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BY JASON MILLERSeptember 24, 2013

This past Sunday at Mass, when thinking about the challenges that we face as a country and what lies ahead, the Responsorial Psalm was especially fitting:

“Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”

As I joined in on the response, I wondered if any Congressional members who voted to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget last week also went to Mass and listened carefully to those words. This is the same Congress who seems eager for war in Syria, (which will not only cost lives, but also a lot of money) but are also happy to cut $40 billion from food stamps, which helps working families get by in a country where income inequality is growing rapidly.

I’ve seen it myself. After graduating from John Carroll University, I eagerly joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working as an employment specialist for newly arrived refugees at Catholic Charities in Nashville. The caseworkers there were often overworked, and when I started, I didn’t expect to find myself spending so much time at places like the free clinic and the food stamp office waiting room. But often my co-workers needed to be in two places at once and I was happy to help them out.

We brought our refugee clients there so that they could have some help feeding their family as they waited for their social security card to arrive and I helped them find a job. As I would sit with them in the waiting room, I was struck at the number of single mothers there, almost always with their children in tow. Essentially, what Congress is saying with their vote to cut SNAP funding is that they don’t want these children to eat. And the facts back up my observation: 76% of households that receive SNAP benefits have a child, elderly person, or a disabled person living there. (SOURCE: Feeding America) Why should children suffer for circumstances that are beyond their control?

And it’s not as if SNAP benefits are supposed to replace income from a job, they’re simply meant to supplement it. SNAP benefits averages out to about $1.50 a meal, and with the middle class shrinking and with many Americans still out of work, a record number of Americans are turning to SNAP to help them through difficult economic times. Americans aren’t on SNAP because they’re lazy, or don’t want to work. They receive SNAP benefits because they have no other choice and need to find a way to provide for their families.

Now that they’re back in session, there’s many issues that Congress needs to address: immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and the conflict in Syria just to name a few. But unfortunately, Congress has decided that instead of being proactive on these issues, they would rather vote to cut SNAP benefits and make the difficult economic reality of millions of Americans even more challenging. Quite simply, it isn’t a Christian response.

Many members of Congress are Jesuit educated, and many are also Catholic. I pray that they heard the call of the responsorial psalm:

“Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”

As Christians we should think long and hard about the votes being cast and how they will impact least among us.  And, we need to hold our elected officials accountable accordingly.

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