Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Putting Mouths Where the Money Is

Well, it seems my conservative Christian friends will finally get their chance to prove how awesome and correct they are if the House has its way. Representative Paul Ryan "aims to empower" those closest to the problem of poverty to do something about it by... Well, by putting the onus of caring for the poor directly and squarely and solely on their lap.

As Bread for the World notes, Congress is planning on leaving such a humongous multi-billion dollar hole (169,000,000,000 smackeroonis, in fact) in food assistance benefits that thousands upon thousands of families will starve. A few members of said Congress whom are proposing these cuts suggested that local religious organizations should plug in that hole. What they failed to mention is that each and every church or religious congregation in the US would have to pony up roughly $50,000 a year just to make up for this shortchange.

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Churches like this one in LA. (Lord Jim via Flickr)

This isn't counting, of course, the staff and volunteer hours needed for this. This isn't counting the hours to pick-up, deliver, stockpile, organize, throw out bad food, and distribute the food. 

The suggestion that churches rather than government should serve the poor is, in other words, foolishness that comes out of the mouths of people with little direct involvement in the actual work of food pantries, soup kitchens, congregational work (or lack thereof), church finances, congregational politics.

First, it's not an either/or issue. Local parishes/synagogues/mosques cannot possibly cover this need on their own, but they play an integral part of a much larger whole. Secondly, though there is a lot of money invested in our churches, most of it is centralized and/or tied into real estate which is not so easy to liquidate. 

Which is not to say that congregations can't put in more than they are currently. Nor that communities shouldn't be the center of aid. But all of our interactions are, as a friend recently put it, outsourced. Which means, partially, that we need to recover them. Which means that we need to recover property that's centralized, which largely goes to profit for the benefit of a few. A few of whom go to big churches, where the majority of liquid church assets are apparently centralized.

'Men at soup kitchen, 1971' photo (c) 1971, Seattle Municipal Archives - license:
Of course, it's all much more complicated than the way it appears here. Most churches that I've run into - tax-free or not - don't have that kind of money - even if they weren't to pay their light bills, heating, and the cost for the essential staff. Certainly not in those areas where the need is great. A few megachurches easily spend that much money and maybe more aiding some of the smaller churches in their sphere of influence. But there's no way that a Willow Creek - for instance - could possibly keep up with the needs of the most needy of such churches in its metro area, even splitting with other area megachurches.

And that's just in terms of just the money for the aid. What of workers?

There are good ways to fight poverty locally (I argue for local sustainability), there are barely adequate, problematic ways (relying on a greedy, full-of-itself, centralized US Congress, for instance), and then there are the ways of people who've maybe spent a couple days in food ministry and who spot a few people "misusing" food benefits and therefore give the US Congress a justification out of their basic moral obligation. But actual people starve when we say such stupid, ignorant bunk. "Deserving" or not.*

American Christians, join in the efforts of your local food pantry, soup kitchen, homeless outreach for about ten years. Limit your budget to about ten thousand a year for a few years (Oh, what's that? You got a family, you say? Ok, 18,000, then), while leasing - or trying to pay mortgage (Note: college years don't count). Evangelicals: Meet up with your local Christian Community Development Association-connected ministry and run your ideas by them. Catholics: I can think of any number of impoverished parishes you could join and assist.

Then feel free to speak up about the "unworthy" poor, or how the government is just getting in the way of volunteer and charity efforts.

Or, think about it in terms of cracks. What do you do when you see people falling through the cracks? You help them out, right? But what if those cracks are too big for you and all your friends to help out the millions of people falling through them? What if everybody around you was poor and in need of basic food? What do you do then? You seek assistance from where you can find it - even if it feels degrading to ask the government to help your family eat because you just don't make enough.

If this is not news to you, if you believe that the work of TANF is necessary to the survival of families and workers and the unemployed, please sign this petition.

*It's beyond troubling that a religion which posits itself on grace and the idea that we are all made in God's image would allow for such anti-Christ talk.


  1. ... just one question... how much of the $169 Billion budget cut impacts direct payment to the hungry and how much is administrative cost?

    1. Suppose all of that money went towards administrative costs. How many people are out of a job, then? And not a well-paying, cushy job, but one where all the employees are overworked and back-logged because we're afraid to hire people for such jobs under the auspices that it might look wrong for middle class workers to work in a field with so many working class and unemployed people?

  2. I understand what you are saying. I just wish that some of you understood what some of its are saying too. What we need is people caring about people enough about others. What we have or so it seems to some of us, are people who look at people who are on the streets and wonder, "why hasn't done something when they are standing there and could have done themselves. What we have is apathetic, uncaring people. Maybe the best way to fight poverty is through the centralized government, but is it the best way to teach people to care for each other? Can you/we really legislate compassion? Will people become more compassionate when taxes are higher and everyone is taken care of?

