Maine native Kevin Concannon, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in President Barack Obama’s administration, is a familiar name to many in Maine, Iowa and Oregon.

Starting out as a Portland social worker, Concannon was Maine’s first commissioner of Mental Health under Gov. Joseph Brennan. In 1987, he left Maine to head a similar agency in Oregon as assistant director of Human Services, then was promoted to commissioner.

After Gov. Angus King was elected in Maine, he asked Concannon to head the Department of Human Services. With former state Sen. Chellie Pingree, Concannon spent a lot of time battling the pharmaceutical industry over a state law, Maine Rx, which tried to lower drug costs for people without insurance.

When King’s administration ended, Concannon was hired in 2003 as the commissioner of Health and Human Services in Iowa for Gov. Tom Vilsack.

In Iowa, Concannon noticed far more people qualified for food stamps than were in the program. “There are corn fields; they grow everything in Iowa,” Concannon said Tuesday. “It’s a big food producing state. We have the capacity. We shouldn’t have people going hungry.” He helped bring more people into the program.

After Obama was elected president, he chose Vilsack to be the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Vilsack chose Concannon for his undersecretary.

“He called me and said, ‘I’d like you to be the undersecretary for food nutrition and consumer service,’” Concannon said.

He was confirmed in a U.S. Senate hearing last summer and began the job in August. He runs the food stamp program, the school lunch program and others that deal with food and nutrition.

Speaking around the country, he reminds people that with so many job losses, more people rely on those programs. “I keep saying these feeding programs now touch one out of every four Americans. In our lifetime they’ve never been as important as they are.”

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