What are your views of the food-stamp program and the proposed cuts to it?
The food stamp program is an essential part of the “safety net” for poor people in the United States. This safety net is already tattered and insufficient. To cut food assistance programs in the midst of a recession when a record number of people are experiencing food insecurity reflects a deep hatred of the poor. It is contrary to basic biblical commands to care for the poor, and to ensure that the hungry are fed.
Do you know what the average recipient of food stamps receives each month? It is a whopping $133.14. To propose cuts to these crumbs dropping from the table of wealth in this country is simply mean spirited. To charge that poor people are abusing the program is a lie, as a 2003 analysis found that two-thirds of all improper payments were the fault of the caseworker, not the participant. And how many improper payments are there? A tiny percentage in a program this size, well under 4% in the whole program.
I work with homeless and poor people on a regular basis. The little they receive in food stamps (and not all of them are even eligible to participate in the program) still needs to be supplemented by eating at soup kitchens (most of which are notorious for their lack of nutritional meals). And many of these are people who are working, earning money, but not enough to put food on the table. Those who are not working are suffering from mental illness, physical disabilities, and addictions (for which there is a horrible lack of treatment programs).
The House bill addressing food stamps proposes cutting $16 billion from the program; the Senate about $4 billion. Just a few days of United States military spending tops more than either of those amounts. In the most recent year, the United States spent $708 billion on the military, representing 48 percent of the total military spending in the world. This does not include an additional $18 billion for nuclear weapons activities at Department of Energy and $7 billion for additional non-Pentagon defense related activities. The little foray into Libya cost approximately $2 billion per day, so eight days would have covered the entire cuts being proposed by the House, and two days would cover the cuts proposed by the Senate.
Given these realities, to direct attention to cutting programs for the poor, while ignoring a bloated military budget, reflects a severe distortion of budgetary priorities that ought to deeply trouble people of faith. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rightly observed, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” Dr. King was reflecting a long tradition in both the Old and New Testaments that affirmed justice for the poor as the basis for security rather than trusting in military might.