No one should have to go hungry.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has proposed a plan that will increase hunger in urban and rural communities across the country. Under a new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “able-bodied adults without dependents” will find it harder to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
Here in Illinois, where nearly 1 in 3 people live in poverty or are low-income, this rule change will hit especially hard.
This proposal should worry any person of faith who believes in a loving and compassionate God. Speaking as a Christian, I embrace this fundamental truth – what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me. Jesus fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. Feeding one another is part of the love we have as Christian people.
In 2006, I moved to Chicago from Georgia with my husband, Rev. Otis Moss III, who took over as pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in the Washington Heights community on the South Side. We hoped to continue and build upon Trinity’s long history of fighting for social justice. And we consider access to healthy food to be a key part of that mission.
There’s no denying the need. Consider that almost one-third of Washington Heights’ children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data, and 40 percent of the community’s residents live in households at or below the federal poverty line.
And about one-quarter of Washington Heights households participate in SNAP.
What happens if you take away their food assistance? How does that help them find work? Who benefits from their hunger? How do children reach their full potential without food?
Feeding the hungry is our moral and social responsibility. At Trinity, during the growing season, we host a farmer’s market and maintain an organic garden. We also serve food to hundreds of families per month through our food share ministry — no strings attached.
Growing up in Florida and Virginia, I vividly remember eating fresh vegetables from my grandparents’ garden and fish that my grandfather caught straight from the Chesapeake Bay. In many ways, the time we spent around the table, eating and talking and laughing, shaped who I am today.
When we deprive people of access to healthy food – or take away their SNAP benefits – we’re increasing the likelihood of negative health outcomes and higher health-related costs. I learned first hand about the connection between food and health in 2003, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
A new mother at the time, I was scared and overwhelmed. But eating healthy food helped, and thanks to God, my cancer is in remission today. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it must be for people who struggle every day to know where their next meal is coming from.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that access to healthy food is critical to overall health, we find ourselves fighting a drastic reduction of SNAP that would result in at least 755,000 Americans losing their monthly benefits.
Under the White House administration’s proposal, states will have less flexibility to protect some of their most vulnerable residents from a work requirement that does not reflect the challenges of finding quality, adequate work in Chicago. “Able-bodied adults without dependents” will have to work 20 hours a week or risk only having SNAP benefits for three months in a 36-month period.
The sad truth is many of them are already working but can’t get enough hours with enough consistency. Some may be trying to turn their lives around after past mistakes that resulted in incarceration and can’t get hired. Others may have undiagnosed mental illnesses and other health conditions that keep them from consistent work.
The vast majority of those who would be affected by the rule change are “in deep poverty and live alone,” according to a recent study by Mathematica that determined that Illinois would be among the states most affected.
As people of faith, we have a responsibility to stand up for those who are alone and impoverished. And as a society, we shouldn’t be punishing people for not having money, especially when so many of them are trying so hard just to make it from one day to the next.
Human beings don’t deserve to eat because they are workers. They deserve to eat because they are human.
We can and should do better. We have to protect SNAP for our lower-income brothers and sisters in need of assistance. Instead of building walls to keep people out, let’s invite them to the table with us.
Let’s break bread with them.
That’s what Jesus would do.