Your Tax Dollars Fight Hunger
Rosie often has to fight hunger pangs to concentrate in school. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.
As you prepare your taxes, take some time to reflect on where your dollars are going. Many of those dollars go to pay for the infrastructure that holds us together as a nation. Very few go toward helping people in dire need. But those few dollars may hold the most value. Imagine what one dollar’s worth of food means to a senior citizen with an empty cupboard. Think of what a healthy breakfast means to a fifth-grader who would otherwise have to learn arithmetic on an empty stomach.
“I struggle a lot and most of the time it’s because my stomach is really hurting,” said Rosie, an elementary school student in Colorado, describing what it is like to try to learn when she is hungry. “I start yawning and then I zone out and I’m just looking at the teacher and I look at her and all I think about is food.”
Rosie is one of the individuals profiled in the new documentary A Place at the Table. As the film makes clear, the best efforts by congregation and community groups to alleviate hunger are inadequate. Food banks fill a gap, but federal programs provide 95 percent of the food assistance in this country. Tax dollars go directly to programs that help families like Rosie’s. The effect in the lives of people living in poverty is beyond mere calculation.
Our faith calls us to alleviate hunger and poverty and the Bible tells us that government has an important role in making sure that all people are fed, clothed, and sheltered. Thus, the federal budget is a moral document that reflects our national values. Our taxes are a necessary part of that equation, ensuring that the government can fund its priorities.
Since 2010, Congress has debated ways to balance the budget and reduce deficits. Much of the emphasis has been on cutting federal spending, including spending for programs that help vulnerable people. Reducing our deficits is a priority; after all, a strong national economy should benefit us all. But how we do it is a crucial moral question. Should we reduce deficits in ways that increase poverty or inequality? To do so goes against our call to “judge righteously [and] defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9).
“Only about 14 percent of the federal budget goes to domestic social safety-net programs that don’t include social security or health care,” said Amelia Kegan, senior policy analyst at Bread.
“So when people talk about needing to make tough choices over the budget, that should not include cutting programs for poor and hungry people," Kegan continued. These programs are just a small portion of where our federal tax dollars go. Cutting them has a very small impact on our deficit.”
Bread’s 2013 Offering of Letters campaign, “A Place at the Table,” focuses on protecting these programs—including domestic nutrition programs. Funding for these programs remain in question as the sequester continues and budgets are debated. Budget negotiations also threaten poverty-focused development assistance, which is one of the most effective tools against global poverty.
Should people go hungry in the name of deficit reduction?
The dilemma between cutting effective programs or reducing deficits is false. Our government could bridge the gap with more revenue. True, job losses and economic shifts have harmed tens of millions of families over the past five years, but the United States has enough overall wealth to fund anti-poverty programs and continue to reduce deficits. Bread for the World advocates for slight increases in revenue balanced by responsible spending cuts. Simply put, those who have most benefited from our nation’s economic success need to contribute a little bit more, especially as hunger rises.
To guide our lawmakers, Bread is urging them to create a faithful tax policy, following Jesus’ dictum that “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12.48).
We ask our political leaders to adhere to four basic values as they craft fiscal policies:
- Raise enough tax revenue to adequately fund programs that help people who are hungry or living in poverty.
- Base tax policies on the capacity of the people to contribute.
- Protect tax policies that effectively reduce poverty—the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit (CTC), and charitable tax deductions.
- Find a bipartisan solution that protects the common good.
We believe the sacrifice should be shared widely, without asking those who have already suffered the most to sacrifice more. Either failing to address our long-term fiscal problems or doing so in a way that imposes substantial cuts while the economy is still weak would be unhealthy for the economy and could risk higher unemployment with harsh consequences for many poor people.
Write to your members of Congress asking them to raise revenue rather than cut programs that help hungry people.
[This article originally appeared in the April 13 edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.]
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