Have you ever had to go to bed hungry?
I have. I know what it feels like to only have enough food for the kids to eat supper, so you say you had a big lunch and assure them they can eat their fill as your stomach growls.
And when it causes you to lose a few pounds, people tell you that you look great, and they ask, “What did you do to drop that 10 pounds?” you smile and shrug because you don’t want to say that you go without supper a couple nights every week so your kids can have enough to eat. There was –and is — a stigma to being poor.
One person, a close friend, once asked me why I didn’t just make more money, as though that were an option I had overlooked.
I was working full-time, but my kids’ dad wasn’t paying nearly what he should have been, given that his income was four to five times greater than mine.
I was in the biggest group of people in poverty in this country — single white women. I was working and trying to pay rent, utilities, a car payment, child care and all the other things a family needs to pay for just to scrape by.
That was 40 years ago, and people are still being asked to make it on the same income I had in 1979. And they’re being called lazy and immoral by people with more money than they can ever spend in one lifetime.
Now this administration is attacking food stamp eligibility, narrowing the number of people who can get the help they need to feed themselves and their children, all with absolutely no consideration of how we might get some of these people out of poverty.
Will we raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Nope. People just need to work more.
Well, it takes double to triple minimum wage to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in every single county in the nation. That means a single mother who has two children must work two to three full-time jobs to be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment.
So, she works 16-hour days and then we criticize her for not being there for her children.
If mom drops health insurance because that $50 monthly premium is also about one-third of her monthly grocery budget and then she gets sick, we criticize her for wanting a “handout.”
The problem here is that when you make public policy that impoverishes people, you shouldn’t then be allowed to criticize them for being poor. When the only jobs people can find are part-time or in the “gig” economy (meaning freelance, with no health benefits, no paid vacation or sick days and absolutely no job security) and the pay is less than $10 an hour, and then you work three of those part time jobs for a total of 80 to 90 hours a week, you shouldn’t need food stamps to put nutritious food on the table, but you still do.
This is not a moral failing on the part of the poor person, as much as you might like to think it is; it is a failing on the part of policymakers and of everyone who supports these immoral policies, including you, if you’re one of the people clapping gleefully at each cut of public assistance.
I have to keep saying this to “Christians:” Jesus never said, “I got mine, get your own.”
What Jesus did say was “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was cold and you didn’t offer me your cloak. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. … Whatsoever you did unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did also unto me.”
Poor people are mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Bible, and not once are we told they are lazy or immoral. We are called to help them, as are the adherents of every major world religion.
Every faith has a version of the Golden Rule, which calls us to treat others the way we, ourselves, wish to be treated.
When we ignore the immorality of policies that impoverish, sicken and kill other people, we become the oppressors of those people. And when they sicken and die, their blood is on our hands.
Morality — compassion, empathy, the ability to love — is supposed to be written into our DNA, but we seem to have found a way to ignore that small voice that tells us we need to help.
Cutting food stamps means denying other people the food they need to live. If you think that’s OK, you’re wrong. It is violence. It is immoral.
If you’re not standing up to say this is wrong, you’re the oppressor. You’re the sinner. And you have the blood of innocents on your hands.