Loving Our Neighbors in Poverty with a Faithful Budget

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This post was originally published on Do Justice.

As Christians, we're committed to following Jesus's call to generosity and solidarity with the poor. In 1 John 3:17, we read, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." It is the action of loving our neighbor, and the truth of their dignity and humanity, that compels us to work hard to meet the many pressing needs we see among the vulnerable in Muskegon, Michigan.

At Community enCompass, a non-profit ministry, we rely on the generosity of donors to keep our mission going. And for some of our initiatives in the core city, we are able to leverage these dollars with government funding. So when we read about proposed cuts to programs that support those we love and work alongside, we get nervous. The truth is, even seemingly small cuts have a huge impact on our neighbors. And big ones—like the ones we're seeing proposed in President Trump's budget—are terrifying.

Take food stamps. Those I know who get SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) have jobs—it's just that their wages mean they too often choose between rent and groceries. Many of the children that we work with come from families that receive SNAP. Sure, there are food pantries and supplemental cooking and nutrition programs in our community where people can get day-old bread and fresh produce. But there is no way we could organize ourselves to do what SNAP is able to do for hungry families. School lunch is another example. There are lots of kids in our community who eat breakfast and lunch during the school year, and aren't sure a third meal will be possible. I'm not sure how they'll learn if their bellies aren't full—cuts to school lunches would be devastating to their long-term growth, learning, behavior, and health.  Kids need nutrition in order to grow into their own potential.

Many of our kids participate in afterschool programs—staying after the bell rings and getting homework help, fun activities, and a safe and supportive atmosphere to keep learning while their parent works. Childcare is more and more expensive; too expensive for someone who is poor to afford. Without federally-funded afterschool programs, many working parents would have to choose between their source of income and their young children being left alone.

A cut to some of the tax credits which are helping working families stay afloat is another alarming proposition. We know families who work hard, full time, but remain in poverty. Every year, many of these families come to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers at Community enCompass who help them access the EITC as a way to keep some of their income to put toward rent, education, medical bills, or just the expenses of having families. These tax credits are intended to encourage people to worka crucial part of finding dignity when you're facing the inhumanity of poverty.

But perhaps the most alarming of all is the cut to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. For those who cannot work—never were offered a job, have limited skills or transportation, struggle with mental or physical illness—there is almost nothing available to them to help them meet their most basic needs. When they're in crisis, have gotten fired, have lost a breadwinner, are not connected to a supportive community, there is no hope out there but for the money that is allocated for TANF.

Lastly, I want to mention a program that is dear to my heart: The AmeriCorps Program, which gives over 80,000 Americans an experience serving in communities of poverty across the country is also threatened in this budget proposal. Over the last 5 years, Community enCompass has trained over 30 people as AmeriCorps members. The experience to live, serve, and learn among our neighbors in the core city has been transformative for the AmeriCorps members in how they understand their own roles in helping to dismantle poverty at both the local level and systems level. They learn through their year(s) of AmeriCorps service that, through all kinds of barriers, our neighbors are working tirelessly to be the solution to community concerns and problems.  AmeriCorps Members work alongside neighbors to restore dilapidated homes into places families can call home, plant gardens and harvest urban farms, build and nurture neighborhood youth leaders, clean-up neighborhood lots, read with kids and help them with homework, create gathering places for neighbors to dream together. These kinds of activities bring hope for change and engage neighbors in the process of change.

Jesus calls us to “love our neighbor.” The vulnerable and economically poor are our neighbors. Part of loving our neighbor is creating systems, budgets, policies, that create a community where all people can live abundantly, starting with their basic needs. How will we respond?

So what can you do? Send an email, call, or tweet your representatives in Washington asking them to create a faithful budget—one that recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of every person, especially those who are poor.

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A faithful (federal government) budget would, perhaps first of all, be one that did not spend more than it took in, except for special circumstances perhaps, and those circumstances probably don't now exist.

With respect to Community enCompass, while this article claims it  "relies on the generosity of donors," and "leverages ... government funds," it would seem, unless this article simply gives the wrong impression, the truth is the other way around.

Let's take one of the examples given here, SNAP.  When the latest federal legislation regarding SNAP was enacted, the House version wanted to get rid of "auto qualification" because that method of qualifying was being badly abused, by both individuals and many state government.  The Senate bill did nothing to curb that abuse.  OSJ lobbied in favor of the Senate bill, and the Obama administration went all out to increase the number of SNAP recipients, seemingly by any means possible.

A SNAP reduction and this point may well do nothing more than curb the abuse that wasn't but should have been done in the past, and reduce the SNAP roles to where they should be.

I have yet to see OSJ take on any program abuse, lobby for the curbing of any government social program, or ever express the concern that federal programs might create life crippling dependencies for some, especially when these programs always expand and never contract like a one way ratchet.

A faithful budget "does no harm," whether to future generations who will have to pay back the deficits we accumulate now, or to those who grow dependent on federal largesse that incentivizes in a destructive way.

Am I suggesting government should not provide a "safety net"?  Not at all.  I'm suggesting that the federal budget should be faithful in all respects, that ever and only increasing-in-size-and-scope entitlements can and often are destructive (hurting instead of helping), and that lobbying/advocating ONLY in favor increasing or maintaining government social programs is, on the whole, quite unfaithful.

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