Last week, Paul LePage was elected governor for the State of Maine again. Back in July, he announced Maine would no longer seek a federal waiver to the food stamp program that requires able-bodied recipients to work or volunteer 20 hours a week for a community agency.
In theory, I’m okay with the idea of asking people to contribute some work–especially if volunteering counts–in exchange for food assistance. But I have questions.
For one thing, I live in rural Maine. I know people who don’t have work. Or working vehicles. Rural Maine isn’t swarming with public transportation options for those who don’t have their own cars. My question is, how are these people supposed to get to work even if they really want to work? Even if they really need the food assistance?
Rural public transportation. It’s almost an oxymoron.
If you lived in East Podunk, Maine with no car, how would you get to a job, any job, on a daily basis? Year round?
Where I live, I could bicycle to a job in the lower village three miles away. I could then maybe walk to the upper village from the lower village, up a long, steep hill to Main Street. Another two miles. Eventually, I could build up the stamina to bike that hill, saving me time.
Ironically, though, I’d need more calories (food) to fuel my effort.
What about winter? Little bit difficult on slushy, icy roads with no plowed bicycle lanes. Or sidewalks for that matter.
Question: How many jobs are available in East Podunk, Maine even if I COULD bicycle or walk year-round? Answer: Not many.
What if most of the jobs–paid and voluntary–are in nearby the cities of Portland, Biddeford, or Sanford? I can’t bike or walk there. Maybe I could carpool. But retail jobs have erratic schedules, and let’s face it, minimum wage, part-time retail is probably what kind of work I’d be able to find if I lacked a college degree, had seen some hard times in recent years, had a spotty work record or was a single mom home with my kids for a few years. Hard to carpool when you work four hours one day in the morning and seven hours in the evening the next night.
From a Portland Press Herald newspaper article: “Maine’s unemployment rate reached a six-year low of 5.1 percent in June after peaking at 9.7 percent in early 2010, a sign that the economy has improved. But the rate remains high in some rural areas and Maine has recovered only 63 percent of jobs lost during the recession, compared to 106 percent nationally, according to Maine Bureau of Labor statistics from April.” http://www.pressherald.com/2014/07/23/lepage-proposes-work-requirement-for-food-stamps/
Note that “rural areas” have only recovered 63% of jobs lost in the recession. It isn’t good, folks.
I’m all for asking people–who are able–to do some work in exchange for their EBT card they use at the East Podunk Supermarket or Hannafords. But I hope that the state takes rural transportation issues into account on a case-by-case basis.
I also think it is time to reform the food stamp program to include only basic food stuffs–no processed cheese puffs, sugar cereals, or dill pickle-flavored potato chips. How about legumes, real cheese, milk, eggs, bread, grains, peanut butter, produce, and a limited amount of meat?
That’s some healthy food assistance reform I could get behind.
Homemade Mac n Cheese with Broccoli
An economical and hearty dish.
2 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup diced cheddar cheese
1 cup milk
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup macaroni
Boil macaroni 8 minutes and drain.
Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add flour, salt & pepper and stir until bubbly.
Remove from heat.
Return to medium heat and stir constantly until boiling. Stir one minute.
Mix cheese mixture, macaroni and broccoli in saucepan.
Pour into baking dish.
Sprinkle with paprika if you want.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.