Religious leaders delivered plates of stones to lawmakers Thursday to protest Republican plans to take billions of dollars in savings from food stamps and child nutrition programs as part of welfare reform.
The stones, gathered nationwide from farm fields and outside the doors of clinics, soup kitchens and churches, were taken to congressional offices on paper plates, accompanied by the biblical verse: "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?"
The religious leaders contend that private charities and churches are already stretched to the limit in providing emergency food to hungry people, and that it is unrealistic for Congress to think that they can make up for spending reductions proposed in welfare legislation.
Speaking Thursday on the Capitol grounds, with plates of stones on a pair of high chairs in front of him, James M. Dunn, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, criticized the GOP-majority Congress for its welfare proposals.
"It is the height of irony for religio-political extremists to claim a Christian agenda, a pro-family program and vote against demonstratedly successful provisions for poor children. For people of faith, there is a strong belief that biblical mandates to feed the hungry are not optional," he said.
The House-passed welfare bill would give states the responsibility for school lunches, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental feeding program, and other child nutrition programs. It also would cut food stamps and allow states that deliver those benefits electronically the option of taking over the program as a block grant.
The Senate's welfare bill would preserve the federal school lunch and WIC programs, but permit any state to take over food stamps as a block grant. It would cut spending on the program, which helps feed more than 26 million Americans.
According to the Agriculture Department, the House bill would save $23 billion over five years; the Senate bill, $17 billion.