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Bishop Slams Proposed Food Stamp Cuts

Times Argus

Cuts to Food Stamp Program uncharitable, unwise August 21, 2005
By the Right Rev. THOMAS CLARK ELY

Children in our country are going hungry, and they need our help. Scriptures of all three Abrahamic faiths repeatedly call on believers to feed the hungry and provide for those in need. In the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, there are more than 2,000 references commanding us to serve the poor. Temples, mosques, churches and charitable organizations have long done their part to help families in need, but government has been, and must continue to be, a partner in the battle against hunger. I am gravely concerned that if Congress and the Bush administration have their way this fall, 300,000 of our brothers and sisters may lose a critical benefit: food stamps.

Within the last year, the Food Stamp Program provided sustenance to 24 million Americans, and to 44,708 Vermonters every month. Eighty percent of food stamps go to families with children, and over half of all food stamp beneficiaries are children. In Vermont alone, 17,581 children under the age of 18 depend on this program for proper nutrition. Another 7,200 Vermont children may be eligible for food stamps but do not receive them, according to research from the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger.

Ask any teacher or physician about the connection between healthy eating and a child's mental, physical and spiritual growth. Healthy children are much more likely to grow up strong and pay attention in school, contribute to their communities and diminish the burden on our health care system and social safety nets.

Children aren't the only beneficiaries of the Food Stamp program. One in five food stamp recipients is an elderly American who otherwise might have to choose between a healthy meal and medicine, rent, transportation or any number of other vital needs. In addition, the Food Stamp Program brought over $43 million into Vermont's economy in the form of benefits that people spend in their local grocery stores.

Vermont is still working its way back from the dramatic federal cuts of the 1990s and their negative impact on food stamp participation among eligible families. That's part of the reason that the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, Department for Children and Families and UVM created the new Web site, The Web site offers an easy and private way for Vermonters to learn about the Food Stamp program and see whether they qualify for benefits.

The Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger has also been working diligently with the DCF and many other Vermont groups to improve eligible Vermonters' access to the Food Stamp program. They have been successful, and food stamp participation has increased by over 15 percent in the past several years among eligible households. But there is still more work to be done.

Some policymakers claim this program is rife with waste. On June 24, however, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced that the Food Stamp Program has achieved a payment accuracy rate of more than 94 percent. The Food Stamp program is more efficient and better managed than at anytime in the program's history. Our tax dollars are well spent.

Congress is considering cutting the Food Stamp program, which experts estimate would eliminate 200,000 to 300,000 people from the program. Some lobbyists and members of Congress support even more drastic cuts. In any event, if Congress passes budget legislation this fall < the "Budget Reconciliation Bill" < billions of dollars could be taken from the program. For a nation as wealthy as ours, this is simply immoral and unjust. We cannot let this happen.

As a bishop in the Episcopal Church, I believe that all people of good will are called to care for their fellow citizens in need. As Jesus told his disciples, "When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me." All of us should contact our elected officials and urge them not to cut the Food Stamp program and to vote against the "Budget Reconciliation Bill" if cuts are included. I have.

The Right Rev. Thomas Clark Ely is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont.