“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
Many of us are blessed enough to not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients for a healthy life. But now, millions of our brothers and sisters here in the United States may, sadly, be facing these situations because of a reduction in their food stamp benefits.
Starting Friday, all households receiving food stamp benefits will see their food budgets shrink as a temporary increase expires. A family of four could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
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 them. 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. I would be happy to debate that with any of our conservative Congressmen who keep telling our churches that we are the only ones who should care for the poor. To vote against feeding hungry people is un-Christian, un-Jewish, and goes against any moral inclination, religious or
Finally, for politicians to defend these SNAP cuts because of our need to cut spending generally is un-credible and incredible.
These same politicians are not willing to go to where the real money is: the Pentagon budget, which everyone knows to be the most wasteful in government, or the myriad subsidies to corporations, including agribusiness subsides to members of Congress who will be voting to cut SNAP for the poor.
Tea Party-elected Rep. Stephen Fincher, (R-Tenn.), who likes to bolster his anti-poor rhetoric with misused Bible verses, collected $3.5 million in farm subsidies between 1999 and 2012, according to the New York Times. Fincher is helping to lead the effort to cut food stamps to working families with children by illogically quoting: “The one who is unwilling to work should not eat,” all the while collecting millions of dollars in agricultural subsidies. Congressman Fincher's position is hypocritical — and it's this kind of hypocrisy that makes Christians look bad and turns young people away from the church.
You see, for many House conservatives this isn't really about SNAP, but about their opposition to the idea that as a society we have the responsibility to care for each other, even during the hard times or when resources are few. Conservatives know their ideas for privatizing Social Security or cutting funding to Medicare and Medicaid are politically unpopular, but their ideology of individualism that borders on social Darwinism remains unchanged. SNAP is the perfect target for them. The image of what it does and whom it serves has been widely distorted by the media, while the people who benefit from it have little influence in the halls of Congress and pose little risk to the political careers of Republican members.
About a year ago, I wrote about my family participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge, which encourages families to try to live on the equivalent of SNAP assistance (food stamps) for one week. It was a growing experience for all of us, and we actually fell short of our intended goal. It turns out that it’s not easy to feed a family of four well — especially without great time and effort — on less than $20 a day.
In looking back on that experience, a number of myths come to mind that I’ve heard from folks about SNAP, which I thought I’d share here.
It is tragic to watch contemptuous right-wingers declaring war on America.
With little heed for consequences on either actual people or the national interest, they declare war on the poor, the hungry, Native Americans, the unemployed, gays and lesbians, immigrants, minority voters, women, military dependents, and public education.
The recent farm bill — which gives public subsidies to agribusiness and denies food stamps to the hungry — is just the latest sortie in a determined decades-long assault on American values.
The number of those who’ve benefitted from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased nearly seven percent from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in its most recent study. Despite the economic challenges America has faced over the past several years, the Houses’ decision to do away with food stamps has not only caused controversy between the House and the Senate but has caused controversy between the government and the American people. The New York Times reports:
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.
Read more here.
For the first time in 50 years, the House of Representatives cut mention of food stamps in the Farm Bill, which passed the House yesterday. The Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program has historically made up nearly 80 percent of funding in such bills. Following the 216-to-208 vote, the House's decision to go through with the ruling has both parties defensive. The Washington Post reports:
"The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money and handed Republican leaders a much-needed victory three weeks after conservative lawmakers and rural state Democrats revolted and blocked the original version of the bill that included food stamp money."
Read more here.
The month of July stands as an important time for Congress as members of the House and Senate attempt to make decisions about six major U.S. issues. Some vital decisions that need to be agreed upon before next month’s recess involve: immigration reform, student loan debates, budget planning, and fiscal issues. The Washington Post reports:
Significant debates await the House and Senate in the coming weeks over a new budget, a new farm bill, federally-subsidized student loans, several key Obama administration nominees and an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, which remains the year’s biggest political fight.
Read more here.
In a New York Times op-ed, Mark Bittman writes about the hyprocrisy of congressional representatives who use the Farm Bill to cut SNAP yet also recieves thousands in USDA farm subsidies and direct payments. The current version of the House farm bill proposes $20 billion in cuts to SNAP. Bittman suggests an alternative solution.
"In other words, without hurting conservation or poor people or foreign aid or progressive and traditional farming, you could achieve targeted savings simply by letting direct payments go away and refusing to boost the crop insurance scam."
Read more here.
The Farm Bill might not sound like the most exciting piece of legislation ever to come out of Congress, but it has huge implications for nutrition in the United States. Among other things, the Farm Bill determines support to small farms, promoting farmers’ markets, and, oh yeah, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), what we used to call food stamps.
SNAP is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs, set to expand with increased need and decrease when people no longer need help. Most benefits are modest, and the majority of recipients who are able to work do. In fact, SNAP is effective because it not only helps people get the food they need, but its benefits encourage them to find work.
Unfortunately, it seems like both houses in Congress are set on changing the SNAP program for the worse. Putting aside the cuts the House has planned for nutrition assistance that would kick 2 million people off the program, the Senate recently accepted a change to SNAP that flies in the face of the criminal justice system and will probably have racially discriminating effects.
