Stamping Out Food Stamps and Trampling on the Poor

How many decision makers passing the bill to cut $40 billion from food stamps over the next decade actually know someone on food stamps? Debate rages in Washington among lawmakers on whether or not the bill would impact only those trying to milk the system. I know people on food stamps—hard-working people, people in difficult situations, people who need food stamps to survive. They are fearful that they will not be able to obtain basic food necessities to stay afloat in the system if the bill that passed in the House of Representatives makes it past the Senate.

Someone close to me wrote that many people in his community depend on food stamps to cover a large percentage of their basic subsistence needs on a monthly basis. In his region, it is extremely difficult to find consistent and stable work. My friend finds it difficult to believe that in spite of his spouse’s and his education, work experience and positive work history, they can’t find employment. He finds even more difficult to believe that some conservatives in government tell people that the solution is to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. His response is that it’s great to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps if one has bootstraps! Not only do many people around my friend not have bootstraps; many of them don’t even have boots. As my friend remarks, “What is the government to do with educated people like him and his spouse, who are willing to work, but are unable to find jobs?  It seems to me that underfunding these programs that provide basic essentials to struggling families is not the starting point for economic growth.”

The situation gets worse for my friend and his family. His mother-in-law had a major surgery a few years ago that left her body in a compromised position. She now needs regular doses of oxygen to stabilize her condition. Her oxygen provider has provided oxygen services to the poorest of the poor at no cost because of the lack of income. Recently, the oxygen provider slid the scale down further so that his mother-in-law, who barely makes minimum wage, is now required to pay a monthly charge for her oxygen.  Unfortunately, this charge is out of her price range. Depending on how everything works out, she may have to choose between her oxygen (which is an issue of life and death) and some other necessity.

A New York Times article claims, “The budget office said that, left unchanged, the number of food stamp recipients would decline by about 14 million people — or 30 percent — over the next 10 years as the economy improves. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. The census data also showed nearly 47 million people living in poverty — close to the highest level in two decades.”

My fear is that politicians will point their fingers at one another rather than make sure the poor don’t come under anyone’s thumb or foot. It will not do to point fingers at those across the aisle and say their economic policies force the poor to bear the burden of our financial challenges as a country. Why should the poor, especially those who try but who can’t get by, bear the brunt of governmental policies, whatever they may be? The day may come when those in power will slide down the social ladder and into poverty. Who will pick them up then if they fail to pick up the poor now? Even more disturbing, perhaps the poor who are trampled upon now will eventually get so fed up with the feds that they will pull themselves up by our bootstraps to bring us down. It is better that we work to pull one another up rather than tear one another down or let one another fall through the cracks. We can start by stamping out budgets that fail to provide food stamps for the poor.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

Find me on: Facebook | Twitter | Google+

  • Steve Longan

    Thanks for posting this, Paul. You and I have talked about this before, but what strikes me is that our nation’s budget is a statement of what we value and what we don’t. So, we might look at the budget from the house and ask what it tells us about America. Things like weapons, and freedom for those making investments in the market. Infrastructure, the poor, education, etc. not so much.

    If people are sure that there are individual’s gaining the system, then revise and strengthen screening and enforcement, not the actual funding of the program.

  • Loren Sickles

    I often hear the statement that it is not the government’s role to provide the basic necessities of life and that if people are in need it is the local church’s responsibility to fill that need. Yet, as the rate of poverty has remained essentially the same for several decades I have not seen increased effort on the part of the local church to address the issue. Certainly there are many ongoing efforts to meet short term, immediate, needs; can food drives, races for the homeless, stuff the bus, giving tree, etc. However, I see very little in the way of substantive, structural, change to address this chronic condition. Where I do see efforts within the church, the groups involved are often excoriated for being liberal, socialist, communist, etc. As if social/political leanings has anything to do with being the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world. My concern with topics related to poverty is the propensity for many within the Evangelical church to oversimplify a very complex issue.

    First of all, rarely does the conversation differentiate between “situational poverty” and “generational poverty;” two distinctly different issues within the broader issue of poverty. One being short term, often caused by economic ups and downs that potentially will correct itself in time. The other being long term, often related to structural barriers society and those in power put up, either intentional or otherwise. These significant differences require very different approaches to correcting the social structures in place that contribute to the persistent nature of poverty.

