Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Christians Need to Care About Food Stamps

One of the best parts of my field site placement with Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of Pennsylvania is taking part in strategy sessions about helping our state's most vulnerable citizens.  Last week I attended a broad coalition meeting of anti-hunger organizations and other interested parties working to combat the Corbett administration's proposed asset testing for the federally funded SNAP or food stamp program.  As I wrote in a recent post on the subject, this is simply a mean spirited, ideologically based move that would in some situations force seniors to spend down what little savings they have for medical care and a dignified funeral before they can apply for food stamps.  Folks from AARP were therefore in attendance at the meeting, as seniors would be disproportionately affected by an asset test.  While proposed under the guise of saving the state administration costs, instituting an asset test would only add the costly step of tracking the assets of over 900,000 households to the food stamp approval process.  Representatives from Walmart and other major groceries attended the meeting as well, because asset testing would also take away roughly $50 million federal dollars from the state economy.

Why should we care about this as Christians?  First of all, we're charged in the waters of baptism to care for, feed and welcome our neighbor, amongst other things.  From a very practical, concrete standpoint though, Pennsylvania's food bank system is largely supported by faith communities, who provide $60 million worth of food assistance each year.  As an asset test program for food stamps would eliminate $50 million dollars of food from the state, Pennsylvania's churches will nearly need to double their amount of food donations to make up the difference.  It's simply not doable for congregations that are already stretched thin.  If you're someone not in Pennsylvania reading this, instituting an asset test here could effect food stamp programs nationwide.  Since this is such a big state, other state governments will have an easier time instituting asset tests if Pennsylvania has one.

So what can you do?  First, get educated about the issue.  This documentary on hunger in America put out by AARP is a great start: "Hunger in America."  Next, think about contacting state representatives and especially in this case Governor Corbett's office.  Most importantly, start organizing in your congregations against food insecurity, wherever you are in the country.  1 in 6 folks are hungry right now in America... talk with your pastor about your congregation could work to advocate against the root causes of hunger in conjunction with donations of food and money.  Thanks so much for reading friends.

God's peace,

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