Cutting SNAP funding is one of the most Christian things that can be done, according to Ken Blackwell, of the Family Research Council. When confronted with the idea that cuts to SNAP would further hurt our country’s neediest people, Blackwell said to The Christian Post,
“I think through empowering others and creating self-sufficiency…there within lies the path to sense of worthiness. When I was growing up, there was fundamental belief, that there were times in people’s life when they needed a hand up…there were temporariness to hose [sic] programs, where they were structured so that they didn’t breed so that they didn’t breed dependency.”
Empowering people to survive on their own, without assistance, is a laudable goal in and of itself. Nobody wants to be on assistance of any sort; the U.S. is a very independent culture. However, this smacks of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that completely ignores the fact that not everyone has bootstraps with which to pull themselves up. Blackwell also apparently believes in the permanent dependency falsehood when it comes to assistance.
The main question is, however, how does kicking 4 million people off of SNAP empower them, and how does it jibe with Christian values? The verse that some have been using in recent days, 2Thessalonians 3:10 (English Standard Version), says, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
That verse in the New International Version (NIV) is written similarly, saying, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'” The context of 2 Thessalonians 3, however, is about overall laziness, and not about the poor. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9 (NIV) say, “8Nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” [emphasis added]
In other words, according to the same book and chapter that people, like Kevin Cramer (R-ND), like to quote, people do have a right to such help. The apostle Paul does not believe that the able-bodied should not work, obviously. It’s convenient for people who think getting rid of the social safety net is good, but the laziness factor doesn’t necessarily apply very well to those who receive SNAP. The fact of the matter is that SNAP recipients are rarely the lazy moochers that people in favor of cutting the social safety net believe them to be. 66% of the people on SNAP are disabled or elderly. 58% of households without disabled or elderly people to care for have at least one person who works. More than 80% were working in the year prior to receiving SNAP benefits, and nearly 90% were employed in either the year preceding, or the year following, their receiving benefits.
Blackwell, in saying that there’s “nothing more Christian than not locking people into permanent dependency on government handouts,” shows a serious, yet typical, lack of understanding of what it is to be poor in this country. SNAP is not a handout, and it does reward people for working. The formula is engineered to ensure that those who are employed can come out ahead, instead of go deeper into a hole. The less you make, the less likely SNAP is to help you get ahead in any way, shape, or form.
Furthermore, Blackwell’s idea that churches and charities can make up the difference of the cuts is ridiculous; according to The Christian Post‘s article, their work is worth about the same as the cuts to SNAP; a whole $4 billion per year. So they can’t make up the difference. All the benefits that are available, including food pantries and soup kitchens, along with SNAP, will still be $4 billion smaller.
Jesus Christ himself references helping the needy in his speech discussing who will and will not be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 25: 37-40 (NIV) says, “37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” [emphasis added]
This is also empowerment. By helping others, we give them better access to opportunities that might help them break out of their impoverished state. SNAP isn’t a handout, and it doesn’t create permanent dependency. SNAP actually lifted 4 million people out of poverty in 2012. That’s 4 million who might have been able to take advantage of opportunities not otherwise available to them due to their financial situation.
So, the most Christian thing to do is take benefits away, because doing so better empowers the poor? Not hardly.