Where’s the SNAP charity and love?

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While kids always choose Christmas as the best holiday of the year, Christians everywhere celebrate Easter as the most important because, they teach, the anniversary of Christ’s “victory over death” on the hilltop called Calvary proves both His divinity and the promise of salvation.

Indeed, if you are Christian, Easter is where the ultimate sacrifice brings the ultimate gift, where death brings life and where earthly charity brings heavenly hope.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Congress leaves Washington D.C. for two weeks each Easter: Its members are in search of charity and hope because, Lord knows, there’s little of either on their hilltop.

Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack discovered that again March 27, the day before Palm Sunday, in an op/ed penned for the Wall Street Journal.

In it, Vilsack labeled the plan by Congressional Republicans to “block grant” — spin off to the states — the nation’s principal hunger-fighting program, the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, or SNAP, “ill-timed and ill-advised.”

When posted online at wsj.com, Vilsack’s defense of SNAP was met with screaming derision and biting sarcasm. Of the 106 reader “replies” it generated, only one — and a lukewarm one at that — backed the secretary; it called SNAP “needed.”

The other 105 pummeled him for even putting fingers to keyboard.

“Mr. Vilsack, your claim of a low incidence of (SNAP) fraud & error is, (sic) equine manure,” wrote someone named Gene Hutchins. [The Journal requires online commenters to sign their names.]

“This entire treatise is riddled (sic) with total falsehoods. The Food Stamp programs are growing not shrinking…The program is waist deep in fraud…Food stamps are openly traded for drugs and booze…Total baloney!” wrote “gardener morris.”

And, “Raymond Klett,” added, “Another Obama shill supporting big and dysfunctional government. Comrade Vilsack, lots of useless words to promote a political agenda.”

No solutions offered

Not one writer, however, offered one fact to support their views and only a handful suggested any idea on how they’d fix what they described as a “wasteful” “lib” program filled with “fraud” run by “union pukes” and the “feckless amateurs in this lawless administration.”

So, since it’s Easter, maybe we can — charitably and with love, of course — offer a few facts to calm our angry brothers and sisters. For example:

  • The average per person monthly SNAP benefit is $125, about $4.15 per day or $1.39 per meal.
  • In 2014, 92 percent of the $76 billion spent on SNAP was spent on food, 5 percent (or $3.8 billion) went to the states to administer the program, and 5 percent was spent on block grants to fund local programs like food banks.
  • Historically, SNAP benefits have equaled about 0.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. During the 2008-2011 economic crisis, however, that figure rose to 0.5 percent. In 2014, it fell to 0.45 percent, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office sees it returning to its historic 0.3 percent by 2020.

None of these figures, mind you, dispute SNAP’s size or inherent problems. Seventy billion dollars-plus per year, falling though it is, remains an enormous amount of money and documented fraud — now pegged at an historical low of less than 1 percent of the total costs — still tops $500 million per year.

Even at that, however, SNAP will add little to the federal budget deficit because projected costs continue to fall as GDP continues to rise.

Very few federal programs — including the 2014 farm bill’s expanded crop insurance program — can make the claim.

But it’s Easter, a time of sacrifice, charity and love. As such, perhaps we can agree that spending just $3, and maybe even $4, out of every $1,000 of GDP isn’t too much for the richest country in the history of the world to feed its hungry.

After all, as my church-going farm friends often ask, WWJD?

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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