Misusing the Bible, Abusing the Poor

From cover to cover, the Bible is 100 percent clear that God requires us to care for our brothers and sisters in poverty. When the U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that more than 46 million Americans were poor last year, it was a stinging reminder that we're failing to fulfill this moral responsibility. We have more than enough economic resources and vitality to keep so many people from falling into poverty.

But five long years after Wall Street's recklessness and greed knocked us into the worst recession in almost 80 years, struggling American families are still wondering when the economic recovery will trickle down to their tables. The last thing we should do at a time like this is hack away at effective lifelines like SNAP, which provides vital nutrition assistance for seniors, children, veterans, people with disabilities, and those trapped in unemployment.

The moral and practical case in favor of protecting SNAP is open and shut. SNAP is effective and efficient. We need it and we can afford it. It reduces poverty and stimulates the economy. It doesn't discourage work. Abuse is almost nonexistent.

Then why did 217 House Republicans vote to leave almost 4 million low-income Americans with an empty pantry and slash already-modest support for millions of families struggling to feed their children?

I won't speculate on the inner workings of the consciences of everyone who voted to take food away from impoverished Americans, but it's worth addressing some of their stated rationales. One argument, offered by Reps Stephen Fincher and Kevin Cramer, is that the Bible says "he who does not work shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

In addition to misinterpreting Scripture and ignoring Jesus's admonition that we will be judged by how we treat the least among us, this justification ignores the facts on the ground. Most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult that receive SNAP have at least one person who works; the majority of recipients are children, seniors or people with disabilities; and the unemployed people who face elimination live in the poorest areas of our country and on average make $2,500 per year. Under the House bill, these people would lose their eligibility for not participating in job training or search programs, but such programs simply do not exist in many high-poverty areas -- and states aren't required to put them in place. Instead politicians can just leave recipients with no help at all and reroute the money to pet projects. This isn't tough love, it's a backdoor way to undermine a program that's been unfairly tarred as a free lunch for lazy people.

Another common GOP argument is that SNAP is a classic case of wasteful spending. Once again though, facts get in the way of an ideological story. While the number of people eligible for SNAP increased during the recession and weak recovery, it will shrink as the job market improves. SNAP accounts for less than 0.5 percent of GDP at a time when the deficit is dropping and taxpayer-funded subsidies to big agribusiness are increasing.

I have a few humble suggestions for the 217 Republican Representatives who voted to slash SNAP. Start by taking the food stamp challenge. But don't just do it for a week. Stretch it for the entire month like low-income Americans do, and have your whole family participate along with you.

While you're at it, instead of scoring cheap political points by cherry-picking isolated cases of SNAP abuse, go and live among your constituents who count on SNAP and learn about the challenges they face.

Then vote again on SNAP funding.

Scripture has a lot to say about how we should treat the widow, the orphan, the sick and the desperately poor. Only in the ideological bubble of conservative Washington would taking food away from them qualify as Biblical.