Terrance Heath

Sometimes Those Who Work Still Can't Eat

Filed By Terrance Heath | August 04, 2013 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Biblical justification, feed the poor, food stamps, Republicans, Stephen Fincher

Food fightRepublicans love to justify their hatred of food stamps by spouting the biblical line that “those who will not work shall not eat.” The truth is, especially in this economy, there are millions of Americans who work -- often working long hours, in very demanding jobs -- who still can’t afford to feed themselves. They are paid such low wages, by some of the wealthiest companies in the world, that they can’t afford essentials like food, shelter, health care, and transportation. So tax-payers end up subsidizing their low wages with food stamps.

Now, Republicans are making another attempt to literally take food from the mouths of millions of working families, children, elderly and disabled Americans.

Among the most recent Republicans to use the Bible to justify (and even sanctify) their disdain for the poor is Rep. Stephen Fincher (R, Tenn.), during a hearing in June of this year.

That’s bad enough, but as Leo Gerard pointed out, Fincher is one of the biggest recipients of farm subsidies in Congress. To the tune of $3.5 million from 1999 to 2012. Here you have a guy who’s one of the biggest welfare recipients in Congress, using the Bible to justify cutting off welfare to the poorest and most vulnerable, while keeping his cut intact and even increasing it. This guy got about $738 per day in farm welfare over 10 years, and he’s advocating cuts that would mean no food for 2 million who only get about $5 per day in food assistance. His cut alone could probably feed about 150 more people per day, at $5 a pop, but he wants to cut their subsidies and still get more for himself. And it’s all perfectly moral, because the Bible tells him so.

Just when you thought House Republicans couldn’t possibly sink any lower, they sink to unimaginable new depths. Just a few weeks ago the GOP-dominated House passed a farm that eliminated funding for food stamps and nutrition programs, after a vote on the full farm bill failed when the House GOP demanded for $20 billion in cuts to food stamps. That move could be taken as a political statement, since Republicans had to know the Senate would never agree to that and the president would never sign it.

Now, just before leaving town, House Republicans have upped the ante by jeopardizing the farm will with a proposal to cut $40 billion from food stamps.

A plan by House leaders to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program -- twice the amount of cuts proposed in a House bill that failed in June -- threatens to derail efforts by the House and Senate to work together to complete a farm bill before agriculture programs expire on Sept. 30.

The bill that would double cuts previously sought by House Republicans was announced Thursday by Representative Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of House Agriculture Committee, during a lunch with lobbyists, and first reported by Reuters.

Representative Eric Cantor Republican of Virginia, the House majority leader, said a vote on the deeper food stamp cuts would take place before meeting with senators to iron out the differences between the House and Senate farm bills.

According to a report by the Health Impact Project, 5.1 million Americans would lose their eligibility for food stamps. Among those are 1.5 million children, and 900,00 older adults. Another 500,000 of them would have their benefits lowered, and two thirds of them would be children and adults.

According to the USDA about 47% of food stamp recipients are children (under 18). Another 8 percent are elderly (over 60). That’s more than half of food stamp recipients. In other words, the GOP cuts would harm millions of Americans who can’t work because their either too young or well-past retirement age.

What about the other half. Again, the USDA reports that many food stamp recipients have jobs. Nearly 30 percent had income from jobs, and 41 percent lived in a household where someone worked to provide income. The problem is that they work for so little income. Only 15 percent had earnings above the poverty line, while 43 percent had incomes at or below the poverty line. Only 8 percent had no income. The rest simply don’t earn enough to meet basic need like food and shelter.

Many food stamp recipients are among the working poor. They are the low-wage workers employed by highly profitable companies that refuse to pay them living wages, and they rely on food stamps to avoid going hungry as a consequence.

Someone should tell Rep. Fincher and his follow Republicans the ugly truth: There are millions of Americans who do work, and still can’t feed themselves without help because they don’t earn enough to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, etc. And if conservatives say helping the poor is for individuals and churches to do, not government, they should talk to Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns On the Bus,” and she can explain it to them again.

Wisconsin Republican Congressman Reid Ribble described his "own religious upbringing"--his father was a minister; three of his brothers and one son are all pastors.

"Whoa," said Sister Simone, impressed.

"Christianity is all about serving the poor," Representative Ribble told her. "What is the Church doing wrong that it had to come to the government to get so much funding?"

Sister Simone said the need for government assistance is more about the "dimension of the issue." She noted a Bread for the World study that calculated the funds religious institutions would have had to raise if the food stamp cuts proposed in last year's House Republican budget had been implemented. She said "every church, synagogue, mosque, and house of worship in the United States" would have needed to raise $50,000 in additional monies--every year, for ten years.

Finally, as an old Sunday school teacher, I can’t let Rep. Fincher go unanswered. As the video pointed out, Fincher was misquoting or misusing a Bible verse that referred to people who had stopped working in anticipation of the second coming. That reminded me of Jesus parable of the sheep and the goats, from Matthew 25:31-46.

35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 The righteous will then answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, “Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; 43 I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ 44 Then they will answer him, “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ 45 The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’

Of course, Jesus doesn’t explicitly say the government should do the above, but nor does he say it shouldn’t. And it’s easy to forget that when we talk about the government we’re talking about our government. We’re talking about the way in which we do things together as a country, and tackle problems that none of us or -- nor any group of us -- has the capacity to solve alone.


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