First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Keeping Food on the Table

For the last 40 years, Congress has linked funding levels for the federal government’s food stamps program to the farm bills that provide subsidies of various kinds to farmers—including the wealthy corporate farms known as Big Agriculture.

Not any more.

In an eyebrow-raising move shortly before leaving the Capitol for summer recess, the U.S. House of Representatives removed food stamps, now called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, from the overall farm bill that they passed, saying they’ll get to it “later.”

The problem, it seems, was that some budget-cutting members of the House Republican majority wanted to slash the cuts to food stamps even more than the $20.5 billion reduction that the five-year farm bill had already proposed.

If it isn’t resolved it’s a mistake that will make life even harder for poor families who have trouble enough trying to put food on the table.

As five Catholic leaders, including two bishops who head USCCB committees, said in a letter to House members when they started considering the bill in June, it’s a mistake even to cut $20.5 billion from SNAP at a time of “continued high unemployment and a struggling economy.”

It’s a bad idea, too, to split up the farm bill and the SNAP program.

By keeping the two linked, Republicans from farm states get the agricultural subsidies they want and Democrats from urban areas get the nutritional subsidies for their poor populations. It’s a rare chance for bipartisan cooperation, and it’s the reason the programs were joined in the first place.

Removing SNAP from the larger farm bill will make the food stamp budget an annual appropriation, making it an even bigger target of Congressional budget cutters.

Since its founding in 1964 as part of the “War on Poverty,” the food stamps program has helped provide nutritious diets to millions of Americans —many of them children, the elderly and the disabled—who might not otherwise have access to quality food. You cannot use food stamp grants to buy a candy bar or a six-pack of beer.

Like the food pantries and soup kitchens run by Catholic charitable agencies and other non-profit groups, food stamps have become an important piece of the fragile net holding some families together.

Just as we contribute our time and our money on a personal level to the Church-run pantries and other programs for the needy among us, so should we be committed to making a contribution to the less fortunate among us as part of our civic duty as Catholics and as Americans.

We urge that the SNAP funding be restored to the farm bill in a House-Senate conference committee, and that the food stamp cuts, if they’re made at all, be at a greatly reduced level.

Circle of Protection, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders formed with the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addressed the need for the federal budget to protect the poor in a July 18 letter to President Barack Obama and to Senate and House leaders of both parties.

“Our long-term fiscal challenges will not be solved by increasing the burden on those who Jesus called the ‘least of these,’ ” they wrote.

They are right.


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