Sister Simone Campbell met Billy in Milwaukee, at the St. Benedict dining room, where he had come for a free meal with his wife, Ann, and their two young boys. Billy and Ann use food stamps to feed their children during the day, and come to St. Benedict’s at night. As his son pounced on the single roll left on Billy’s plate, the father looked at Sister Campbell.
“You know, we parents can get by eating once a day, but not growing kids,” he said. “It’s not right.”
Sister Campbell shared this story on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building on May 7, where she stood alongside Rev. Dr. William Barber, Rev. Jennifer Butler, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Congressman Donald McEachin (D-Va.), and Afif Rahman to speak up against a Republican-drafted farm bill set to be voted on in the House of Representatives in May. The proposed bill would cut the food assistance program by $20 billion and add strict work and reporting requirements for recipients of food stamps. Should this version of the bill pass, up to 2 million people may no longer be eligible for SNAP.
The faith leaders gathered at the Capitol Monday are concerned that these proposed changes will dramatically contribute to undermining and weakening federal assistance programs in the United States.
“The Bible says in Isaiah 10: ‘Woe unto those who legislate evil and rob the poor of their rights and make women and children their prey.’ That’s Scripture,” Barber, denouncing the bill, said. “That’s in the Scripture that most of these politicians put hands on…when they swear to uphold the Constitution.”
Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, drew from the New Testament in her remarks.
“With five loaves and two fishes, Jesus fed thousands. He didn’t make them fill out paperwork on how much they’d worked that day,” Butler said.
The farm bill now moves to the floor for vote in the House of Representatives. Following the press conference, the faith leaders delivered a petition to Speaker Paul Ryan saying the bill will prey on the most vulnerable of Americans.
“This does not establish justice, its establishes injustice,” Rev. Barber said, riffing on the Preamble of the Constitution. "This does not provide for the common defense, because it takes away defense from the poorest among us … This does not promote the general welfare, it promotes harm for the least of these.”
Sister Simone Campbell said she rejected the rhetoric from some Members of Congress who have said vulnerable families need to be “pushed” into working, rather than receiving aid.
“Ann and Billy don’t need to be pushed,” Sister Campbell said. “I invite all of us to stand up for their family, and say no to this farm bill.”