The Common Good

SNAP Cuts Place Texas Families At Risk, Advocates Insist

Date: September 20, 2013

When the U.S. House voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—better known as “food stamps”—by $39 billion over the next decade, they put about 171,000 Texans at risk, according to anti-hunger advocates.

Loss of food support benefits “would be simply devastating for these struggling families,” said Ferrell Foster, interim director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.

“Jesus taught us to care for those who are in need, and he was emphasizing a point made throughout Scripture. As a result, followers of Christ often give sacrificially to help the poor,” said Foster, director of ethics and justice for the CLC and coordinator of the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.

“Our responsibility, however, does not stop with our personal pocketbooks. In a democracy, we should expect our government to exhibit the same care for hurting people that we do personally. Government is not the whole answer, but government is part of it.

“All of us should want effective and efficient government, but if we are going to demand such in programs that help our citizens who are most in need, then we should demand it for the programs that benefit the rich and powerful.

Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative—a program in the Baylor University School of Social Work, launched in cooperation with the CLC—called the House vote “antithetical to the gospel.” He compared it to the kind of oppression of the poor the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament condemned.

“We seem to be going down that same path as a nation,” Everett said, calling the action both immoral and shortsighted. He pointed to the “trickle-up” economic impact of SNAP on grocery stores and many of the working poor they employ. Benefit cuts hurt grocery stores and the overall economy, he noted.

“I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how lawmakers can continually try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” he said. “We should expect more from public servants. They are not acting on behalf of the public good.”

Celia Cole, chief executive officer of the Texas Food Bank Network, called Congress’ decision to cut SNAP funds “nothing less than a vote to increase hunger and hardship among the 3.8 million needy Americans whose food benefits will be cut.”

“This number includes as many as 171,000 Texans who would immediately lose all food benefits if this bill is enacted,” Cole said. “Primarily families with children, these households are still struggling to recover from the recession and rely on SNAP to put food on the family table while they get back on their feet.”

One in four Texas families with children experience food hardship, she added.

“The cuts contained in this bill, when paired with already-scheduled reductions facing SNAP households this November, are greater than the entire output of the charitable food banking system in the United States, including our 21 Texas food banks,” she said.

When the House and Senate meet to negotiate a final farm bill, they have an opportunity “to right this terrible wrong” by restoring SNAP funding, Cole said.

“Our food banks are doing everything they can to help struggling Texans put food on the table and decrease hunger. Can Congress say the same?”

At the national level, some Christian leaders also expressed concern about the impact of the cuts.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, noted nearly three-fourths of SNAP recipients—72 percent—are working families with children. The Congressional Budget Office reports the House budget would cut assistance to nearly 4 million low-income people in 2014 and an average 3 million more each year for the next decade, he added.

“All of the pastors I’ve ever talked to who know, work and worship with those affected are adamantly opposed to these cuts, because they know what they will mean to people they love,” Wallis said.

Biblical responsibility to protect the poor.

“If you know the facts and faces of the hungry families that are helped by SNAP, I believe it is a moral and even religious problem to vote to cut funding for the program. The Bible clearly says that governmental authority includes the protection of the poor in particular and instructs political rulers to promote their well-being. So, the argument that the poor should just be left to churches and private charity is an unbiblical argument,” he said.