Republican Uses the Bible to Justify Denying Food Assistance

Jodey Arrington discussing SNAP

Offering a salient argument in favor of protecting separation of church and state, Congressman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) argued during a House hearing this week that unemployed low-income citizens should not have access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He used a cherry-picked Bible verse to support that argument saying, “The Scripture tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3-10, he says, ‘For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: If a man will not work he shall not eat.’ And then he goes on to say, ‘We hear that some among you are idle.'”

His Biblical proclamation followed testimony from several experts on the need for and benefits of SNAP.

At the crux of Arrington’s argument is those who want access to food assistance should meet certain work requirements. That argument ignores the reality of SNAP and the populations it serves.

As the Washington Post pointed out in their coverage of Arrington’s statements:

The verse in question applies specifically to people who can work or otherwise contribute to society but choose not to, said theologians from several denominations who spoke to The Post. There is a perception, among some voters and lawmakers, that many adult SNAP recipients are exactly this sort of “freeloader.”

But policy experts say that is not the case. Many unemployed adults on SNAP simply cannot work, they say. Those include the mentally ill, the borderline disabled and veterans.

Source: USDA

But as entitlement spending has increased, Americans have grown increasingly suspicious of people who use the social safety net. And that suspicion has fallen largely on a group called unemployed “ABAWDs” — able-bodied adults without dependents, and without steady jobs.

This population represents only a small minority of SNAP users. According to the Department of Agriculture, nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and people with disabilities. Of the remaining third, the vast majority are employed. According to the USDA, only 14 percent of all SNAP participants work less than 30 hours per week.

Contrary to popular opinion, both liberal and conservative economists agree that there is no “welfare cliff” with SNAP. Because benefits decrease incrementally with increased income, the program does not disincentivize employment.

Of that 14%, many face barriers that prevent them from seeking and obtaining gainful employment – barriers politicians like Arrington have thus far refused to address.

But the 6 million or so who are not employed receive a great deal of attention. This is a diverse population, experts say, who face a variety of barriers to employment, as well as an array of state and federal work requirements.

Local surveys of SNAP users have shown that many adults who are not working have recently been released from jail — or are homeless, veterans, noncustodial parents, people with undiagnosed mental illnesses and teenagers aging out of the foster care system.

Still more may lack the skills or education needed to obtain work in their community — particularly if their community has a high unemployment rate, said Stacy Dean, the vice president for food assistance policy at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Ignorance of the context behind those 6 million people aside, Congressman Arrington’s comments stirred controversy among Christians and non-Christians alike for his brutal use of religious dogma to deny assistance to in-need citizens. Here are some examples:

If Congressman Arrington truly wants to help people successfully get off public assistance – SNAP, Medicaid or otherwise – he needs to stop demonizing those who utilize the program as unwilling and greedy. The myth of the ‘welfare queen’ may play well to far right political audiences and donors, but it does nothing to help those merely attempting to survive another day.

That includes veterans (who make up a substantial portion of that under and unemployed population).

It’s amazing that Republicans use veterans as political props when it’s politically expedient but once the spotlight is gone and their usefulness ends, those veterans are left to fend for themselves.

And that’s a population Republicans publicly admit to caring for; never mind the mentally ill, homeless, LGBTQ youth, and other affected populations the GOP would rather ignore than admit their small government, culture-war-prone advocacy has few solutions for.

If you want to reach out to Congressman Arrington you can contact him via his congressional offices, Facebook, and/or Twitter.

Here’s video of the remarks:

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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