    Second, there is the myth that those in poverty choose to be there and that they could fix it if the really wanted to. There is a branch of Evangelicalism, going back several centuries, that still believes that people in poverty are there because they are not right with God and therefore deserve to suffer. Any intervention is an affront to God and would prevent that person getting right with God. It is the poor’s’ fault and therefore their responsibility to fix. Interestingly, Dr. Donna Beegle states in her book “See Poverty … be the difference,” that America is unique in how it blames the poor for choices that make them poor instead of blaming structures in society that keep them poor. In this issue of poverty it is my belief that God calls the body of Christ to practice grace, compassion, and sacrifice. Instead what I hear coming from certain segments is judgment, condemnation, and fear.

    Third, there is a false belief in our society that working for wages is the only way for a person to be useful and productive. This is a relatively new concept in human societal evolution. In his book “The age of atonement” Boyd Hilton claims that prior to the mid 1700’s the concept of working for wages was a relatively limited idea. As the industrial engine of Europe and America began to fire up there was a need to occupy the millions of people who were displaced from their land. Once again the Evangelical church played a role in convincing/forcing people to participate in a structure that is not natural through threat of eternal damnation if they didn’t. Tied to this is the equally false belief that any one economic system is godlier than another. Many within the Evangelical church hold to the mistaken belief that the “laws” of economics are on the same plane as laws of nature or physics. Economics is nothing more than a human structure that is designed to maintain power in the hands of those who are able to grasp it, and any laws related to economics are nothing more than the policies written to
    maintain the status quo.

    The story is often retold that during the 2nd century of the new Christian church the Roman emperor sent his representatives out to lend assistance to the poor. They later reported back that they couldn’t find any poor because the Christian church was doing too good of a job. Where is that church today? Did Christ command his followers to go and care for the marginalized, the sick, and the orphaned, or did he tell them to go fight for their rights, tax breaks and 401k?

  • David Springer

    I so appreciate that you ask how many of the Representatives who voted to cut the food stamp appropriation actually KNOW some one on food stamps? Almost 1/6 of the US population receives some amount of food assistance, so it wouldn’t take much effort to befriend a recipient–especially if you like kids, since most are children. If we constantly see groups of people as “them” or “the other”, it is easy to demonize or see them as a threat or freeloaders. As followers of Jesus, we are always freeloading off of His grace and generosity, and it is the result of His identifying with “the other”: us. Paul actually says that while we were still enemies of God, He sent His Son on our behalf. How would taking that passage truly to heart change one thinking or change our vote?

  • pmetzger

    Thank you for your comments.

    Here are some important themes that stand out to me regarding what you and others elsewhere have written in response to this post:

    We need to ask what are our values as a country. Budget priorities say quite a bit about what we value. Along similar lines, those of us who are Christians need to ask if we operate from kingdom values, including grace. How Christians respond to budgets in the governmental sphere convey quite a bit about our own values. How biblical are those values from which we as Christians operate?

    We need to be sure not to penalize those who make proper use of the food stamp system while still attending to abuses; blanket, across-the-board cuts won’t achieve the aim of attending to those in need.

    We need to discern personal and structural/situational and generational patterns of poverty and act accordingly to the needs.

    We need to involve all parties: the state, the church and other religious bodies, NGOs, market entities, and the individual. The challenges are far too complex for any one entity to do it all alone.

  • Wm. Darius Myers

    Loren’s comment merits careful reading and diligent consideration. The only clarification I would encourage would be an examination of the alternatives to participating in any economic system at all. If we escape from the mindset he describes (“that working for wages is the only way for a person to be useful and productive”), then we have accomplished a great deal toward divorcing ourselves from the Mammon against which Christ warned us.

    To his closing rhetorical questions, I would offer what I believe to be a hopeful sign and perhaps a recommendation toward those who have not already found similar organizations in their own communities.

    To ask as Loren does, “where is that church today?” requires us to consider whether there is “a church” at all, or whether in the continuing fragmentation of Christ’s body in North America the multiplication of congregations (and denominations) has eviscerated any focus on both the Great Commission to which we are called, and the Great Commandments which must inform every aspect of pursuing that calling. Despite that ominous trend, I am blessed to see progress in the community to which I am called toward both the feeding of the hungry and the unity of the body of Christ.

