WASHINGTON (CNS) — How the U.S. House “chooses to address our nation’s hunger and nutrition programs will have profound human and moral consequences,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“This is a crucial time for our nation to place a circle of protection around programs that build a more just framework and put poor and hungry people first,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif. “I respectfully urge you to reject efforts to reduce or restructure SNAP, and to pursue instead the common good in agriculture and food policy that works from a genuine preferential option for the poor.”
The bishop’s comments about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, came in a Sept. 11 letter to members of the House is response to a House proposal that would cut food assistance program by $40 billion over a period of 10 years. The House was expected to take up the proposed cuts the week of Sept. 16.
Such a move will “harm hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who are underemployed or unable to find employment,” the bishop said.
According to federal statistics released in June, the latest figures available, close to 48 million people in U.S. households rely on the SNAP program.
“As the House considers a proposal to address nutrition programs apart from the farm bill, I write to urge you to oppose harmful cuts and changes to adequate and nutritious food is a fundamental human right and a basic need that is integral to protecting the life and dignity of the human person,” Bishop Blaire wrote, echoing his earlier statements about nutrition programs.
“SNAP is one of the most effective and important federal programs to combat hunger in the nation by helping to feed millions of persons in need every year,” he said. “SNAP helps relieve pressure on overwhelmed parishes, charities, food banks, pantries and other emergency food providers across the country that could not begin to meet the need for food assistance if SNAP eligibility or benefits were reduced.”
Bishop Blaire acknowledged that faith groups and the private section “are vital in the fight to combat hunger,” but at the same time, he said, “government has an indispensable role in safeguarding and promoting the common good of all. This includes ensuring poor and hungry people have access to adequate and nutritious food.”
During the summer the House stripped funding for SNAP and other nutritional programs from the farm bill, with Republican leaders saying they would develop a separate bill later on nutrition. The stripped-down farm bill was approved by an eight-vote margin, 216-208, with votes cast largely along party lines. A final version of the bill has yet to be negotiated with the Senate, and a conference committee has not been appointed. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
In his letter, Bishop Blaire said that struggling Americans “are not seeking a life of government dependency but rightfully deserve decent paying jobs to provide for them and their families.”
“Even with evidence of a modest economic recovery,” he said, “the economy still has not improved the standard of living for many people, especially for the poor and the working poor. More than 4 million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope. … SNAP remains an essential tool to help struggling individuals and families avoid hunger and stay out of poverty.”
He criticized suggestions that access to SNAP be eliminated “for people who have at some point in their lifetime committed certain crimes,” calling that “counterproductive and an affront to human dignity.”
Bishop Blaire also said Congress must give states flexibility to administer SNAP benefits based on local needs, because “a one-size-fits-all approach to state waivers on SNAP work requirements is unreasonable.”