Tuesday the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a new five-year farm bill. The bill cuts subsidy payments and the food stamp program while expanding crop insurance. The Senate bill will reduce spending by $24 billion over 10 years. The bill passed 15-5 in committee with a full Senate vote expected later this month. USA Today reports:
The farm bill passed on Tuesday eliminates $17 billion in farm subsidies, $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need and reduces $4 billion from conservation programs largely through consolidation. Spending for food stamp programs, used by 48 million Americans, also would be cut by $4 billion.
Read more here.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas has proposed a new farm bill that saves $38 billion over 10 years. However the bill saves money by cutting funding to food stamps. Politico reports:
But in real dollars — and as a proportion of his entire package — Lucas admits he is leaning more on food stamps. Last year the nutrition title contributed about $16.1 billion in savings, or less than half of the chairman’s mark. This year it is not just up by $4 billion, but also accounts for 53 percent of the Farm Bill savings and almost 60 percent of the new cuts — beyond those attributed to sequestration.
A common rationalization those in religious circles make for cutting social programs that help the poor is that church should be the one helping “the least of these,” not the government. But if we know that’s not possible given the church’s means, that millions will get left behind because our efforts fall far too short, is that still a logical line of defense? Jesus told us to care for the poor, sick, and vulnerable—he didn’t prescribe how.
Sometimes Jesus healed people one-on-one. Sometimes he addressed the needs of a multitude by providing enough food to feed them all. Sometimes he sent others in his stead to provide healing.
If we ignore the needy in our midst by getting rid of one huge way to address that need, we are not following Jesus’ example.
Editor's Note: On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee voted to slash $16.5 billion in nutrition assistance funding in the farm bill. Rep. James McGovern led efforts to stop the drastic cuts to anti-hunger programs. He offers his thoughts to Sojourners on the committee decision.
I am disappointed that a majority of the House Agriculture Committee voted against my amendment to eliminate the $16.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, included in the Farm Bill. These cuts are detrimental, cruel, and immoral. They literally take food away from hungry people; people who are poor; people who struggle to feed their families. SNAP is the most effective and efficient federal program. Let me repeat that – the most effective and efficient program. In fact, the error rate was 3.81 % in 2010, the lowest in the history of the program. And that rate continues to decrease.
It is false to say that these cuts won’t affect benefits or that they are merely closing loopholes. They will result in less food for hungry, low-income Americans – period.
Religion reporter Amy Sullivan has an interesting piece in The New Republic today on the politics surround the deep cuts to government food programs being proposed by the House Agriculture Committee.
As she notes:
"Some conservatives have argued that government shouldn’t even be in the business of feeding people—that the job should be handled by local congregations and other community organizations. Paul Ryan has sparred with Catholic bishops who oppose cuts to SNAP, quipping that 'a preferential option for the poor does not mean a preferential option for big government.'”
The article goes on to note that, while churches were the only social safety net the country had for many years, it was the Great Depression which ended this role. Quoting from an article by Alison Collis Greene:
“'The Depression crippled churches’ finances, and the economic downturn forced them to slash services when people needed help most. Religious leaders and local church members alike recognized the crisis, and many demanded that the federal government intervene.'”
Sullivan argues that we find ourselves in a situation not so different to that of the 1930s today:
"We are watching a similar situation play out now. Many religious traditions and individual churches were struggling when the recession began. The Catholic church was dealing with the fallout from the priest sex abuse scandals. It and other traditions are still embroiled in debates over homosexuality that have led to splits or caused members to leave altogether. Congregational membership levels are down in almost every religious tradition. And as a result, their resource pools have shrunk."
Yes, smarter and more effective government programs are vital when budgets are being cut across the board. But indiscriminate cuts to vital services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and calls for churches to pick up the pieces are simply immoral and ultimately impossible.
The cuts being proposed by the Committee will have a devastating impact on poor Americans. It’s time to stand up for the poorest and more vulnerable. You can help. Tell Congress to oppose cuts to nutrition programs in the Farm Bill today.
Quote of the day.
"It''s been clear since the 1870s that the government needs a warrant to read postal mail. There''s no good reason email should be treated differently." Catherine Crump, ACLU staff attorney, who has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with several federal agencies, asking about their policies and legal processes for reading Internet users'' emails.
Within the next couple of weeks the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, which mandates racial profiling by police officers and deputizes them to act as an extension of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Since the passage of SB1070, states across the country have introduced copycat measures into their state legislatures. Chief among them was Alabama’s HB658—the most draconian measure of them all. The crafters of HB658 intentionally pushed immigrants to the point where life was so miserable in their state that they chose to “self-deport.”
This week our nation is witnessing a new level of low. Even as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on states’ rights to pass their own immigration laws, some Senate Republicans are arguing for two sets of federal legislation even worse than the state bills. These new federal bills aim to take money and food from children—American children.
About every five years the Farm Bill addresses a broad set of food and agricultural policy issues. Commodity price supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs were just some of the issues included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, as the last Farm Bill legislation was officially titled.
The Farm Bill is also known for the broad range of policy stakeholders who work on it, including state organizations, national farm groups, commodity associations, conservation advocates, rural development organizations, and faith-based groups.
But even with its inclusive set of policy issues and actors, the Farm Bill is notable for one issue policymakers and advocates doesn’t touch: People who work on farms.