    The board of the Fall River Valley Community Food Pantry comprises representatives from nearly every community of faith in the area. This includes even those (courageous and/or rebellious) few who have been instructed by their church leaders to withdraw from the organization because others of “substandard Christian qualifications” also participate. Not only is the pantry ministry a model for cooperation in “that church” that Loren asks about, but it secures and distributes quantities of food to numbers of families that some perceive as impossible, even while continuing to build a financial surplus in anticipation of eventual relocation to a more suitable storage facility.

    For all that good work, of course, the pantry’s imperfections are still fairly obvious. As their chaplain, I have the privilege of lecturing some of our folks on their occasionally paternalistic, stereotypical, and/or harshly judgmental attitudes (even though I find myself a bit provoked by those who stop by the food pantry on their way home from used their available cash on beer and cigarettes at the local market). Likewise, due to the security issues inherent in the methamphetamine, marijuana, and other production facilities scattered throughout our remote population, we don’t provide home delivery. Those receiving assistance have to arrange their own transportation to and from the pantry’s location. Finally, where there are children who are hungry as a result of neglect, or simply because their “responsible adult(s)” allow pride and/or prejudice to stand in the way of “receiving a hand-out” (sometimes adding “from those people”), we still have much work to do. Even so, the perception some have offered seems justified: “In the Fall River Valley, adults are only hungry by choice.

    Still, in addition to effectively feeding the hungry, the influence of the food pantry here as a model of cooperation cannot be underestimated. At the other end of the Intermountain Area in Northern California, the community of Burney has raised church-splintering beyond an art-form to something rivaling the most competitive professional sports franchises. Until recently there were four separate food pantries and two soup kitchens offering gradually-dwindling services to a population of under 3500. More effort was expended in differentiating among the services offered, and the doctrines held, and the causes of their historical and current enmities, than in identifying and linking the needs and resources of the community. This has not entirely changed, but there is hope. Inspired by the model of cooperative ministry in the Fall River Valley Community Food Pantry, as well as by the Food Co-Op model (instilling
    relationships and dignity through mutual participation) seen in Redding,
    California’s Living Hope Compassion Ministries, the Burney Area Food
    Co-Operative is not simply adding another organization to the array, but
    consolidating at least four organizations (and perhaps others who are currently
    taking a “wait-and-see” posture toward this developing ministry) into a more
    effective resource-delivery system for the needs of the Burney community.

    Even with such successes, food stamps are currently an absolute necessity, given the inequities inherent in every economic system’s manipulability. But a non-economic equation linking needs and resources may be even more manipulable to the advantage of the hungry. In most urban areas, a simple concept like “gleaning” may appear to have no correlation to the “buy-it-at-the-store” mentality. For all I know, even when home canning of community-grown produce is permissible under health codes, the location at which it occurs may come under zoning restrictions. The city, town, or pasture in which you live certainly offers its own unique challenges. As Loren notes, your brothers and sisters in Christ may even call you “liberal, socialist, communist, etc.” And Dr. Metzger’s observation that “the challenges are far too complex for any one entity to do it all along” is accurate. If these cooperative ministries were the only resource available to the many families currently receiving other aid, then it would likely be beyond the current ministries’ abilities to provide for the hungry, much less for the many other needs that present themselves in each family we serve.

    And yet, here in Northern California, where the notion of a “Golden State” is most tarnished, in an area where there are perceived to be insurmountable barriers to cooperation among congregations and to the simple act of feeding the hungry, both are being accomplished. My experience is that the Lord who calls us to such ministry already knows how to navigate and negotiate the obstacles in whatever community He’s called us to serve. We just need to ask for His vision to become our own.

  • Brian s

    To suggest that even in a down economy that there are 47 million on the brink of starvation or great hunger is ridiculous. Scaling back the requirements is the sensible thing to do. Food stamps for the very poorest is good, but there being one of 6 on food stamps is not a good thing. My own family and my daughter’s family were both on food stamps at different times, but we did not take until we absolutely needed them. Public assistance should not be for everyone in a tough situation, but for those who truly need it to live. Please dismount from your high horse.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    What a joke. How in the world did people in this country survive before food stamps?

    I work in a grocery store and see the nice cars many of these folks drive off in and the food in their carts that I myself cannot afford.

