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Proposed Policy Change Will Affect Hungry People


The following guest post from Alaide Vilchis Ibarra, program director, migration policy, for ELCA Advocacy, describes a proposed rule change that will have a dramatic effect on some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

While my husband worked at a small nonprofit and I went to school, we used the Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies to be able to afford his health insurance. Not having to choose between his health and other indispensable items made a difference for our family at a pivotal time when we needed support. As I write this, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering proposing a rule change that would harm families that have accessed public benefits, just like my family once did.

This expected rule will raise barriers for people to obtain and maintain legal immigration status in the U.S. if they or their dependents access public benefits such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance subsidies, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Historically, the U.S. government has restricted immigration applications if they determined an immigrant would be a “public charge,” that is, if they would likely depend on cash assistance or long-term medical care. This rule change will greatly expand this definition to harm people whose dependents, including U.S. citizen children, have had to access public benefits.

As a church, the ELCA has long advocated for healthcare for vulnerable populations, SNAP, and WIC. As people of faith, we have ministries across the country that accompany people that will be hurt by this rule. Families that we worship alongside and minister to have to choose between accessing support for food security and good health or leaving their family vulnerable to separation, a choice no family should have to make.

Programs like WIC and SNAP are vital safety nets for families and often provide the short-term support they need to get through hard economic times. These programs have proven effective in ensuring that families and individuals can avoid long-term poverty and hunger. As people of faith in God’s promise of a world without hunger, Lutherans have long been at the frontlines of providing relief to people living in poverty and food insecurity. But we also believe that one of the core responsibilities of government is ensuring that all people have what they need for healthy lives. In the ELCA’s social statement on economic life, Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All, our church calls for “scrutiny of how specific policies and practices affect people and nations that are the poorest, and changes to make policies of economic growth, trade, and investment more beneficial to those who are poor.”

Scrutiny of this proposed rule change clearly points to the negative impact it will have on people in our communities and congregations who are hungry and in need of assistance.

What can people of faith do?

After the rule is published, there will be a small period for the public to send comments to oppose this rule. The number and content of comments submitted during this period will impact whether the proposed rule is revised. We can make a difference.

If you are participate in a hungry-related ministry, think about how this proposed change might affect you or your community. Then, follow ELCA Advocacy and ELCA World Hunger on social media to receive instructions when the rule change is issued and the comment period begins.

ELCA Advocacy:

Facebook: ELCA Advocacy

Twitter: @ELCAAdvocacy

Advocacy e-alerts: Sign up here.

ELCA World Hunger:

Facebook: ELCA World Hunger

Twitter: @ELCAWorldHunger

By speaking up, people of faith can work together toward a just world where all are fed.

Putting People First

The hungry.  Hungry people. 

If you examine the structure of either of these references, you’ll notice that the primary emphasis is on the condition of being hungry.  In the case of the hungry, the word “people” isn’t even in the realm of consciousness.  “The hungry” serves as a defense mechanism, a way to categorize something that is undesirable and put it on a shelf at a safe distance so that we don’t have to feel a personal connection.  “The hungry” are simply out there…somewhere.  Nameless, faceless, and seemingly not even human or at least not deserving enough of a human reference. 

Photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT International

Hungry people.  On the scale of objectification, this is better.  At least we are talking about people here, though again the emphasis is not on people but rather the condition of being hungry.  People comes last, and so psychologically our emphasis is still on fixing a condition rather than serving someone just like us—same age, same gender, same station in life relatively speaking—who happened to be born in a community or country where there are extremely limited resources. 

Let’s see if we can do better.  Okay, here’s one more attempt: 

People who are hungry.  Simply put, people come first.  We’re not trying to help feed a nameless breed of beings known as “the hungry” (akin to “the infected”).  We’re not trying to serve our neighbors, the “hungry people”—still defined by their condition rather than their self-identity as human beings.  Rather, we are ministering to people—people who happen to be hungry but are people first nonetheless.  They are Kennedy Symphorian, a skinny 15-year-old boy I met years ago in Tanzania who had HIV and whose non-traditional family eeked out a meager living and survived on assistance from an organization that received support from ELCA World Hunger dollars.  They are the children begging for handouts on the streets of Nicaragua, some of whom work the streets alone during the day while their parent(s) crowd into a tightly packed school bus and ride off to work in a sweatshop.  They are nameless strangers we meet on our streets who browse trash cans for food scraps, approach our rolled-up windows at a stoplight (maybe we look at them, maybe not), sleep on a doorstep in 15-degree weather.  They are us only with fewer resources and a harder way, trying to survive. 

We cannot afford to talk about people in any way less than the dignified manner all souls should be afforded.  We are all people first and foremost.  We are Christians, Muslims, writers, janitors, men, women, fast-food workers, nurses, crossing guards, students, tailors…we are who we are, defined by our humanity and our relationship to God. 

Let’s put people first instead of resorting to comfortable, overused phrases that define people by their condition.  Maybe next time you encounter “the other”—that perfect stranger who asks you for money because she probably really needs it—you’ll ask her name and be able to talk about the time you met Rhonda rather than “some homeless woman.”