In his speech at the Republican National Convention, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan brought out the old trope about depending on churches and other faith charities to take care of the needy so he and Romney can gut the social safety net like food stamps and medicare. His idea, the common conservative wet dream, would actually be very bad for churches and other faith based charities who are already strained by the result of the economic meltdown of 2008 and the slow recovery.
Ryan has said local charities and churches should provide for needy communities instead of the federal government. But there is a flaw this plan: churches and faith-based charities, which offer roughly $50 billion worth of services a year to the poor and needy, often depend on government funds to operate. Catholic Charities, for example, is one of the largest charities in America, and gets over half of its operating budget from federal funds.
Yet the Romney/Ryan ticket appears undeterred by this reality. In fact, if Romney followed through on Ryan’s proposed budget and cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $169 billion, every single church in America would have to come up with an additional $50,000 simply to feed those in need. For many cash-strapped churches, this is an impossible task.
What’s more, the Romney/Ryan budget would likely overburden soup kitchens and food programs by cutting welfare, food stamps and agriculture subsidies by two trillion dollars over the next ten years. These cuts would leave millions of Americans – especially those most in need of assistance – without the means to feed and clothe themselves, and already-overburdened faith-based charities unable to provide for them.
The charity functions for many mainline churches are like small boutique shops in a mall. They aren’t meant to be the main support for the indigent. It is more of a hobby and if they were then required to be a main support system many of these hobbyist helpers will stop helping.
So when the religious charity model collapses upon itself then what?
People will be hurt or worse could die.
The conservative model is if you cut the money it will force people to get off the dole but many people need help through no fault of their own so they can’t just “get a job” especially if the poverty is structural (there are just no jobs). A city will have many options but the largest segment of poor is outside the cities which also then has fewer resources outside the government.
Forcing all of the social safety net on the churches doesn’t wish away the poor as Paul Ryan and those like him believe. And if he does get his plan put into action you can bet the money cut in the budget will not go to the people who could actually use it to survive.