    Just another handout to get addicted to.

    • ahermit

      Once upon a time there were full time jobs that paid people enough to live on. That’s how people used to survive…

      Those good old days are gone thanks to the greed and recklessness of our corporate aristocracy.

    • Levedi

      People did starve to death in times past, even in this country. And let me point out that I’ve been on the receiving end of glares from people like you who assumed I made too much money to deserve the food stamps I was using. What they didn’t know is that I’m a foster parent. I make enough to get by myself, but not enough to support my foster child. Without the government supplement (which barely covers food and daycare, not clothes, toys, etc) I couldn’t afford to take in abused and neglected children. Other foster parents warned me about the “food stamp glare” when I got started – they’d all gotten it. I’m not buy steak and lobster either and my car is 12 years old, but I keep it shiny and in good condition because it’s my only way to get to work. So don’t judge before you know all the facts.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    Here’s a good sermon that points out how when they back back to Jesus for more food the next day (the feeding of the 5,000), Jesus said nothin’ doin’ and split. Leaving them to fend for themselves:

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/are-you-doing-enough-full-sermon.mp3

    Enjoy the truth and honesty of this hard hitting sermon.

    • gimpi1

      You, sir, embarrass your faith. You revel in others’ pain and sit in judgement with no knowledge, in direct contradiction of your own Gospels. You are selfish in the name of selflessness. You sow hatred in the name of love. You generate strife in the name of the Prince of Peace. If what you believe is true, I kind of doubt your God will be pleased with you.

      You are damaging your Christian witness. I’m not a Christian, and the witness you present would have me running at the speed of light to get away from Christianity. Was that your goal?

    • pmetzger

      Hello Steve,

      John 6 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. One of the things that stands out to me from the feeding of the 5,000+ is that Jesus is greater than Moses, who was the agent of God’s provision of food in the wilderness for 40 years. I also believe John’s readers may call to mind the compassionate acts of Elijah and Elisha: Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha who provided miraculously for the needy in their day by multiplying their resources. God is known throughout the Scriptures for providing for the needy, including the orphan, the widow and alien in their distress. In the first section of John 6, the people had come to listen to Jesus and no doubt were quite hungry. Jesus meets their physical need for food for that day’s sustenance. Now to the specific point you make regarding the next day, Jesus is challenging them to go deeper and not settle simply for earthly food. As I read it, this portion of the text is not about giving or not giving to people in need but about people needing to sense their deepest need for experiencing Jesus as the ultimate bread (spiritual sustenance) of life. Jesus exhorts them to go deeper and find eternal life through faith in him.

      We must keep all of Scripture before us if we are to develop a holistic approach to how we address situations involving the needy. Thus, I think it is helpful to draw attention here to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. While it does not address every aspect of how we are to approach people in need, still it is worth noting that Jesus commends the actions of the Samaritan in his parable for caring sacrificially for the man beaten and left for dead. The Samaritan even tells the innkeeper that he will pay him for any other expenses that are incurred as a result of the injured man’s stay, as he recovers from his horrible beating. Jesus tells the religious scholar who came to test Jesus that he should act like this Samaritan. He tells me, and he tells all of us, to act like him, too: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) The Samaritan was not like the religious leaders in the parable who no doubt rationalized away their responsibility to care for the stranger in need. I fear that this is a problem for me and for many others in the American church today.

      I welcome your personal response to these biblical texts. God’s blessings to you in your faith journey.

  • Ben Modica

    What was your friends education in? Why does he/she not leave the area they are in if they can’t get a job there?

    • Ben Modica

      I ask two simple questions and get 2 down votes? Okay?,……

    • pmetzger

      Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your note. I have been away from engaging comments the past few days because of other responsibilities. Out of respect for your questions and the couple to whom I refer, I have asked them to provide a response. I will get back to you as soon as my friends offer feedback. One thing I would say at this juncture is that it is often quite costly and difficult to uproot from one region for another. Not only are there the financial costs of the move in various ways and associated risks, but also there are the costs of loss of family ties that may exist (and that may help keep people afloat emotionally, financially, etc. during times of turmoil) if they uproot and leave the region. Other life circumstances play parts, too.

      Best wishes.

