Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

July 23, 2013

WE THE PEOPLE: An American disgrace

By Clyde Ussery
Chronicle contributor

— While our modern day Pharisees are busy obsessing about other people’s sex life and “protecting” the unborn, they are indifferent―even hostile—toward the 47 million Americans who depend of food stamps for survival. Of these 47 million people that radical Republicans call moochers, almost half are children under 18, and 10 percent are elderly. No doubt these people have already learned that life is unfair, but Republican politicians continue to teach them that lesson.

For almost 50 years SNAP, the food stamp program that helps keep millions of Americans from going hungry, has been part of the annual farm subsidy bill. The subsidy program was initially designed to help poor farmers. But over the years it has become riddled with fraud, and now it mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. House Republicans recently passed a farm bill that includes $195 billion for subsidies to “farmers” while completely eliminating food stamps and nutrition programs. These congressmen know the bill can’t survive the Senate or a White House veto, but they passed it anyway as a declaration of “who they are.”

And who are they? Meet GOP-Tea Party Congressman Stephen Fincher from Tennessee’s eighth district, one of the state’s largest-ever recipients of farm subsidy payments. The congressman, his father and brother farm more than 2,500 acres of cotton in five Tennessee counties. Over the last 10 years the Finchers have received nearly $9 million in cotton subsidies. The average monthly food stamp benefit, by contrast, is $287.

With time and diligence, a politician can always find an out-of-context phrase somewhere in the Bible to support a point of view that fits his agenda. To justify his vote to take food from millions of hungry Americans, Rep. Fincher ignored Jesus’ teachings about caring for those in need. Instead the congressman chose to quote not Jesus, but the writer of Thessalonians: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Then he quoted from Matthew: “the poor will always be with us.” I take that to mean that Rep. Fincher feels he is morally obligated to promote poverty.

Having neither the time nor inclination to police the grocery checkout line, I have no idea what people are buying or how they are paying for it. But if someone buys a cake with food stamps and it makes the day brighter for a child, good on them. While you are stewing about someone spending food stamps for a cake, the Fincher family is pocketing hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars in farm subsidies.

Hunger in this land overflowing with wealth is not caused by a scarcity of food. The National Resources Defense Council reports that 40 percent of food produced in the United States is wasted. What we have is a shortage of human kindness and compassion.

Thankfully, there are still people in the world who don’t think “love thy neighbor” is just a suggestion. Two Nashville farmers’ markets are doubling the value of food stamps by giving an equal amount of fresh vegetables for every $15 spent on locally produced milk and meat products. One of the sponsors said, “The only food some people can easily get to without a significant amount of effort is primarily processed foods that are cheap. Our goal is to bring fresh food closer to these people.”