By Bob Allen
American Baptists joined other faith leaders in urging members of the House of Representatives to oppose cuts to food stamps proposed by Republican leaders totaling $40 billion over 10 years.
A vote is expected this week on a bill introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) to reduce costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that have doubled in the past five years.
An estimated 3.8 million people could be dropped from the rolls in 2014, and an average of 3 million people each year for the next decade. Opponents say the plan would hurt the most vulnerable Americans, including seniors, children and the working poor.
“Cutting SNAP and taking away vital nutrition assistance from children, seniors, low-wage workers and persons with disabilities will not address the larger economic trends or create more jobs with adequate wages,” Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, wrote House members Sept. 5. “Instead, this type of bill will punish those struggling to get by.”
Medley joined other faith leaders in appeals coordinated by the Circle of Protection, a coalition of more than 65 heads of denominations and religious organizations launched in 2011 by Sojourners head Jim Wallis.
“These immoral cuts are incongruent with the shared values of our nation,” Wallis added in a letter Sept. 9. “They demonstrate the triumph of political ideology and self-interest over sound public policy and concern for the general welfare.”
Lisa Harris, coordinator of American Baptist Home Mission Societies Children in Poverty initiative, said far too many Americans rely on SNAP today, but high participation is not a result of laziness.
“Over 30 percent of SNAP households are working households,” Harris said. “The real problem is the economy and the fact that too many jobs don’t pay enough for parents to be able to put food on the table and provide for their children.”
SNAP is a nutrition-assistance program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The House defeated a farm bill in June because conservatives believed cuts to food stamps weren’t deep enough. The House passed a farm-only bill, while Republican leaders led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia crafted a separate bill to cut domestic food aid.
Currently, 47 million Americans benefit from SNAP, but that number is expected to decline once the economy recovers. Last year, SNAP benefits lifted 4 million people above the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
House Republicans say the government has made it too easy to qualify for food stamps and that a number of able-bodied Americans are taking advantage of the system.
Conservatives point to a Fox News report introducing Jason Greenslate, a 29-year-old Southern California surfer who doesn’t work and gets $200 a month in food-stamp assistance that he sometimes uses to buy lobster.
“Costing taxpayers $80 billion a year, middle class families struggling to make ends meet themselves foot the bill for a program that has gone well beyond a safety net for children, seniors and the disabled,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a memo.
“This bill not only restores the integrity of this safety-net program, it will help beneficiaries become more self-sufficient,” McCarthy said. “These reforms will also generate at least $40 billion in savings for taxpayers over the next 10 years.”