    • pmetzger

      Hello again Ben,

      Further to the comment I posted earlier this morning, here is the response to your two questions, which I received from my friend and his spouse a few minutes ago:

      “I
      have a degree in education, and have 10 years experience in a public elementary
      school. In response to the second question: Very few places in the US
      have stable public school systems that aren’t in budget cuts.
      Unfortunately, we did leave an area where I had a great job in order for my
      spouse to pursue higher education, and due to the lack of jobs available in the
      area where we live now, we do intend to move again, once the degree has been
      obtained, to an area where hopefully both of us can find employment.”

      Have a great weekend, Ben.

  • Y. A. Warren

    This could be seen as an opportunity for the churches to open their doors to a wider community. Without food stamps, perhaps many will be drawn to community meals served in remembrance of the way that Jesus treated others. I believe The Eucharist should be in serving real meals in wholesome environments to families in need instead of tasteless wafers handed out in emotionally sterile environments.

    • pmetzger

      I appreciate your point on the Eucharist and its implications for the Christian community. As I see it, the Eucharist shapes a community–moving us beyond merely consuming to communing, as Christ consumes us relationally. As we move forward from the agape feast, we extend God’s relational grace to others, inviting them to share life with us holistically as our neighbors. While I do not wish to convey an either/or position (food stamps or Eucharistic community), but rather argue for governmental as well as ecclesial involvement, nonetheless, if the government were to decrease funding for food stamps or remove funding entirely, we as the church would need to sacrifice even more to make up for the lack based on the biblical call to love our neighbors in need. We can learn more than a thing or two from the early church in this regard in its sacrificial love for their surrounding communities.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Perhaps we would then pull the planks out of our own eyes about where our mission work needs to be most focused, on our own communities. It is not the job of our taxpayers to fund the poor; it is the calling of our stated faith communities. This may also wake us up about providing free access to conception control to all who ask for it.

        • pmetzger

          Thanks for your follow-up comment. In response, Christians
          don’t have a corner on civic virtue. So, why shouldn’t taxpayers, including
          Christians, fund the poor in our society? In fact, many people outside the church desire to pay taxes to address the needs of people in poverty. Moreover, while according to Scripture,
          Christians are to care for those in need in their own ecclesial communities, why should our concern as Christians end there? The Samaritan of extraordinary mercy in Luke
          10 is set forth as a model for how all of us (Christians and those not yet Christian) are to care sacrificially for our neighbors. The
          Samaritan’s neighbor in this case was someone he did not know; the person in
          need was not part of his personal community. Moreover, Jesus tells a religious
          scholar who does not believe in him that he, too, is to act in this way (like the Samaritan). While this parable does not speak directly to the subject of taxes, it does speak to the issue of how all people are to care for their neighbors in need in a sacrificial manner. The biblical call
          to care for the poor is not limited to care for our Christian communities or
          limited to Christians to be those who care. In fact, I often come across people
          outside the church who have a concern for the poor that outweighs many
          Christians’ concerns. Such people give sacrificially to the poor and are
          willing for their tax dollars to go toward the poor. They sense their
          responsibility to give, which I take to be a reflection of the image of God and
          common grace at work in their lives. They also realize that without the
          government’s help, we are not able to address well the overwhelming costs and
          complexities in our society today concerning public health. The individual, the
          church, the government and businesses must all play their parts for the
          well-being of our society.

          • Y. A. Warren

            I grew up as what is now often called a “social service child.” I’ve spent most of my adult life serving as a teacher of the poor in the workplace and a volunteer in social service networks. It took me a long time to understand why we must stop making political platforms of “helping” the poor.

            The anonymity of “government” programs has created a whole country of teenagers who have no accountability for any of their actions. This includes the rich and the poor. Triangling in families is made worse when “the government” acts like the indulgent grandparent.

            Christian community is supposed to know each other and hold each other accountable. There is no guilt anymore, only excuses as victims of society. Guilt is a good thing that leads to reconciliation, even though shame is not. When we admit our unfairness to others and make amends, we strengthen individuals and our societies.

            Anonymity is the anti-christ that plaques our whole world.

          • Y. A. Warren

            (plagues)

    • pablosemenov321

      my best friend got a real cool Nissan Altima Coupe by part-time working online at home… important link w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

      • Y. A. Warren

        Great! This kind of networking is more valuable than many types of “intervention.”


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