Maine Voices: Punishment shouldn’t be used to help people fight hunger, find jobs

A Legislature that puts up barriers making it harder for people to access food is immoral and unjust.
By Jane Field Special to the Press Herald, June 27, 2018

From the beginning – as in “In the beginning,” where the texts my tradition holds sacred begin, when God gave human beings a garden to till and animals to care for – work has been part of God’s plan for humanity.
Work was not intended to be a punishment then, and it shouldn’t be used as punishment now. On the contrary, work gives humankind an opportunity to be in fellowship with God and share responsibility for creation through good stewardship. Dignified work is about providing an opportunity for work where laborers are valued, treated with respect and compensated with a fair and living wage so that they can provide for their families and contribute to the community.
I am deeply troubled by the changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) – particularly the more onerous work requirements – included in the farm bill (H.R. 2) that narrowly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
These additional work requirements aren’t really about getting people employed in dignified work that could lift them out of poverty. They’re punishments designed to withhold food from struggling, hungry people so that our government can pay for the tax cuts they gave to America’s wealthiest people and greedy corporations just a few months ago. They’re intended to further stigmatize, blame and shame people who live in poverty, many of whom already have low-wage, insecure jobs. And all they would do is create another two or three new levels of red tape that make it even harder for hungry people to participate in SNAP – a program that two-thirds of our fellow Americans say they don’t want to see cut.
What’s more, SNAP already has work requirements, and the fact is, most SNAP participants who are able to work are already doing so. Sixty percent of families receiving SNAP assistance have at least one working adult in the household.
Let’s face it: If our lawmakers really wanted to help our hungry neighbors put food on the table and find dignified work that could lift them and their families out of poverty for good, if they really meant what they say about “promoting self-sufficiency,” they would do things like:

• Raise the federal minimum wage to a living wage. (Did you know that, when adjusted for inflation, the current federal minimum wage is worth 27 percent less than it was 50 years ago?)
• Give everyone access to affordable health care.
• Provide quality public transit in urban areas and high-speed internet in rural areas.
• Invest more in child nutrition and quality child care.
• Give formerly incarcerated people a fighting chance to find work. (There are currently 19,000 statutes on the books nationwide that can be used to deny employment to folks with criminal records.)
• Adequately fund training programs that can equip people to get good jobs and make sure that the many areas without any training programs get them
• Increase, not cut, SNAP assistance because it helps participants stay healthy, which makes it easier to get and keep a job.
SNAP helps people you and I meet every single day: like the home health aide who cares for your aging mom, the cashier who helps you buy groceries, the fast-food workers who serve your lunch and the farmers who raise the vegetables we feed our families – people who work hard at low-paying jobs and who still can’t make ends meet when the bills come due, the weather turns cold or their children need new shoes. These neighbors don’t need another bureaucratic hoop to jump through. They don’t need another mess of red tape to untangle. They are hungry.
Hunger is a moral issue. Everyone deserves to eat. Any legislation that puts up barriers that make it harder for people to access food is immoral, unjust and harmful.
The Maine Council of Churches is comprised of seven member denominations representing about 450 congregations and almost 60,000 Mainers from every corner of this state. Together we call upon Sen. Susan Collins to support the Senate farm bill in its current form, and to oppose any unjust and harmful changes and cuts to SNAP.