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.

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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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