Ironies and outrages: fasting to protest budget cuts to the poor
Miscellanyby Gordon Houser
Taking their cue from Queen Esther, who called on the faithful to fast and pray for their Persian rulers to have a change of heart, a diverse coalition of religious leaders—from Bread for the World, World Vision, MercyCorps, Sojourners, the ONE Campaign and the Alliance to End Hunger—are calling on Americans of good faith to join them in fasting and prayer to protest proposed budget cuts that would jeopardize the poor, sick and hungry at home and abroad, according to Religion News Service. The effort was launched on March 29.
Joining around 4,000 others in the fast, Mark Bittman, a food critic, who wrote a piece in the March 30 New York Times called “Why We’re Fasting.”
The fast is a protest against proposed budget cuts by Congress to programs that help the poor. Bittman singles out House budget bill, H.R. 1, which proposes budget cuts “in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted ‘Welfare Reform 2011’ bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)”
According to an analysis of the proposed budget cuts by the ONE Campaign, cuts to the Global Fund would mean that
• 10.4 million bed nets to fight malaria will not be provided;
• 6 million treatments for malaria will not be administered;
• 3.7 million people will not be tested for HIV;
• 58,286 HIV-positive, pregnant women will not receive treatments to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV;
• 414,000 people will not be provided their antiretroviral (ARV) medication;
• 372,000 testing and treatments for tuberculosis will be halted.
Bittman also objects to these proposed cuts because, while they are supposed to reduce the deficit, “they’d barely make a dent” while causing “more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now.” And, he writes, “the bill would increase defense spending.”
Why fast? According to former U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall, head of the Alliance to End Hunger and co-convener of the fasting effort known as Hunger Fast (www.hungerfast.org), “What we’re doing is humbling ourselves before God and saying, I can’t do this anymore and I need your help and I’m not going to let go until you do something.”
Bittman points out that people are fasting for varying lengths of time and that, “hungry as I may get, we know I’ll eat well soon, ... but many poor people don’t have that option.”
While many religious leaders point to Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better, Bittman writes that this is “about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their post-tax income on food—and still run out monthly—and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.”
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