Rob Streit JN Intern
Faith leaders meet to voice support for SNAP benefits.
People have a right to eat. That was what an interfaith group of spiritual leaders who met at Greater Baptist Church in Detroit on June 14 said, as they called on Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to support SNAP benefits in the Farm Bill. Stabenow is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which drafts the bill.
The Farm Bill is a sweeping omnibus bill that encompasses all food and agricultural policy in the U.S. Every five years, the bill gets renewed by Congress in an often-contentious process. The bill is up for renewal this year, and lines are being drawn. The House version of the bill calls for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP — to meet new work or job training requirements to receive benefits. The Senate’s version does not include this change to SNAP benefits.
“They are still arguing if people have a right to eat,” said Rev. Charles Christian Adams, presiding pastor of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. “We will not support any of it — to balance the economy of this country on the backs of the poor. We are determined to support our legislators that are fighting for SNAP.”
Several in the interfaith coalition called Hungry For Justice said that their faiths mandate they help to feed the hungry and assist those in need.
“I give my strong support to SNAP because I believe my faith commands me to do so,” said Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. “God commands 36 times to love strangers and support the needy in the first five books of the bible.”
The faith leaders said that the work requirements were draconian and did more harm than good.
“Eighty percent of people who receive food stamps are already working,” said Rev. James Perkins, pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit. “The remaining lack skills or have mental illness or other health issues.”
Perkins said he was disenchanted with the attempt to cut SNAP.
“This administration has demonstrated they’re doing a reverse Robin Hood. They’re simply taking from the poor and giving to the rich; making the rich richer and making the gap between the haves and have-nots wider,” he said.
Community activist Sabrina Cotton was in attendance as well. She highlighted her own struggle with trying to feed her baby after her food assistance benefits were cut. Her daughter is underweight due to the lack of nutrition. Cotton also struggles to feed herself.
“I only have $20 to feed myself after buying my child’s food,” Cotton said.
Cotton is not alone. One in seven people in Michigan relies on SNAP to eat. Food insecurity is widespread throughout the state as well as the nation.
“Sixty-two percent of SNAP recipients are families with children. Forty-seven percent of families have elderly or disabled people. Fifty percent have working members in their family,” said Rev. Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. “There are no welfare queens here.”
Silverman spoke of scripture verses where God commands the holy to leave the corners of their fields for the needy when it comes time to reap. “If we fail to do so, we cannot call ourselves holy,” she said.
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The Senate Farm Bill was approved in committee in a 20-1 vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the full Senate will likely vote on the bill before the July 4 recess. It would then need to be reconciled with the House version.