PORTLAND — U.S. Sen. Angus King said Thursday he’ll resist House efforts to cut so-called food stamp funding by $40 billion, but defended his support of a Senate plan to reduce spending on the program by $4 billion.

King visited the Hannaford on Forest Avenue in Portland Thursday morning to look in on a tour of the grocery store conducted by leaders of the Cooking Matters program, run locally by the Good Shepherd Food Bank to help low-income Mainers learn ways to prepare healthier meals inexpensively.

The senator was scheduled to follow up his stop at Hannaford on Thursday with a visit to Portland’s King Middle School to talk with students studying air pollution. He said he’s due to return to Washington, D.C., on Monday.

“This year, I think they’re expected to reach 1,500-2,000 people [statewide in the Cooking Matters program] and most of the people delivering those services are volunteers,” said Michael Norton, spokesman for Hannaford.

Cooking Matters has grown from eight classes serving 71 people in 2010 to 150 classes serving more than 1,500 people this year, according to Good Shepherd Food Bank communications director Clara McConnell Whitney.

But while food bank organizers are making progress educating low-income residents about how to prepare nutritious foods with limited resources, they’re deeply concerned about proposed federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps.

Kristen Miale, president of the Good Shepherd Food Bank, said Thursday that many participants in the Cooking Matters program use federal aid to purchase the food they learn about in grocery store tours like Thursday’s or in cooking classes provided through the program.

Miale said the version of the omnibus U.S. Farm Bill, passed every five years and up for renewal in 2013, being considered in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate includes $4 billion in cuts to SNAP funding over the next 10 years, while the Republican-led House is eyeing at least $20 billion in reductions over that time.

Miale said cutting the program to those levels — King said the cuts proposed in the House plan have since been increased to $40 billion over a decade — would force thousands more Mainers to the doors of food banks and soup kitchens without the federal help to buy their own groceries.

“The entire food bank system in the country distributes $5 billion worth of food,” said Miale. “We were set up to be the emergency system for people who suffer temporary job losses or have delays in their SNAP benefits. We have now become the chronic supplier of food for low-income families, and we weren’t built for that type of demand.

“We need [King] to be a strong advocate for restoring the funding that’s being cut,” she continued.

King, an independent, said the Senate plan intended to reduce spending on SNAP in a way that would not significantly affect Americans who need the help the most, describing the $4 billion in cuts as largely aimed at closing loopholes for exploitation.

“In the House, they would cut $40 billion, and I don’t know how you could say that isn’t going to affect real people in a serious way,” King told the Bangor Daily News. He said members of the Senate and House will negotiate a compromise between the two chambers’ bills.

“To me, horse trading with people’s nutrition is not a good thing,” King said. “Food stamps are really essential for people’s protection. And we’ve got a hunger problem here in Maine — there are children who rely on food stamps and school meals for all their nutrition.”

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