the similar outcome phasing out of enhanced federal rental assistance (“Our View: Fail to prepare, prepare for a tidal wave of Maine evictions,” Dec. 21). Add to this the expanded child tax credit and, by the summer’s end, pandemic EBT. Add to this the fact that before March 2020, Maine’s rate of food insecurity (12.3%) was already higher than the national average (10%). It rose to 14.7% at the height of the pandemic.

The sheer drops looming with these so-called “cliffs” haven’t been nearly braced for, prepared for, even communicated enough.


Across the U.S., food insecurity has been exacerbated by inflation in recent months. This change is about to hit the most vulnerable people the hardest – older people, people on fixed incomes, children – and in Maine as elsewhere, the expiration of proportionate SNAP assistance will shift the demand for help onto mostly oversubscribed charitable and other entities around the state.

The next federal farm bill is seen by some lawmakers in D.C. as an opportunity to continue SNAP on the same elevated basis; it’s seen by others as a means of ruling out that relatively unqualified support, for once and for all, and making linking federal nutrition assistance to labor force participation.

In a Feb. 7 letter, Rep. Matt Gaetz and three other members of Congress urged President Biden to pursue “commonsense welfare reform” to prevent the “crippling of the economy.” You would be forgiven for thinking that Gaetz and those who agree with him are talking about anything other than household-by-household access to milk and bread.

As one expert on food assistance told The Washington Post earlier this week, the focus of SNAP is not on labor in any case – it’s on hunger.

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