Editorial — A failed test

In an act of political callousness that’s become typical of them, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, Sept. 19, voted to cut $40 billion out of the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known by most people as the food stamp program.

In other words, they voted to reduce by $40 billion over the next decade, a program that helps members of our nation’s most vulnerable population — the elderly, the working poor, and of course, children.

Critics of the program usually complain about fraud and waste, as if people are getting rich on food stamps which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, provide a benefit of about $1.50 per person per meal. Food stamp program “waste and fraud” is this decade’s welfare Cadillac. And it’s hard to buy a Cadillac on a per-meal stipend of $1.50, even if you’re adept at dieting and saving the “stamps” — which are now really program payment cards.

In last week’s “Time to Speak” column in The Record, Father Pat Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, noted that the proposed SNAP cuts would remove from four to six million people from the program.

“To make matters worse,” he wrote, “47 million recipients, including nearly 900,000 Kentuckians, will see benefits reduced Nov. 1 because the 2009 Recovery Act, which provided an increase in SNAP benefits due to the recession, expires.”

Oh, and about that alleged waste, Father Delahanty had a salient point to make on that, too.

“Writing in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky House members — Reps. Barr, Guthrie, Rodgers and Whitfield — stated ‘Reforming the food stamp program is not about being spiteful or denying people benefits; it’s about eliminating the waste that prevents Kentucky families who truly need help from getting it.”

But what waste are they talking about?

Father Delahanty noted that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report recently that showed that the agency spent
nearly $15 million on undue payouts through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (waste if there ever was waste), while issuing no major overpayments for nutrition assistance, including the food stamp program. In other words, the inspector general looked at SNAP and didn’t see any waste that was keeping Kentucky families from getting the help they need.

But, in a 217 to 210 vote, the U.S. House voted to cut food stamps to about 44,000 Louisville families and 273,000 households in Kentucky. The vote was, in a word, wrong.

It is a staple of Catholic Social Justice that providing food for the hungry is always the right thing to do. And religious leaders of all stripes and denominations are in agreement on this issue. They have a simple, direct message to Congress — feed the poor and hungry.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, is part of a group called “Circle of Protection” that is lobbying for the food stamp program. Other members include the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World; Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; the Rev. Lisa R. Harris, coordinator of American Baptist Home Mission Societies; Peter Vander Muelen, coordinator of the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, and dozens of others.

Religious leaders, who so often can disagree on matters of theology and religiosity, agree on feeding the poor and politicians should take notice.

At an event in Brazil, Pope Francis noted that access to food is a basic human right. “Dear friends,” he said during a World Youth Day event, “it is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry — this is an act of justice.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, recently told Congress that the way the U.S. House “chooses to address our nation’s hunger and nutrition programs will have profound human and moral consequences.”

“This is a crucial time for our nation to place a circle of protection around programs that build a more just framework and put poor and hungry people first,” Bishop Blaire added.

He was right, of course. This was a test of the moral fiber, the moral character, of the U.S. House of Representatives.

And they failed it miserably.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

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