SNAP – We Must to Do Better

Stephen Colbert II

Today, members of the House of Representatives passed a bill which would cut funding for food stamps by $40 billion over 10 years and remove close to 4 million eligible recipients from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  While this bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate, even if nothing is done to change the current law, thanks (or no thanks) to scheduled cuts, families will receive a significantly smaller amount each month to put food on the table come November.

And, so, in the coming days and weeks, the state of our welfare system and the fairness of food stamps are likely to be major topics of discussion, not only in Washington, but also in social media.

We’ve seen it before and we’re about to see it once again. So, excuse me for a moment while I pull out my soap box.

(Cue sound of actual box being dragged out from under the table and the thu-rump of my jumping upon it.)

Okay. I’m ready now.

(Straightens hair and adjusts shirt.)

Thank you.

(Ehem.)

Friends, please.  Please?  How about we resist the urge to update our Facebook statuses in the coming weeks with a judgement of what someone else in the grocery check-out aisle did (or did not) buy while they were (or were not) wearing a certain brand/nail color/purse while they did (or did not) use food stamps (aka, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).  Please.

Because the next time I see one of those posts, or one of those calls for mandatory drug screening for welfare recipients, I think I might scream.  Well, that is sort of a lie.  Because I’m pretty sure that the last time I saw such a status, I did just that.  I screamed.  At my computer.  Out loud.

I mean, come on.  My kids are gonna start to worry about their mama if I don’t step away from the computer screen.

I’m trying hard to rant out of love.  I’m not doing very well.  I know, I need a vacation.  (Or maybe just a vacation from Facebook.)

And I need to be a better Christian, there’s that too.

But I know you’ve seen them:

“Stood in line today while someone bought a candy bar with their food stamps.”

“Must be nice to have a Prada bag to carry that SNAP card.”

“Can someone tell me why the man in front of me just paid for his cigarettes with cash and then pulled out the food stamps for his bread?

Seriously.  All. The. Time.  Enough with the grocery aisle policing already.   Please?

Because, you know what I saw the last time I stood in line behind someone with food stamps at the grocery store?

This.

A mother, father, and an infant in line at 11:00 PM on a Friday night.  They lined the belt with rows of baby food and diapers.

(Speculate with me for just a moment, here.  But, perhaps after mom or dad’s work shift ended, this family could use their shared vehicle to get to the store.  Perhaps it was late because someone works a second job but is still part of the working poor.  Perhaps the child was still awake and at the store because he was too hungry to fall asleep.  Perhaps he came along so he could eat as soon as the baby food jar was scanned and the SNAP card was swiped.) 

Oh, and I’m pretty sure the food stamps didn’t cover the diapers.  It probably didn’t cover that candy bar either.

Yes, I just did a whole lot of assuming and supposing there.  But, we also do a whole lot of that judgement stuff when we comment on what the person was wearing and what else they purchased besides their milk and bread.  And it’s time we stop it.  Period.

I yield to the compelling words of David R. Henson as to perhaps, why, we might consider muting our judgement and changing our actions if we are to call ourselves Christians.

…there is a prevailing story I hear told from our culture and our media about people who need help, who rely on food stamps or soup kitchens to fight off hunger for themselves and their children.  I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.  This narrative says that these people are lazy or degenerates, mooching off the government and the hard work of others.

It is a horrible lie. The majority of those using food stamps are the working poor, are children, or are over the age of 60. More white people than any other group, and a food stamp recipient is more likely to live in a rural part of the country than an urban one. In South Carolina alone, more than 100,000 households use food stamps each  month to get the food they need to prevent hunger. The average benefit per person in South Carolina comes out to $4.37 a day. In other words, that apple a day that keeps the doctor away might just eat up almost a quarter of your food budget for the day.

Now as Americans, we are welcome to believe and argue about these programs aiding the hungry and the poor. We can debate about how best to administer them. As Americans, we can even call for their complete dismantling.

But we cannot as Christians. Now, I know we don’t live in a system without its flaws. Yet as a people whose primary ritual is a feast — the Eucharist, we might want to think carefully about how we characterize the hungry, those who knock on our doors asking for bread. We must always remember what our Savior says — that whenever we see a hungry person, that person is Christ himself. So if we want to look for God in this parable, we shouldn’t look at the neighbor who finally gives up the loaves of bread as a bad approximation of how God answers prayers. Rather, in this parable, God is the one who comes to us at inconvenient times asking for help. God comes to us disguised as the hungry and poor and invites us to be a part of God’s kingdom of radical hospitality and generosity.

