Back in kindergarten we learned how to share with people unrelated to us. We discovered that we couldn’t keep for ourselves everything we wanted. Sharing exposed us to the concept of living peaceably in community. As children we were taught to believe in God. We also learned that God expects us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and clothe the naked. We took these lessons to heart.
These lessons have been forgotten, in the midst of federal tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest and a proposed 2019 federal budget that calls for reducing deficits at the expense of Americans struggling to make ends meet. Case in point: the USDA America’s Harvest Box initiative aimed at the 45 million Americans who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for their daily bread.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue describes America’s Harvest Box as “a bold, innovative approach to providing nutritious food to people who need assistance feeding themselves and their families …. It maintains the same level of food value as SNAP participants currently receive, provides states flexibility in administering the program, and is responsible to the taxpayers.” The initiative would save $129.2 billion over 10 years, he said in a news release.
Approximately 16.4 million households (81 percent of SNAP households) would receive food boxes scaled to the overall size of their SNAP allotment, about half of their benefits. They could purchase food of their choosing (within SNAP guidelines) with the other half of their benefits. But what happens if a state like Iowa, which is struggling to balance its current budget, can’t afford the delivery costs?
More questions for Secretary Perdue: Would you be willing to feed yourself from the contents of America’s Harvest Box: shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, canned meat, canned fruits and vegetables? Would you be willing to have someone else make choices for you? Would you be willing to pay higher taxes so that your home state can pay the delivery costs?
On Feb. 13, two U.S. bishops issued a statement as a reminder that the federal budget is a moral document. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) “has consistently urged our national leaders to consider important principles when deciding how to steward the finite resources entrusted to it by the American people. Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give central importance to ‘the least of these,’ and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity. Our nation must never seek to balance the budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio and Bishop Frank Dewane said in the statement. Each chairs a USCCB committee.
The New York Times’ Glen Thrush reported Feb. 13 that the food box proposal isn’t going to be implemented any time soon, and is being used as “a political gambit” in negotiations over the farm bill. The administration is looking to cut $85 billion from food assistance programs, in part by imposing strict new worker requirements on recipients, Thrush reported.
Many SNAP recipients are working! “Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and because many workers turn to SNAP when they are between jobs, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP,” states the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The rates are even higher for families with children. (About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly, or disabled),” said the center, a nonpartisan policy and research institute.
A Jan. 24 press release about the U.S. farm bill is downright mistrustful of food program recipients. Among the details: “Strengthen the integrity and efficiency of food and nutrition programs to better serve our participants and protect American taxpayers by reducing waste, fraud and abuse.…”
This Lent, reflect on why our society discriminates against the poor. Read “Lent 2018: 21st Century Poverty” produced by NETWORK (www.networklobby.org/Lent). Pray to be merciful to those in need. Take action by contacting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.usda.org) to support a farm bill that offers generous, not stingy food assistance. Remember the lessons we learned as children, as followers of a God who expects us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor