Letters to the Editor

Breaking the cycle of poverty

To the Editor:
    I’m involved with a growing coalition of local experts and citizens, who have convened in response to the negative policies emerging and underway that shame the poor instead of doing the hard work of breaking the cycle of poverty that many are born into here in Maine, while also addressing situational poverty due to the recession, domestic violence, illness, etc.

    Implementing singular, disconnected “programs” or strategies as discussed in both the LePage and Cutler campaigns that perpetuate the policies of the past three years does not move individuals and families towards self-sufficiency.
    One in four Maine children lives in poverty. In the rural “rim” counties, such as Piscataquis County where I have lived for the past 35 years, one in three children lives in poverty. These children live in the context of families with parents and other adult-caregivers, and current and proposed policies coming out of the majority of the political campaigns punish the children based upon their parents’ success or failure to abide by the various, often clashing policies and programs meant to raise them out of poverty.
    Since 2011, 8,629 children lost their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. Meanwhile, the poverty rate for children age 5 and under grew from 19.3 percent to 25 percent (that’s 17,000 out of the roughly 65,000 Maine children 0-5). I think everyone can agree benefit fraud and abuse should be stopped where it can. Despite the fact that this figure is less than 2 tenths of one percent of the total, the TANF cash benefit is under fire for fraudulent use. Let’s not lose site of the daily reality for 99 percent of these families who struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent, access job training and employment supports, and love their kids and who do not engage in fraud or abuse.
    The Profile of the Working Poor reports that families maintained by women are more likely than families maintained by men to be living below the poverty level.
    Over 32 percent of heads of households in Maine are single women. The “able-bodied,” non-elderly adults that are eligible for TANF are single parents with children, who have no other income from a spouse, and must work or be enrolled in educational programs at least 30 hours weekly.
    The majority of these families of three hover at $19,790 or less annually. Many low-income parents from generational poverty struggle with basic skills, and according to our regional workforce collaborative, cannot pass the entrance exam for work-ready training programs.
    According to the Department of Labor, a Maine family of three must have an annual household income of at least $38,160 per year, or over $18.00 per hour to meet the most basic of needs, such as shelter, food, heat and transportation. In Maine, 45 percent of all Maine families earn less than $34,999 annually (Census).
    Many low-income families in Maine must choose between increasing in their low-wage income by small amounts and losing their childcare support that allows for full-day childcare, or placing their children in sub-standard, low-quality and inconsistent care. They must navigate disconnected workforce training or community college schedules while trying to hold down low-wage work to put food on the table, because the food supplement is not enough. I challenge anyone to figure out a way to feed your family a nutritious meal for $1.40 per person.
    The next governor, whoever he may be, must start connecting the dots between programs and policies that currently act as deterrents with disincentives.
    We need a governor who can partner with local service providers, who have far better access and trusted relationships with those in poverty, in order to effectively engage them in accessing critical training and/or educational programs.
    Our next governor must recognize that the policies and procedures, and funding – across a majority of our state departments – too often collide to create a multiple of challenges for people in poverty that are conflicting, overwhelming and insurmountable.
    Our next governor must ensure that low-income children receive uninterrupted, quality early care and education starting at birth while their parents are actively engaged in their own personal and professional development. As a state, we must work collectively to ensure public policies, programs and services at the state and local community level that work to support families and help to prevent adverse experiences such as violence, adult substance abuse, hunger, and instead help to ensure that all children are well-nurtured and prepared to enter school.
    At the same time, state leaders must ensure their parents or caregivers have access to well-coordinated educational and workforce training programs, while addressing their other needs that may be related to learning barriers, mental health or substance abuse issues, so parents can end the need for subsidy supports – in whatever form, and better support their children’s development.
    Until we accept this challenge, and move towards a more positive and supportive approach to these multi-generational realities, all of the negative rhetoric, punitive policies and negative attacks only serve to exacerbate things.

Sue Mackey Andrews
Poverty Action Collaborative (PAC)
Maine Resilience Building Network (MRBN)


Nature’s realities

To the Editor:
    Shadows of fall creep across the land as the sun, lower now, portends the coming of seasonal change.
    It’s September with fall near at hand, and the days stealthily pass on their inexorable march toward winter.
    Prompt yourself to revel in these natural silent passages, recognizing how precious is the cool, humidity-free breeze that presses summer’s oppressively laden heat toward the sea.
    Summer lingers still — unknown grass; tomatoes ripening red; apples displaying their seasonal transition; the blue jay’s raspy voice shatters the air’s crystal silence; bees touch down on disappearing flowers in their final rush to capture the last of nature’s nectar.
    How short summer seems now that life’s rhythm assumes a different beat. Back to school for the children, vacation gone; earth’s bounty slowly methodically being harvested in preparation for what is yet to come.
    Warm days — short sleeves; evening — sweaters ward off the dark’s inevitable chill. Then, to bed where last year’s nearly forgotten blanket helps hold close our natural warmth.
    With almost all the windows closed, the aroma of cooking jams, jelly and pies permeates distant corners of the house. Been a year since the place smelled so good! Kitchen miracles prompted by love.
    And so the season changes, warm to cool; shortening days to longer nights.
    Too soon, summer’s tasks will blend into winter’s responsibilities. All the while, nature’s progression continues its timeless evolution.

Don Benjamin


The impact of hunger

To the Editor:
    September is Hunger Action Month. The fall season is beginning and holidays are coming upon us faster than we may be prepared for. For many Mainers, this is a difficult time of year, particularly where food is concerned. Regrettably, too many households have to skip meals, or take other steps to eat less because they don’t have enough money for food. Unfortunately, Maine has the fourth highest rate of hunger in the nation with over 200,000 individuals experiencing food insecurity.
    As an AmeriCorps VISTA member in partnership with AARP Foundation and AARP Maine, I have seen first-hand the impact hunger has on the people in this state. SNAP, otherwise known as the Food Supplement Program, is one of the country’s most effective tools to address hunger and poverty. In 2011, SNAP kept 4.7 million people out of poverty, including 2.1 million children. In Maine, every SNAP dollar that is spent brings $1.79 into the local community, which helps support local farmers and grocers. In 2013, over $376 million dollars came in to our state as a result of this critical nutrition assistance.
    SNAP is an excellent resource for low- income families who struggle to put food on the table. If you think you know someone who might be eligible, go to www.maine.gov/mymaineconnection or call 1-800-442-6003 to connect to your local DHHS office. Together, we can make a difference in Maine and help leave hunger in the dust.

Brooke Libby
SNAP Outreach Coordinator

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