Faith-based groups played a critical role in preventing budget cuts to food stamps in the Senate version of the federal budget bill. This article reports how religious groups successfully lobbied Senate Agricultural Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss of Georgia to retain funding that provides food for the neediest families in the U.S.
"We listened and we reacted," said Chambliss.
Congressional Republicans dismissed Democratic complaints about cuts to social programs, but responded quickly once faith-based groups, a core constituency for the GOP, demanded that the programs be spared.
The groups said they objected to Congress' cutting programs that helped the poor while at the same time preserving $70 billion in tax cuts for America's richest taxpayers.
The food stamp program is a central component of the safety net that keeps millions of Americans afloat. Bread for the World, a Christian organization dedicated to ending hunger and an excellent resource on hunger and poverty, reports that, "Following years of decline, participation in the food stamp program has been on the rise over the past two years. In August 2004, over 24.6 million people participated in the food stamp program." Additionally, with home heating costs expected to rise throughout the country this winter, food stamps can help low-income families avoid making choices between eating and staying warm.
While there has been predictable controversy over President Bush's faith-based initiative (allowing religious groups to compete for federal funding for social programs) in recent years, success stories like Sen. Chambliss' change of heart demonstrate how Christians and other people of faith can also exert influence on the government in ways that preserve the independence of both government and religious groups. Faith-based organizations still have work to do, however: food stamps are still on the chopping block in the House and funding for the program then needs to survive negotiations between the House and the Senate.