Ag Policy Blog

On SNAP Cuts, What Would Jesus Do?

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Christian faith teaches to provide for the poor, but Jesus was never faced with having to reduce the budget for popular legislation and try to get that bill passed by the House of Representatives.

Perhaps, rather than asking, "What would Jesus do?" the question becomes, "What would Caesar Augustus do?"

The point is raised because over the past couple of years as the House Agriculture Committee has gone down the path of seeking cuts to nutrition programs, the argument has led to a debate over the role of a Christian in Congress in deciding how to handle programs for the poor.

The House version of the farm bill would cut $20.5 billion from projected spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over 10 years. That would be done partially by eliminating the flexibility for states to sign people up for SNAP if they qualify for similar social welfare programs. People would have to receive cash assistance under other low-income programs to qualify for SNAP. According to the budget score, that would reduce the number of people on SNAP by about 1.8 million over 10 years.

There are several other provisions the effectively whittle down waste, fraud and abuse for SNAP, or simply make it harder to get into the program.

As debate around SNAP got heated Wednesday, Rep. Juan Vargas, a freshman Democrat from southern California, invoked Jesus in his arguments against cutting the program. Vargas, as a younger man, served as a Jesuit missionary where he "worked with disadvantaged communities, including orphaned children and internally displaced people in the jungles of El Salvador. For years, his work with the Jesuits focused on the health and welfare of children and issues of social justice."

In terms of opposing nutrition cuts, Vargas said, "For me, it's about following my Christian views."

Vargas described a parable from Matthew, Chapter 25. "When I was hungry you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink," Vargas said. "Thirdly, he said, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Shortly after, in making a counter argument, Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Tennessee, --- and lifelong member of a gospel singing ministry --- cited Matthew 26 in noting, "the poor will always be with us." Christianity requires as individuals to step up and take care of the poor.

"I think a fundamental argument we are having here today is what the duties and obligations are for the federal government?" Fincher said.

Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, then later noted, "Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever, we're failing our brothers and sisters here," McGovern said.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a freshman Republican and a rice grower from northern California, also cited a Bible quote in arguing that Christians should be helping the poor. That's not necessarily the role of the government.

"I think we're all pretty loving people here that help the poor. But the government isn't helping here - it's failing."

The debate will rage on, into the floor debate and conference talks with the Senate. Of course, the House Agriculture Committee wasn't around to parcel out food during the Sermon on Mount to declare who was eligible for food assistance. A higher authority took care of that.

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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Ric Ohge
5/21/2013 | 12:50 PM CDT
So, as a person who has been disabled, whose last major skill area is this, who would suffer a painful and quick death by lifting those rocks, where do I fit in your vision of "self-reliance." Our food system has been under assault for years, our water, soil and air is compromised, and who's at the root of the problem? Corporate oligarchs the world over will DO ANYTHING for their PERCEIVED Profits. My point is THESE TOOLS need to start creating jobs, resource and opportunity, as they rely on what we as a nation can produce for growing their own incomes. Beyond that, they need to foster helps for the creating, nurturing and growing of small business. WHY? There is a Meme that's become everyone's image of how economy functions...Reagan's "Trickle Down" concept. And Bonny, it doesn't even begin to work like that. You need as many Farms doing as many things as possible. There IS a Global Market, but how much Corn and Beans do you really think it wants? The foundation of real economics is also the foundation of the American Dream. You identify a need, a want, a service in need of filling and you build products, services and industry to meet it, fueled by revenues moved from Banks actually owned by depositors, who ARE those Farms and Small Businesses. The building of infrastructure, the creation of Commerce Crossroads is the frisson of Economy, and the Cyber age has increased those Crossroads exponentially. Why don't they work better? Because of those Moguls, Movers & Shakers, Banksters, Gangsters and Political Shills that keep it all from "getting out of control". And that's what we need to see happen, Bonny, the engine of economy needs to be turned loose. The men behind the curtain with their hands on the controls and pulling the strings need to let go. If they don't, the "rock pickers" inevitably become ROCK THROWERS. Where DOES the manure need to be removed from? Try the "Halls of Power", for starters.
Bonnie Dukowitz
5/21/2013 | 6:09 AM CDT
I do not disagree with most of your point of view, Ric. However rocks need to be removed from cropped acres and manure needs to be removed from barns and pens for sanitation and for plant nutrients.I just think fellow plebians should work next to those of us paying that increase you reference. If some of us did not raise the food, what would the "eaters consume"? Snap will be worthless when, we the rock pickers, etux, stop doing the demeaning labor. With a little effort from the expanding numbers of eaters, they may start learning to produce something and not have to rely on the feral industry. Many have been removed from self reliance for so long, government would have to train to boil water.
Ric Ohge
5/20/2013 | 3:16 PM CDT
Someone must have forgotten, it was Banksters, Wall Street Speculators and their minions that created all of this joblessness in the first place. If YOU were a 20+ year veteran in your job, got out-placed so your executives could then give themselves seven figure bonuses, while your government gives increasing percentages of your increasing percentages of taxes to bail them out only to bump all the rates for their services to you, then said "Government" tries to cut your Social Security while pouring more money into new toys for the Pentagon boys, and all the while you and your family are being made sicker by a Food Industry gone feral and a Pharmaceutical Industry gone totally crazy, should YOU be out picking up rocks so YOU won't be called a "worthless eater" by the REAL WORTHLESS EATERS of this planet?
Bonnie Dukowitz
5/17/2013 | 5:07 AM CDT
There are help wanted signs in many store windows, migrant farm workers needed all over the country, all while government freebies are increasing. But then, why should people be expected to do demeaning jobs like pick rocks and cleaning barn.
Jay Mcginnis
5/16/2013 | 12:54 PM CDT
Don,, Romney already pointed them out, remember the secret video???
Don Thompson
5/16/2013 | 6:51 AM CDT
Bonnie, Could you point out these lazy non-contributors among us?
Bonnie Dukowitz
5/16/2013 | 6:11 AM CDT
I believe Jesus said, " man shall eat by the sweat of the brow". The problem is not that the taxpayer is giving food to the hungry. The issue is providing s surplus of cash and junk food to those who are lazy who could be contributing something positive to the nation.
Jay Mcginnis
5/16/2013 | 5:40 AM CDT
The party of Tea has to deal with all sorts of "Christian questions" as they govern, like who would Jesus bomb, who would Jesus torture, who would Jesus deny health care as well as who would Jesus let starve. One only has to listen to hate radio for a little while to realize they have another Jesus in mind.