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Thursday, 03 October 2013 00:45

Meadows should re-think vote on food for poor, elderly

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By Doug Wingeier • Guest Columnist

Back in March, my wife and I, together with a couple from Brevard, paid a visit to Congressman Mark Meadows, R-Cashiers, in his Washington office. We were part of an event called Ecumenical Advocacy Days, in which some 750 members of faith communities from across the country spent a long weekend learning about issues of poverty and hunger, then fanned out across Capitol Hill visiting our legislators to urge passage of a Farm Bill that would:

 

• Alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the U.S. and around the world by protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/food stamps) and support international food aid with improved nutritional quality.

• Support vibrant farms and strong communities by funding programs that help beginning and minority farmers get started in agriculture.

• Support programs that help small farmers grow their businesses and enable underserved communities get better access to healthy foods.

• Support long-term solutions to global hunger by encouraging the purchase of food in the areas where it is consumed.

• Prioritize funding for farm support programs that promote conservation of soil and water and protect the earth from environmental degradation.

• Stop all funding of large agribusiness corporations that make huge profits, pay obscene executive salaries, drive small farmers out of business, pollute land and water with chemicals, and oppose labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs).

We backed these requests by reminding our legislators of the following facts: 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger — one in six adults and one in five children. Increasing numbers live in “food deserts” where fresh food is hard to obtain and obesity rates are high. Every SNAP dollar distributed results in $1.84 in gains for local economies, so that its benefits to local communities are nearly doubled. About a billion people are experiencing hunger worldwide, due to high food prices, natural disasters, wars, and humanitarian crises. Shipping food long distances unnecessarily increases its cost, putting it out of reach for the very poor. In the last half-century, more than three billion people in 150 countries have benefitted from U.S. food aid, and this period of economic crisis is no time for the world’s wealthiest nation to stop meeting this critical need.

With a larger group of North Carolinians we also visited the offices of Senators Kay Hagan and Richard Burr, presented our case to their aides, and asked for their votes in support of these measures. 

When the four of us entered the office of Rep. Meadows, we were pleasantly surprised to have him invite us into his personal office and meet with both him and his chief of staff. As we made our requests, he indicated awareness of the need, nodded as if in agreement with our requests, and expressed sympathy for our cause. He identified himself as also being a person of faith whose evangelical church sent mission teams around the world to serve the very needs we were concerned about.

At the end of the interview, he asked, “Now, if we can’t afford all of this, what should we cut?” My first response was, “Defense, because that’s where all the waste is.” I then added, “But whatever you do, by all means don’t cut food stamps!” He smiled as though in agreement, then cordially ushered us out.

 But now we know that this was all an act. Because what this congressman and his Republican colleagues have done is to cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years, causing 3.8 million people to lose food stamps this year and next, and another 850,000 households to have their benefits reduced by $90 a month.

The U.S. Census has reported that 46 million Americans were living in poverty in 2012, including 16 million children. For millions of low-income families, even putting food on the table is a daily struggle. In 2012, SNAP lifted 4 million people out of poverty. Despite very modest benefits (less than $5 per day), it currently helps millions of children, working parents, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities to make ends meet each month. Yet the House voted on Sept. 19 to throw 4 million people off SNAP, deny 210,000 low-income children free meals at school, and cut benefits for seniors who have to choose between heating and eating.

I applaud those members who stood up to this callousness and voted no on the bill. But Congressman Meadows was not among them, arguing in an email to me explaining his vote that the $40 billion represented a savings from reforms that would “reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, and institute new drug testing and work requirements for recipients necessary to ensure those getting these benefits are those who truly need them.” In other words, if you can’t get a job, you can’t get food stamps — and your integrity is demeaned to boot!

Hopefully, Congressman Meadows will remember our conversation in his office, allow his evangelical faith to spark a genuine concern for the poor, and change his mind and his vote when a revised bill comes back from the Senate. He and his tea party colleagues can still redeem themselves by working with Senate negotiators to remove these cruel cuts in any final Farm Bill, thereby reducing hunger in America by protecting SNAP, and alleviating suffering worldwide by maintaining our current levels of international food aid. We must urge him to do so.

(Wengeier is a retired seminary professor and United Methodist minister who lives at Lake Junaluska. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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