Published November 21, 2013
This is a statement by the bishops of Georgia on the Farm Bill being debated in Congress.
Legislators in Washington are negotiating the final text for a five-year Farm Bill, a $500 billion law that sets agricultural policies for the country. At stake in this political wrangling are programs that help the hungry here at home and abroad.
In the United States, the most important Farm Bill program helping hungry people is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. SNAP is one of the most effective programs to combat hunger in our nation. It is also one of the best-run programs that targets seniors, children, persons with disabilities, unemployed and underemployed workers.
The Catholic Church runs many food pantries and other programs that help the hungry. However, all the food pantries out there are not going to be able to fill the hole that cuts to SNAP will leave. This is why the Catholic Church has joined many other faith communities in opposing changes to SNAP that would result in cuts that harm the poor and vulnerable.
We also must not forget the hungry around the world. Overseas food aid programs in the Farm Bill are just a tiny fraction of spending, but have a huge impact on the lives of millions of people.
Through development food aid programs, international humanitarian groups like our church’s Catholic Relief Services work with farmers with tiny 2-acre plots of land to grow more food, build wells, and organize to negotiate better prices for their crops. This work transforms communities and puts them on the path to self-reliance.
Farm Bill negotiators are considering a Senate proposal that may cut the funding for this kind of overseas work. From our perspective, this is a mistake. It makes much more sense to adopt the House approach that maintains funding for programs that help poor people grow more food today, so they don’t need emergency help later.
Negotiators are also considering changes in how overseas programs are run. Right now, a good portion of funding for overseas food aid programs is generated when aid groups take donated U.S. food and sell it abroad. In some ways, you might think of this as an elaborate bake sale. Ultimately, though, it is an inefficient way to raise money and on average loses 25 cents on the dollar. There are, thankfully, Senate proposals being considered that improve stewardship of these programs.
There are too many people these days with a knee-jerk reaction against programs that help the hungry, whether in the U.S. or overseas. We would ask these people to really listen to those in need—to hear the hungry. The hungry are not seeking help because they want to, but because they have to. They are desperately seeking the dignity and honor that comes from providing for themselves and their families, but need a little help to get through these tough times. They are our brothers and sisters and we must answer their call.
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta
Most Reverend Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Bishop of Savannah