“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Matthew25:35
With fifty million Americans and one in 4 children living in poverty and half of all Americans destined to live in poverty sometime before age 65 it would appear the people and politicians in what is said to be one of the richest countries in the world come up a tad short on the Biblical charge to take care of the poor.
Studies show that poverty adversely affects our economic, social, and culture life. One study estimated that poverty in 2011 cost our nation $167.5 billion in lost economic productivity. A 2012 survey of public school teachers by, Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry, shows children living in poverty struggle with poor academic performance, behavior problems and health issues.
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance estimates that 560, 000 people in Arkansas are living in poverty and will go to bed tonight with an empty stomach. One in six of your Arkansas neighbors cannot put food on their table tonight for their family.
People living in Arkansas are fortunate that we have the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance which through various organizations is focused on assisting those living in poverty. The Rice Depot, formed in 1982 with a staff of less than 20 distributes 9 million pounds of foods each year to the poor through some 300 churches and 650 schools.
The Arkansas Foodbank, formed in 1984 distributed 16.3 million pounds of food to the poor through 300 member agencies in 2012.
The Christian Health Center in Heber Springs provided free medical care and free drug prescriptions to over 600 patients in 2011 and for the year 2012, patients who were living below the poverty level
Cleburne County Cares in Heber Springs distributed over $400,000.00 in money, goods and services to the poor in 2010.
In 2013 the First United Method Church under the leadership of Pastor Tommy Toombs established the Breaking Bread soup kitchen which provides a meal to anyone in need.
With all the local programs and the federal and state programs set up to aid the poor poverty remains widespread and Arkansas and Cleburne County citizens and politicians have many opportunities to assist the poor and disabled.
The following events indicate the federal and Arkansas State governments are reducing not increasing the amount of money to aid those living in poverty:
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The sequester which began March 1, 2013 will cut $85 billion in aid for low income Americans.
The Republican controlled House on May 14, 2013 defeated the President’s efforts to
keep $2.5 billion a year in the farm bill for the food stamp program.
The Republican nominee for President said “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there” and later added “My job is not to worry about those people. (47% of Americans) I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The Paul Ryan 2014 Republican budget would slash $135 billion over the next 10 years for programs that provide food and aid for low income Americans.
The Republican controlled Arkansas legislature gave tax cuts to the wealthiest Arkansas taxpayers, reducing the revenue which could be used for aid to the poor by $100 million a year and approved a $125 million corporate welfare bond issue to build a third steel mill near Osceola.
Add up the time and resources you have spent doing the things set out in Matthew 25:35 and give yourself a grade—no cheating please.
Make a list of the politicians you voted for and underneath his/her name set out the laws he/she sponsored or voted for which improved the quality of life for the poor, the sick, the strangers among us and those who are in prison—in politics some cheating is expected.
(Paul Rawlings of Heber Springs contributes monthly to the editorial pages of The Sun-Times)