Friday, April 18, 2014
THUMBS DOWN to an analysis by The Associated Press that showed working-age people now make up the majority in households relying on the food-stamp program, which historically has been dominated by children and the elderly. The study also found that 13 percent of the increase in food stamp usage from 2000 to 2011 could be traced to stagnant wages and income inequality, as opposed to just 3.5 percent of the increase in the previous 30 years.
The analysis suggests slow wage growth over the last three decades has expanded the number of people who need assistance even though they are working. It also suggests that the need for the $80 billion-per-year program, which has doubled in the last five years, will persist even as the economy recovers.
“A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor,” Timothy Smeeding, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the AP. “Many of the U.S. jobs now being created are low- to minimum-wage — part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food — which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves.”
Worse, the farm bill approved Wednesday includes significant cuts to the food-stamp program, so nonprofit food banks across the country can expect to experience further stress on their resources.
THUMBS UP to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for beginning a long-needed study on Maine’s moose population.
Lee Kantar, a state biologist, is leading the five-year study, which comes on the heels of concerns about declining moose numbers in Minnesota and New Hampshire. Kantar has said he is confident that Maine’s moose are faring better, though information about the numbers and health of one of Maine’s iconic animals is surprisingly scant.
However, as our columnist George Smith has said, rising temperatures are leading to an increase in the tick population. Winter ticks, 70,000 of which can live on one moose, have been blamed for the decline in the moose population in New Hampshire. The new study will give biologists an understanding about the impact they are having on the population here in Maine.
THUMBS UP to the effort to strengthen the statutory power of Maine’s public-access ombudsman. The position, held by Brenda Kielty, was created in 2007 — and finally filled in 2012 — to help resolve disputes about the release of public records.
The position, however, has no investigative or enforcement powers, so state agencies are not required to follow the opinions issued by the ombudsman. That forces people seeking a remedy to hire a costly attorney.
Most public records requests are handled correctly. As the number of requests increases, however, there can be a tendency for agencies to establish roadblocks to access. Journalists and others experienced with the process know when they are getting the run-around, but others need a strong public advocate.
Lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee were tepid about a proposed bill at a hearing Tuesday in Augusta, and they are seeking guidance from the Right to Know Advisory Committee. The bill on the table may not be the right way to go, but the issue should not be dropped completely.