Religious advocates fast monthly in protest of budget cuts

Anti-hunger activists are going hungry Monday (Aug. 21), in hopes of preventing deep budget cuts that they say could make millions more go hungry next year.

Religious leaders and others will fast for a day in opposition to budget cuts President Trump proposed for federal nutritional assistance programs — cuts they fear will swamp private charities that feed the poor with a flood of new needy.

The group, organized by Bread for the World, which advocates for government food aid, has fasted each month since May — first for three consecutive days, but now only once a month — and intends to continue until the budget is finalized.

“The Bible makes clear that nations, kings and rulers are really judged by one thing — and that’s on how they treat the poorest and most vulnerable,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian advocacy group. “That’s the test. That’s the moral test of leaders. This budget is an assault on the very people that Jesus told us to help. It’s clear as clear can be.”

Federal nutritional aid programs provide nearly 20 times more food assistance than private charities do.

The budget proposed by Trump in May called for $200 billion in cuts to SNAP. This follows an $11 billion cut to SNAP in November 2013 and an $8 billion cut to SNAP in February 2014.

Were the cuts to be implemented, the 350,000 religious congregations in the U.S. would have to raise an additional $40,000 every year for the next decade to make up for the reduced benefits, Bread for the World claims. Congress has to approve a federal spending bill by Sept. 30 when the federal fiscal year ends; without a spending bill in place, government services would shut down.

“When we look at the Trump budget and we saw nearly one and a half trillion came from non-defense programs that help alleviate hunger,” said Christine Melendez Ashley, deputy director for Bread for the World. “We believe we can end hunger by 2030 but not if we’re cutting programs like SNAP (food stamps) or Medicaid.”

The federal cuts then would increase the burden on private aid.

“We already feel heavily extended in the communities that we do serve,” said Minhaj Hassan, a spokesperson for Islamic Relief USA. “Additional cuts to various federal social service programs would place a greater burden on organizations we support, since they would likely turn to us after that safety net provided by the federal government is removed.”

Advocates who are fasting say the practice helps remind them why they are working to prevent the cuts.

“I encourage people to undertake it,” said Most Reverend Richard Pates, the Catholic Bishop of Des Moines. “It enables us to come to a personal reflection and identification with those in need. This awareness creates an urgency to help.”

The group is focusing on mobilizing their communities to reach out to their members of Congress and protest the cuts. No members of Congress are currently fasting with the cause, though advocates have asked them to and have hopes that they will.

Until then, the group will continue their monthly fast until the budget is resolved.