Fla. Religious Leaders: Congress Should Pick Up Food Stamp Tab, Not Us

Sep 13, 2012

The state’s religious leaders worry Congress is trying to shift the financial burden of a federal food stamp program onto the religious community. Congressional leaders are looking to make cuts to the program that will affect millions of Americans. But, the faith community says not only are they opposed to the cuts, they say they have their own financial situations to deal with and won’t be able to pick up the tab.

The federal food stamp program is called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that feeds about 46 million Americans a month. Congress is looking to cut the program by billions of dollars, but several Florida religious leaders are raising concerns that lawmakers want to put the financial burden on the congregations. And, the Florida Council of Churches Executive Director Reverend Russell Meyer says that’s not fair because it’s the government’s responsibility.

“It’s been reduced to a conversation about ‘well, the Government can’t do it well, the faith communities can do it well.’ And, that’s a reductionistic view," remarked Meyer. "The resources for handling the needs of the vulnerable and the poor are not within the church itself, and to ask the church to do that would be to put a tax upon people of faith.”

Reverend Clarke Campbell-Evans represents the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He says while he recognizes the faith community has a role to play, he’s very concerned about the proposed cuts. Campbell-Evans says congregations are already struggling to do what they can to meet the needs of those who need assistance. And, he says he’s already experiencing this at his church, Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.

“In the economic downturn, we have seen more people knocking on our doors. It used to be we would raise an offering on Sundays where we would serve communion and people would come forward and leave money on the rail and we’d pile that together and over the month, and provide that assistance to people," said Campbell Evans. "It used to be we, frankly, rarely ran out of that money. In the last four years, that has changed dramatically because the number of people knocking on our doors has increased, to the point that we run out of that money within the first week every month.”

Florida Catholic Conference Executive Director Michael McCarron says the goal of the religious leaders is to let lawmakers know their plan will have a far reaching impact.

“In speaking for those that have the least powerful votes, who are impacted by these proposed cuts, because indeed, they will have a tremendous effect on the poorest and the most marginalized, we would hope the lawmakers would be inclined to take a look at whatever options they may have,” said McCarron.

So far, Republicans and Democrats have been unable to reach an agreement on the legislation, also known as the Farm Bill, that would make cuts to the program over the course of ten years. The proposal of the GOP-controlled House has the program facing a 16-billion dollar cut, while Senate Democrats are seeking to cut the program by about $4 billion.