We are at once heartbroken and filled with holy outrage over the incredible irresponsibility of the U.S. Congress that, in its refusal to pass a budget, has followed the drastic cuts it made earlier this year to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs for low-income families to a new low—that of a partial government shutdown that’s causing even more harm to those most vulnerable.
We are heartbroken because, as women organized for mission with women, children and youth for more than 140 years, we know that many people depend on “nonessential” government services affected by the shutdown—services like Head Start, the USDA’s free and reduced priced school lunch programs, meals for seniors, and the Women, Infant and Children nutritional program for pregnant women and families with young children. Because of the federal granting cycles, some local organizations administering these programs have funds to take them through to the end of October, but others do not. In either case, the shutdown can cause real people to lack adequate food, which is hardly “nonessential.”
Mike Landis, executive director of The Neighborhood Center in Camden, N.J., one of 98 United Methodist Women-related mission institutions across the country, explained the impact of the SNAP program cuts that preceded the shutdown.
“There’s the rising alarm over the SNAP funding cuts to be enacted on November 1st and the unlikely prospect that Congress will reverse the cuts before that date. The Neighborhood Center is going to be impacted greatly by these changes. Most of the folks that we feed every day receive SNAP funds; all of our children in educational programs receive SNAP assistance at home. These cuts are occurring just as we are entering the holiday season and will impact our Thanksgiving food distribution.
In my opinion, a natural disaster is a tragedy—letting a child suffer from food insecurity is morally scandalous.”
The SNAP cuts-government shutdown combination is also putting many low-income families who work for government agencies and programs, families who don’t have the safety net of large savings accounts, at risk for food and shelter. This includes many of the families who send their children to United Methodist Women-related community centers for Head Start, child-care and after-school programs. We grieve when political leaders and pundits, blind to these families’ needs, gleefully declare that “nobody” is being harmed by their government shutdown.
We are filled with holy outrage because this dangerous and unnecessary impasse is but the logical bitter fruit of politics that is petty and too willing to overlook the common good. We are dismayed by the corruption of language that turns compromise—something we seek to accomplish each day in our families, churches and on highways as we travel to workplaces—into an evil deed. We listen in disbelief as government is disparaged as the unmitigated foe rather than an institution created by free and thinking people to conduct the collective public business of a democracy. We are especially affronted when this literary ruse is cloaked in the lexicon of our Christian faith.
Since 1869, when our foremothers first organized for Christian mission, United Methodist Women has been committed to putting faith, hope and love into action to help improve the lives of women, children and youth—groups routinely ignored and pushed to the margins of society, here and abroad. This government shutdown is no exception. Elyssa Koidin of Momsrising explained:
“Children were the silent victims of our last economic downturn. One-in-four children in America now lives in poverty. And while children are nearly a quarter of our population, only 8 percent of our nation’s budget is currently spent on kids—and this investment has dropped over the past three years! Now these investments are in even more jeopardy. Our children have suffered cut after cut, some missing meals, with nearly 1-in-4 children experiencing food insecurity. At the same time, wealthy individuals and corporations have continued life as usual and not had to cut back.”
The challenges we face are not new. When the Hebrew prophet Isaiah witnessed similar realities, he called on God’s people to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” We follow the prophet’s lead and urge United Methodist Women members to please use your voices. Contact your congressional representatives and tell them to use their power to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and widow—all of whom are being hurt not only by the government shutdown but also by politics too vested in the mighty to see “the least of these,” Christ kin.
For more information about SNAP funding cuts, read our Action Alert and urge your members of Congress to abandon efforts to cut SNAP.