A shrinking pie: Put poor and hungry people first in the new farm bill Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

In his message for World Food Day, which was observed on October 16, Pope Francis said that “it is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world.”

The Holy Father emphasized, “It is not just a question of responding to immediate emergencies, but of addressing together, in all areas, a problem that challenges our personal and social conscience, to achieve a just and lasting solution.”

Cuts in food assistance benefits

In the United States, there are increasing numbers of hungry people. Many of them rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. As of November 1, the benefits to individuals and families were cut for the first time since 1964. That’s because an increase in food aid approved in 2009 expired, and  Congress hasn’t been able to pass a new farm bill for over a year (the farm bill includes provisions to fund food assistance programs in our country).

The November 1 cut dropped the monthly benefit for a family of four from $668 per month to $632. That might not seem like much, but it makes a difference to poor families who depend on SNAP to put food on the table.

In Congress, a House-Senate conference committee is working on a compromise version of the farm bill. The Senate version of the bill cuts $4 billion from the SNAP program over the next 10 years, while the House version cuts nearly $40 billion.

These proposed cuts would devastate poor individuals (many of them elderly persons) and families in our country. A Catholic News Service (CNS) story included remarks from Fr. Pat Delahanty, executive director of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, who called the proposed cuts “morally outrageous.” He added, “I can’t believe that people who claim to have an interest in families would want to put poor families, low-income families, in a position where they can barely feed themselves. It’s just completely — well, it’s despicable, frankly. And it doesn’t need to happen.”

Catholic leaders urge commitment to the hungry

The U.S. Catholic bishops, along with the leaders of other Catholic organizations (Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul), sent an appeal to leaders in Congress on November 1 urging them to reject SNAP cuts along with proposals to eliminate access to SNAP benefits for former criminals and to tie the benefits to state “work requirements” — which could throw families off the assistance program in an ongoing tenuous economy.

Church leaders also realize that cuts in nutrition assistance could lead to more strain on church-run food pantries and meal programs. A Bread for the World analysis of the proposed cuts suggests that to make up for them, each church in the U.S. would have to increase its food assistance by nearly $15,000 a year for the next 10 years, according to a CNS story.

The idea that some members of Congress believe churches will pick up the slack “represents a tax on people of faith,” said Rev. Russell Meyer, a minister with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who is executive director of the Florida Council of Churches.

The Church leaders also called for adequate funding for international food security and development, rural development, conservation, and subsidies for smaller and medium-sized farms and ranches.

There are indeed budget constraints, and the farm bill is a shrinking pie.  However, as the Catholic leaders point out, a just and fair farm bill would put poor and hungry people first.

Please contact your senators and congressional representatives urging them NOT to vote for cuts or changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that will harm vulnerable children, seniors, the unemployed, persons with disabilities, and others in need.