(-from The Shameful Neighbor, read the full article on Patheos. Emphasis my own.)

Amen?  Amen.  I encourage you to read the whole post.  It’s lovely.  And challenging.  And…just, read it.  But if you skipped it, here is the gist:

As Americans, we can and should debate and hold high standards for our nation’s welfare program.  But as Christians (or as compassionate people of any faith for that matter), we cannot support cuts to the program nor can we judge those who need the service.  

For the record:  I believe that we should employ the convictions of both our faith and of our citizenship in our discourse, discussion, and actions regarding feeding the hungry.  As an American, is not enough to say, “Well, the church should feed the hungry.”  As a Christian, it is not enough to say , “Well, the Government can’t solve our problems.”

Friends, drastic cuts are on the table for the SNAP program.  And soon.  It is time we see God in our hungry neighbor because He resides in that man with the cigarettes and bread.  The young woman with the Prada bag.  And, yes, the hungry child.

It is time we stop the judgement and feed the hungry.  As Americans.  As Christians.  As decent human beings.

(Thu-rump. Exits stage right.)

*****

I rant write as a plea for civil discussion on the state of our welfare system, for radical and compassionate ideas for solutions, and for the mere suggestion that we worry more about what is in our own grocery carts…because I for one know my own cart looks pretty excessive and indulgent when compared to the hungry young family behind me.

Maybe next time I’ll put down the Skittles and pick up a can for the food pantry.

Maybe I’ll consider taking the SNAP challenge like Panera CEO Ron Shaich who is blogging about his experience of trying to stay fed on $4.50 a day.

Maybe I’ll read a post on Ministry With the Poor or follow them on Facebook to try to educate myself a little better on the root causes of poverty and hunger.  

Because as both Americans and as Christians, we can and must do better.  

{This post has been nominated for a BlogHer “Voices of the Year” essay.}

This post has been featured on BlogHer and Ministry With the Poor.

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  • Leagen

    I get food stamps and have since I was 49 because I was declared Disabled then. I have Never been made to feel Badly by Anyone for using them. Oh, you CAN buy Candy with Food Stamps. Read,Carefully the link you posted here. I also go to Food Pantries 4 times a month some months and only at One am I Ever made to feel Useless and a user. I still go there because I get good food there and living on Less than $800 a Month is Not easy. Trust me, the Majority of people do not Want to NEED help but we have no recourse.

    • Holli

      Thanks for sharing your story here. I made the assumption about the candy bar based on the note about SNAP not covering items to be eaten in the store, but I see what you are looking at as well.

      I feel the same way…it is my understanding that the great majority of folks do not take advantage of the system…and it (the SNAP program) is one which is so critical to the well-being of our country as a whole. I’m so saddened to see that cuts headed this way. Hopefully food pantries can help cover the gap, but I’m not sure that will be completely possible. Will be praying for changes and stopping of the scheduled cuts. Blessings to you.

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  • http://www.mytwintopia.com Yetunde

    A very thought provoking post. I wish people could read this and change their ways. I lived in the US for over 5 years and moved to Canada and I have to say that one of the first things that struck me about “the American way” was the callousness with which poor people (or people who had less) were treated. 7 years on, I still can’t believe some things I see and hear from what should be the most exemplary country in the world.

  • http://soulstops.com Dolly@Soulstops

    Holli,
    Yes, we absolutely should not judge, we don’t know what the other person is going through, or has gone through.

    Blessings,
    Dolly

  • http://www.emilyfridenmaker.blogspot.com Emily Fridenmaker

    Yes!! People can talk about how it shouldn’t be the government, it should be the community, or the family, or the church or whatever. But the fact is, the church, the Christians (us) aren’t meeting the needs of our neighbors. The government is stepping in because we as the church are not caring for the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed.

  • http://www.emilywierenga.com emily wierenga

    oh holli, i could NOT agree with you more!!! i’m applauding… and sharing this post on my blog. love it. love it. preach it sister.

    • Holli

      Thanks for the supportive words, Emily. Would love for you to share!

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