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Serving up main course of hypocrisy

“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves, in public and in private, so to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is: How do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a layperson?”

– House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, talking about his budget plan last year

When Ryan and his trickle-down colleagues who let cuts to food stamps take effect this month – and who are pushing even more cuts – bow their heads today, you have to wonder exactly what kind of “faith” is guiding them as they snatch food from the mouths of the destitute.

The hypocrisy of Bible-quoting politicians who figure that “the least of these” make the best budget-cutting targets comes into particular focus at this time of year – and this year, in particular.

The poor already are struggling with the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program cuts that took effect Nov. 1, when a boost in aid to combat the Great Recession expired and Congress did nothing to extend it. Starting this month, 47 million low-income people saw their food aid cut by $36 per month for a family of four, which may not sound like much – until you try to live on it. Given that SNAP benefits average $1.40 per meal per person – I’d love to see Congress eat on that – a $36 cut carves a huge hole in the daily diet.

Ryan’s House GOP – including acolytes Chris Collins and Tom Reed – would impose even more privation through the $39 billion, 10-year cut in food stamps that it passed this fall. The Senate, not strong enough to hold the line during hard times, passed a $4.5 billion cut – which seems almost generous by comparison.

This is what passes for Christianity in Washington today.

Here in Erie County, where 135,111 people ate with food stamps in October, pantries are bracing for the effect of this “Love thy neighbor …” budgeting.

“When the impact is fully felt, … those helping with emergency food and emergency assistance, their numbers are going to go up,” said Maj. Thomas Applin, local Salvation Army executive director. But given donors’ holiday generosity, the real impact won’t be felt right away.

The cuts translate into $9 per person per month, which those not on food stamps might shrug off, but which those who depend on the help can’t.

“That’s two to three boxes of cereal you’re not going to have,” said Eileen Nowak, director of parish outreach at Catholic Charities. “So what do you do? You have half a bowl of cereal? You just don’t have cereal that day?”

And “those people” – a term she hears often – can be a working-poor family in which one parent gets sick and the family income is suddenly cut in half. Given the food stamp program’s trafficking rate of a mere 1.3 percent and a 3.8 percent error rate – compared with the 16 percent rate for defense contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan – it’s clear this is not about fraud and abuse.

This is about mean-spiritedness cloaked in piety and served up for Thanksgiving.

The next time House millionaires invoke religion, they might reflect on rich men, camels and needles instead of using it to starve the poor.


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