We subscribe to the view that justice must be tempered with mercy. That holds true for decisions made by judges, by government and by each of us. And it means looking carefully at the collateral impact of decisions that affect people’s lives, and taking those consequences into account.
Last week, the Trump administration issued guidelines to eliminate some 700,000 people from benefits they currently receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There are elements of the administration’s decision and its explanation that appear reasonable. But since the move ignores the dramatic consequences of the cutbacks on the most vulnerable within our society, we think it is a mistake.
SNAP is what used to be called “food stamps.” Over time, the food stamps program has proven to be the least costly, most direct way to help Americans facing poverty and hunger. Any reduction in food benefits necessarily means that more people will go hungry. And the elimination of hundreds of thousands of recipients from food benefits means that a lot of people will go hungry.
As described by Mazon, the Jewish anti-hunger group, the cuts will affect the most vulnerable American communities: veterans, single mothers with school-aged children, those living in rural America and those living on Tribal Lands. “The new guidelines will deny SNAP benefits after three months to adults without dependents who are unable to secure employment. The rule impacts not only single adults but also defines those without dependents as any parent with children over the age of 6,” according to Mazon.
Provisions of the new rule are slated to take effect on April 1, 2020. The administration says the changes will save the country billions of dollars, that it will encourage recipients slated to lose benefits to find a job, and will replace a feeling of entitlement with one of dignity in paying their own way. While we can agree with the theory of the new rules, their very troubling impact fails to temper justice with mercy. For example, the new rule takes away the right of states to adjust benefits to local economic changes through waivers.
And the new rules ignore the fact that, even when the job market appears strong, there are many — who because of advanced age and insufficient education, chronic physical or mental illness, or the need to be a caregiver for elderly parents or sick children — cannot meet the new work requirements but still deserve support from a just and caring society.
We join with those who have expressed concern about this decision, and its apparent tone deafness to the needs and challenges of vulnerable, low-income Americans, how they cope with the realities of employment, poverty, life and health demands, and the continuing human need for food and sustenance.
We urge the administration to show more compassion, and to temper justice with mercy. pjc