In a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, frequently referred to as food stamps), Josh Protas, with the Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON, cited Leviticus. (Video below.)
“In Leviticus, we are commanded to leave the corners of our fields and the gleanings of our harvest and vineyards for the poor and the stranger,” Protas’ told the committee. “This commandment is a clear expression of our collective responsibility for each other. Its wisdom respects the dignity of those who are poor.”
To most people, this might not only seem like a foundation of Judeo-Christian teachings but a key tenet of basic human decency.
Representative Jodey Arrington (R-TX), however, disagreed. Arrington pushed back on the anti-hunger advocate, saying, “Scripture tells us in second Thessalonians 3:10, [Jesus] says, ‘for even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: if a man shall not work, he shall not eat.'”
Arrington claimed to be making the case for work requirements, but on that, all were in agreement. In truth, he was arguing for deadlines at which point food assistance would be withheld from people trying to get work but unable to find it.
This is hardly the first case of a conservative using the bible to justify letting people starve, and it will certainly not be the last. That’s why it is critical to understand what their real game is. While the cruelty of the claim should be self-evident to most, the more egregious injustice is the myth it propagates: that people utilizing government assistance are “freeloaders” who choose not to work.
This is simply false. The data show that only 14 percent of able-bodied adults receiving food assistance work fewer than 30 hours a week, while nearly two-thirds are children, the elderly, or the disabled.
Additionally, a single parent of one, working 40 hours per week and earning the minimum wage earns just over $15,000 per year, which is below the poverty line and in most cases qualifies for food stamps.
These are the people that Congressman Arrington stigmatizes with his rhetoric, and they are the people who would be harmed if Trump and his right-wing allies succeed in defunding critical programs like SNAP.
If Congressional Republicans were sincere in making their connection between work and the ability to eat, a better place to start would be ensuring that people with full-time jobs are not living in poverty. A $7.50 per hour wage does not come close, and there would be no better way to get people off food stamps than to raise the minimum wage to something people can actually live on.
That would make sense if the argument were sincere, but that does not seem to be the case. Rather, this is yet another attempt to delegitimize and abandon America’s most vulnerable citizens, and Republicans should not be allowed to pretend otherwise.
The hearing can be viewed below. Protas’ testimony begins at 36:50, and Arrington’s response begins at 2:39:20.
Sheila Norton is a writer with ten years of Capitol Hill experience. Subscribe to the OD Action email to get all the hottest news delivered right to your inbox every day at www.odaction.com