But, after 40 years of debate, extremists in the conservative movement have become lost and mean-spirited, turning the War on Poverty into the War on the Poor.
Despite the U.S. being the richest country in the history of the world, House Republicans just passed a bill that reduced food stamps by $39 billion over 10 years. The bill passed with 217 Republican votes and no Democratic support. Our own representative, Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, voted with the majority.
I count 75 churches in the Tri-Cities area — and, in a Republican district, I assume that many of those church members voted for Rep. Huizenga.
We know how God would have voted if He was in Congress because He couldn’t be clearer. Here are just a few examples: "Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble!" (Isaiah 58:10) "He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor." (Prov. 22:9) “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)
His demands are simple and unqualified.
My question is, what are the people in those 75 churches saying? If there ever was a time for the clergy to take a stand on a current, unambiguous topic, this is it. I can’t imagine how this congressional vote is one that Christians or compassionate people anywhere could tolerate or condone.
It’s not that those who support the cuts haven’t tried to explain their actions in Christian terms, mind you; they just don’t make sense. When Ken Blackwell, former politician and currently a Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council, was asked about the cut in food stamps, he said: “There’s nothing more Christian” because "through empowering others and creating self-sufficiency ... there within lies the path to (a) sense of worthiness." Mr. Blackwell wants to build character through hunger.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the House floor prior to the vote: "This bill is designed to give people a hand when they need it most, and most people don't choose to be on food stamps. Most people want a job. ... They want what we want." So, Rep. Cantor thinks that people who want a job don’t want to eat, and he’s happy to help.
Perhaps the trophy for hypocrisy should go to Rep. Steven Fincher, R-Tenn., who received $3.5 million over eight years in farm subsidies, yet thought it proper to cut food stamps for the poor. He said: “The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country.” Oh, my.
So, how much are the poor getting in food stamps? Currently, the amount paid to recipients is $133 per month — that’s $4.43 a day. No one I know wants to try this diet. The Congressional Budget Office says that 3.8 million Americans now receiving food stamps will no longer be eligible as a result of these cuts.
Lest anyone think that hunger is a far-away condition, 37 percent of Grand Haven students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. That’s 2,257 children who may need assistance in getting the bare necessities right here in our fair city. We justify feeding schoolchildren because hunger cripples one’s ability to learn.
Who are these food stamp recipients? Well, 83 percent of all food stamp benefits go to households that include a child, an elderly person or a disabled person. And 91 percent of food stamps go to households living at or below the poverty level ($14,648 for a family of three).
We are faced with a question: Should we forget this vote by Rep. Huizenga because he belongs to our party or because hunger is not an issue we personally face? I hope not. I hope we are willing to say that what is taught on Sundays is good for every other day, that it’s not OK to cut assistance programs during a prolonged economic drought that has taken jobs and a living wage away from the middle and lower classes.
Republicans get very upset about any talk of tax increases on the rich; they are resolute about keeping oil-company subsidies; they insist on weapon systems the Pentagon doesn’t want; and House Republicans are nearly unanimous about not helping the poor get enough to eat.
So, when Jesus said in Matthew that a heavenly reward awaits those who give to the poor, I suggest that those who deny food to the poor should start making alternative long-term plans.
— By Richard Kamischke, Tribune community columnist