By the Rev. Brian O’Donnell
The most basic test of our society’s moral well-being is how the most vulnerable in our community are faring. In both Jewish and Christian scriptures, God has a special concern for the poor and hungry. We will be judged by how well we echo God’s concern (See Matthew 25).
Right now before the governor is a bill that will hurt low-income and struggling West Virginians, especially those who receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. House Bill 4001 would implement statewide a three-month time limit for many who use SNAP, making it harder for them to make ends meet and put food on the table. Not only is this limit unnecessarily punitive, it subverts the sacred obligation to help those who need it.
SNAP provides an essential service to people in need and helps them access healthy food. SNAP helps over 357,000 people across the state put food on the table. Implementing harsh limits to the program puts their health in jeopardy.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus turns five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food for a crowd of thousands. Imagine if, in the middle of passing out the food, he stopped and asked who was working and for how many hours in the past three months.
Don’t get us wrong. We believe in the value of work, but setting an arbitrary time limit that will further plunge our most vulnerable into poverty is not in line with serving the common good. Imagine struggling to find a good, stable source of income and to pay the bills; finding out a program you use to afford enough food to eat will be taken away would be devastating.
This bill won’t incentivize people to work — especially since most SNAP recipients that are able to work already do so — it will only make their lives harder. The best way to answer God’s call to take care of our struggling neighbors is to make sure they are able to feed and nourish themselves, which is exactly what SNAP does.
Even though SNAP’s benefits are extremely modest, only $1.29 per person per meal in West Virginia, it makes a world of difference. And while our state is blessed with organizations that are dedicated to feeding the hungry, including Wheeling’s Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center and Parkersburg’s Mobile Food Pantry, the need is too great for these programs to meet without the support of SNAP.
An in-state pilot program underway in nine counties across West Virginia shows the proposed policy would fail to increase employment in our state or help our economy. In the two years this time limit has been tested, food pantries and meal programs have seen rising demand, meaning more people in need.
H.B. 4001 will seriously strain the resources of Catholic Charities and other food pantries. And for what? In Catholicism, we believe that the economy exists for the person, not the other way around. This legislation won’t help either the economy or the people. It will only increase hunger and, as a result, homelessness across West Virginia.
As we see our fellow West Virginians struggle to put food on the table and face losing the very programs that help them make ends meet, we worry we are ignoring our responsibilities to one another.
Governor Justice needs to ensure low-income and struggling West Virginians are a priority, just like we are called to do in the Bible. The first step to do that is to veto House Bill 4001 and all other proposed cuts to SNAP.
Ask Governor Justice to veto HB 4001 by calling (304) 558-2000 or toll free at 1-888-438-2731.