Most Republican members of Congress claim to believe in Jesus Christ, but their votes against the food stamp program suggest they do not share their lord and savior’s love for the poor.
In September, House Republicans sent a bill to the Senate that would cut $40 billion from funding for the food stamp program over the next decade. The tea party caucus, a group that is quite evangelical about its economic theories and its religion, justified the spending reduction in terms that echoed Ayn Rand more than the Gospels.
“In the real world, we measure success by results,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican, speaking in favor of the cuts. “It’s time for Washington to measure success by how many families are lifted out of poverty and helped back on their feet, not by how much Washington bureaucrats spend year after year.”
That sounds like good old common sense, but, of course, it is actually just more tea party nonsense. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the food stamp program has kept about 4 million above the poverty line and has been a lifeline to millions of others already in poverty. If the Republican cuts were to go into effect, 4 million people would be kicked off the food stamp program next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and another 3 million would be dropped annually in subsequent years.
In other words, instead of achieving Stutzman’s goal of lifting families out of poverty, the reductions would drive millions more into poverty.
As usual, the problem is that tea party conservatives are setting fire to a straw man. The “real world” they think they know so much about is a fact-free bubble floating above reality. The imagined problem is that there are millions of freeloading bums living large with the daily $4.50 they get for food, but here is the truth about who receives food stamps:
• Almost half of them are children.
• The elderly make up 8%, and about 20% are disabled.
• The 24% who are able-bodied adults without children cannot receive more than three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours per week.
• Immigrants in the country illegally – a.k.a. illegal aliens – cannot receive food stamps.
• Contrary to a common perception, about 50% of recipients are white.
A key fact: The cost of the food stamp program has ballooned over the last five years because of the sharp jump in unemployment due to the Great Recession. Many of those people are still living on food stamps, not because they have been made lazy by feasting on the meager meals the program allows them to buy, but because people on the low end of the economic ladder are always the last to be rehired. Making it even harder for them to put food on the table is not going to miraculously open up the job market. Only Jesus could perform that kind of miracle.
Nevertheless, many Republicans believe they are following a virtuous path. During the debate over the food stamp cuts, Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, said the Bible had guided his vote to slash spending on food for the poor. He quoted 2 Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
Fincher clearly believes he is more deserving of federal largesse than those shiftless poor people. Fincher, a farmer, just happens to have pulled in $3.5 million in federal subsidies since 1995.
Some people would call that hypocrisy. What would Jesus say?