Congress wants to cut $4 billion a year from food stamps: Where are the Christians?
Just as we averted another misbegotten military attack (against Syria), another misbegotten manuver (non-military) occurred in the House of Representatives. Having split the food stamp program from farm subsidies in the farm bill (they have generally been joined in the past), the House passed a bill that would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years. Alleging that the program has ballooned out of control--some 47 million Americans now receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with half minors and 10 percent senior citizens--lawmakers have decided to take food from the mouths of the poor to trim federal spending, despite the fact that food stamps lifted about 4 million Americans out of poverty last year and kept millions more from sinking more deeply. Some states are already moving on making those cuts.
Proponents say that trimming food stamp eligibility would encourage people to get back to work--often citing the lower unemployement rate and the recovery of the stock market as the signs that the economy is improving--as if folks are staying unemployed so they can collect $133 in food stamps a month (the average benefit). Everyone on the ground knows, of course, that the economy is just fine for the wealthy, but if you are middle class or part of the working poor, your situation is not much improved by the economic rebound. One of the main reasons that there are working folks on food stamps is because their jobs don't pay a living wage. Interestingly enough, no one in Congress seems to be asking why, if you work, you should still need food stamps. (Poverty wages? Part-time work? Both, and lots more.)
The gospel for this coming Sunday is the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke--you know, the one where the rich guy and his friends ate and relaxed while poor Lazarus lay outside starving on the ground with the dogs licking his sores. The story cries out for preachers with the newspaper in one hand and the gospel in the other. Christians should be out in force on this issue--a pro-life issue if ever there was one--and yet, beyond the social justice types, I'm hearing a lot of crickets. If we want to know why so many find the church and Christians in general irrelevant, this is why: We have left the basic gospel message of care for the poor and justice for all on the side of our efforts.
I'm sure many will say that this food stamp cut was just so much political theater that will never make it out of the Senate. But to me it is a sign that, if they had the votes, our elected leaders would indeed snatch food right out of the mouths of the poor. No matter our place in the political spectrum, we shouldn't let it happen.