The House of Representatives voted late last week to cut the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (popularly referred to ‘food stamps’) by $40 billion over ten years. The vote was close (217-210) and the bill now goes to the senate. The Des Moines Register has come out with a scathing editorial against the cutting of SNAP benefits, comparing the meager allowance with how lavishly the state’s members of Congress spend on their own food on trips at taxpayer expense.
This would be a great exercise for [Rep. Steve] King, who has loudly advocated for cuts to the program and is apparently growing accustomed to finer dining. He spent $3,588 on lodging and meals during a six-day trip to Russia earlier this year, according to the Congressional Record. If he instead used that same amount of money to subsidize a SNAP Challenge, he could eat for 881 days. Heck, if allocated to the challenge the equivalent of the total amount spent on the trip, including transportation, he could keep himself in SNAP meals for 16 years.
The SNAP assistance currently amounts to an average of $4.50 per day (around $135 a month) and there are people who undoubtedly feel that this is too generous and must be cut. Such people are being urged to take up the ‘SNAP challenge’ and try and live on that amount.
The SNAP challenge will not prove anything, though. It is misleading to isolate food from other needs. People who are well off and live in good homes and have comfortable lives and don’t have to worry about money can, if necessary, live on a frugal food budget for even a fairly long time. I am certain that I could do it for a week. But so what? When other basic needs are not met, food becomes much more important in a person’s life. It also becomes a major source of pleasure, perhaps the only one in an otherwise bleak existence.
Samuel Johnson’s biographer James Boswell wrote about how Johnson denounced those who would deny such pleasures to the poor, saying it was those things that enabled them to get through life.
[Dr. Johnson] was not contented with giving them relief, he wished to add also indulgence. He loved the poor, says Mrs. Piozzi, as I never yet saw any one else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy. What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to common beggars? they only lay it out in gin and tobacco. “And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to show even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.” (My italics)
It is hard for people to realize that people need to have the opportunity for some small indulgences. Jesus was right when he said (Matthew 4:4) that “Man shall not live on bread alone” though he was wrong when he continued that what was also needed was the word of god. What is really needed is some cake and ice cream occasionally.
But what well-off people like congresspeople Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota) and Stephen Fincher (R-Tennessee), who both voted to cut SNAP funding for the poor, like to do is not quote from that bleeding heart liberal Jesus but from one of the letters attributed to Paul who, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, gave his followers the rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” In reality, 45% of SNAP benefit recipients are children and 9% are over the age of 60, in addition to those with disabilities.
But as Candace Chellew-Hodge points out:
2 Thessalonians was arguably written by the Apostle Paul. Some dispute his authorship, but the main point here is that the letter was written to the people of Thessalonica at a time when an enthusiastic apocalyptic sect had grown up around the early Christian community there.
Because many of the members of this sect believed that Jesus’ return was imminent, they stopped working. They figured why work when Jesus would be back at any moment to sweep us all into heaven?
This work stoppage by otherwise contributing members of their society was causing great hardship among those who were still working, and not surprisingly, they resented their layabout comrades.
So, the author of this letter laws down the law: If you’re not going to work, you’re not going to eat.
Context matters. Fincher is using a verse written for a specific time, a specific place, and specific situation in Thessalonica thousands of years ago to deprive poor families of food today. This is Bible abuse at its worst.
Apart from that quote being misused, this is particularly rich coming from members of Congress, a body that is in session for just about 125 days in the year, where members get paid $174,000, go on lavish jaunts at additional taxpayer expense, and where barely anything gets done. Unless you count futilely voting to repeal Obamacare 41 times as ‘work’.