Right now, 45 million people in the United States are hungry. In fact, we can count in weeks the amount of time before even more of our nation’s most vulnerable people – seniors, children, the working poor – face the prospect of going to bed hungry.
I have a hard time getting my head around this, because it just doesn’t make sense. Politicians are constantly making stump speeches about the U.S. being the most advanced, the most powerful, and the most affluent country in the history of the world. They say, we are the envy of the world; but just last week, the majority in the House of Representatives made a move that is best characterized as simple-minded, short-sighted and mean. Against the backdrop of partisanship that seemingly has become standard operating procedure in the chambers of Congress, on a party line vote the Republican majority pushed through a farm bill that does not include the food stamp program. Funding for food stamps first started in 1939, and improvements to this program have been implemented over the past seventy-four years. This recent action, however, does not suggest improvements, but rather the demise of public services upon which so many people necessarily depend.
Over the protests of Democrats, the House-farm bill lavishes nearly $200 billion in subsidies on farmers over the next decade, without including even a penny in food assistance for the more than 45 million children, seniors and working poor people who depend on it. The intent is to remove SNAP from the farm bill and consider the nutritional assistance program as a separate piece of legislation, vulnerable to massive funding cuts. The result would be to assure continued subsidies for farmers while figuratively snatching food from the tables of poor people.
CWS has decided that it must step up its advocacy in response to persistent food insecurity in North America. This farm bill is an example of why this is so urgent. Our task now is to stop compounding the violence of hunger that already exists in the United States.
In this vast country of abundant resources there is enough for all. Lawmakers discredit us all when they approve legislation that gives short shrift to the needs of people struggling to overcome poverty and attempt to clean it up by invoking the term “fiscal conservatism.”
The tax dollars that fund these programs – subsidies for farmers and food assistance for struggling families–come from all of our pockets. We have every right to expect that public dollars will be expended in a manner which defines Americans as a caring, compassionate nation – especially for those least able to care for themselves. The simple truth is that giving poor people access to nutritional food makes good economic sense; and children who are well fed learn better, stay healthier, and achieve more.
On September 30 millions of people who depend on a few hundred dollars a month of food stamp assistance to buy groceries will be left with empty pockets, empty pantries and empty stomachs. Now is the time to tell legislators to snap out of their political partisanship, and put the SNAP back into the farm bill.
Rev. John L. McCullough is president and CEO of CWS