In a recent House Agriculture Committee meeting, a Republican lawmaker went all the way back to the New Testament to justify cutting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In doing so, Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington dredged up an old myth about most welfare recipients being able-bodied adults who just don't want to work.
Arrington cited the New Testament verse 2 Thessalonians 3:10, "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat," as to why work requirements to receive SNAP benefits should be strengthened.
"I did hear, Mr. Protas, your opening remarks where you quoted Leviticus, I believe, and I think that’s a great reflection on the character of God and the compassion of God’s heart and how we ought to reflect that compassion in our lives," Arrington said to Josh Protas, vice president of Public Policy for anti-hunger nonprofit MAZON.
"But, there’s also, the scripture tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: when we were with you we give you this rule, 'If a man will not work he shall not eat,'" Arrington continued, quoting another translation of the verse. He then referenced the next verse, 3:11, declaring, "And he goes on to say ‘We heard that some of you are idle.’ I think that every American, Republican or Democrat wants to help the needy among us. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements. I think that gives more credibility, frankly, to SNAP."
However, according to The Washington Post, Arrington's comparison is based on myths that those on food stamps are too lazy or entitled to look for work. Of those on SNAP, 45 percent are children, and nearly another 10 percent are retired. But most who can work, are working, and most of those are working full-time.
"This population [of able-bodied adults without employment] represents only a small minority of SNAP users," The Washington Post reported. "According to the Department of Agriculture, nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and people with disabilities. Of the remaining third, the vast majority are employed. According to the USDA, only 14 percent of all SNAP participants work less than 30 hours per week."
The technical term for this cohort is "Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents," or ABAWD, and they already have stringent limitations on how much aid they can receive. Most ABAWD who aren't disabled can only get three months of benefits over three years, and after that, they have to enroll in education, training or work programs.
Many ABAWD have recently been released from prison, while others are full-time caregivers, homeless, teenagers aging out of foster care, or live in communities with few low-skill jobs. As such, there is an extremely small number of able-bodied SNAP recipients who aren't looking for work, and many more who either can't find work or are underemployed and rely on SNAP to fill in the gaps, The Washington Post reported.
Arrington isn't even the first GOP lawmaker to reference 2 Thessalonians 3:10. In 2013, two GOP House members cited it to excuse cutting billions in SNAP funding, while the verse has also been quoted by conservative pundits Glenn Beck and Breitbart, among others.
However, the Post quotes several theological experts who assert that the verse, said to have been written by Saint Paul, had nothing to do with denying hungry people food, but early Christians who abandoned living productive lives because they believed the apocalypse was near.
The next verse, also cited by Arrington, seems to agree with this interpretation, reading "We hear that some of you are living in idleness. You are not busy working —you are busy interfering in other people's lives!"