    1. Martin Luther King, Jr. was criticized for pushing through a Civil Rights law in the early 60's, of course. His critics asked him why he's going through legal channels, after all, we all know we can't legislate morality, right?

      He answered that he wasn't seeking to force people to become better and less racist, he was just looking for protection.

      I stated up above that the current situation is fraught with problems. I understand that. I would prefer that everyone has a living wage job. But until that day (which I believe *can* happen), we make do with what we have. It may not be perfect, but tell that to @gentleheartedmama and her kids.

    2. What do you mean by protection? Are you referring to safety net programs? I don't mind safety nets as long as that is what they are used for, but when they become the some means of living and/or someone has to spend down their savings- then to me something is wrong. And, I'm confused, what does a living wage have to do with teaching people to be more compassionate? But just a random question- how would smaller stores be able to afford a living wage of they don't have the customer base to support it?

    3. 1) I mean protection. Protection from starvation and death by disease and being homeless. I'm really not interested in whether or not you feel they deserve that protection, though. Yes, something may be wrong if one needs to live off that protection just to live, but that's a societal issue - and perhaps a problem that is fundamentally about capitalism and its limitations (which is my answer to your last question).

      2) What does a living wage have to do with teaching people to be more compassionate? I really don't know. Does it matter? I'm not sure it has anything to do with it. I said that I'd prefer everyone has a living wage job, and therefore everyone would be protected and have their dignity. The idea of compassion is for you, not for them.

    4. Did i say anything about my thinking people deserve something or not? No one deserves anything bad happening to them. But what worries me is that more and more people are becoming reliant on services from the government to survive when they are supposed to be supplementary. Again i said i have no problems with safety nets as long as that's what they are used for. Yes compassion matters. Why else would one do anything for anyone else? Because i am told too? I do things for others because i care. In my opinion, its that that will change the world.

  3. BabyRaptor8:11 AM


    People might not become more compassionate, but at least everyone will be taken care of. Nobody will be starving, homeless or dying for lack of healthcare.

    Taxes are currently at the lowest they've been in a long time. I'm more than willing to pay a bit more to make sure people are taken care of. And since most companies pay less in taxes than I do...

    1. I am a member of a small church that sponsors a weekly free meal that is open to the entire community. We have a lot of people attend, and a lot of us volunteer our time. It is a huge helps to many people, and we are more than glad to provide it. That said, I am also a single mom of 5 beautiful kids. They all have the same father for those of you who would criticize, and he became mentally ill and left his family after 18 years. I work 50 plus hours a week to pay the bills he left behind. I also am a food stamp recipient. There is no way I would be able to provide my children with healthy food if we didn't receive benefits from the government. There is a point I have not seen made anywhere in this debate. Those of us receiving food stamps that work, do not have time to make it to the food banks. We are at work, trying our best to support our families. The thought of the government cutting one more vital program to those of us who live on the edge through no fault of our own, is appalling. It is wrong. My deepest gratitude is given to the churches who provide help, but they are not able to fill that void.

    2. BrendaP1:20 PM

      Dear Mama, that you for reminding us. Most food pantries are not open during non-business hours. Not only that, fewer people, by themselves or through their churches, are able to contribute, so supplies are drying up. The other thing that people generally don't think about are things like soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, toothpaste, diapers, feminine hygiene products, that you simply cannot get with food stamps.
      You are the real face of the working poor in America, not the stereotypical welfare queen.
      God bless you and your children!

    3. @babyraptor then why do so many day that it is about compassion, about showing that we care as a country?

    4. Sparrowhawk2:55 PM


      I'm not sure I understand the logic of why it makes a difference if your five children were from one man or several men.

    5. @ Sparrowhawk:

      It does to too many people. Some people only come along after they can agree that the person representing "the other side" are "one of the good ones". Others, well, they just need a little extra eye-opening...

  4. Anonymous8:34 AM

    I'm really rather interested to see the response from churches and individuals in regard to meeting such tremendous need should "the House have it's way". [I know many are already assisting to some degree and am thankful for this-deepest and sincere appreciation]. For all those who continually espouse and promote, rather vehemently I might add, the idea and view that charity and assistance to the poor, hungry, homeless and needy should lie , [solely or even majority], in the hands, laps, hearts and 'wallets/budgets' of non-governmental bodies, [individuals, communities, organizations and churches], ...let's get ready to step up and reach out...let's get ready to dig deep, or even deeper as the case may be, and fill this "humongous multi-billion dollar hole". Our willingness to be charitable. to sacrifice and fill the need, our love for our neighbor is about to be put the test, let's hope and pray words will not be eaten and that humanity and faith don't 'fail the test'.


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