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Tom Zirpoli: Make caring for poor a priority

A response I recently received about the government helping the poor is that being a Christian refers to individual giving, not government giving. I find this point of view interesting.

We, the collective of individual Americans, are the government. The money that the government spends on our behalf is our money. Our government officials are elected by us to be our representatives, including in how our money is spent. We influence these decisions by our votes and by our voices. When we vote for people who cut assistance to the poor we are exercising our choice for how we wish our money to be spent. This is clearly an expression of our personal values.

Government spending is a matter of national priorities. Some Christians claim that America is a Christian nation. If this were true, then our government's spending priorities would reflect Christian values. According to Christ, caring for the poor is one of the highest of Christian values.

Unfortunately, our government's spending does not reflect Christian values. For example, Congress just passed a new military spending bill of over $600 billion per year and on the same day refused to continue unemployment benefits to 1.5 million Americans whose benefits will be terminated this week.

I find it interesting that some conservatives complain about government handouts to the poor, but not about government handouts to the rich. What about, for example, corporate welfare?

Interested readers should search the Internet for the many corporations in America that pay no taxes because of government subsidies. Then, check out how much these companies pay their CEOs. Then, you may wonder, as I do, why we are subsidizing million-dollar CEO salaries? Meanwhile, some of these CEOs refuse to pay employees a living wage and complain about having to offer health-care insurance to their full-time employees.

Instead of cutting food stamps for children and veterans, perhaps we should consider cutting welfare for corporations capable of paying their CEOs millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one of the most Republican states in our nation, Texas, collected over $27 billion dollars in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012. This is three times the amount sent to California farmers. Many of these Texans, by the way, are millionaires. Of the top 10 states collecting farm subsidies, seven are states with Republican governors and/or legislators at the tune of $121 billion dollars since 1995. But you will not hear many conservatives complain about this type of government welfare. Indeed, House Republicans approved the farm subsidy program again for next year while cutting $40 billion in food stamps for the poor.

By the way, one in three farmers in conservative Carroll County received farm subsidies from the federal government. Between 1995 and 2012, Carroll County farmers collected over $70 million in government subsidies.

The government should support the poor and disabled within our communities because it is a good investment for the community and because it makes good economic sense. For example, the four agencies in Carroll County that support 1,100 children and adults with disabilities employ almost 700 Carroll County residents. Their combined Carroll County payroll is over $16 million. For each one dollar in assistance these four agencies receive from our Carroll County government, these agencies pump about $30 in federal and state funding into the local economy for a total of about $22 million per year. Yet county funding for these agencies, and other nonprofits in the county, has been cut to 2007 levels with additional cuts planned for the future.

In the long term, the priorities of our local, state and federal governments reflect the priorities of the American people. My wish for the new year is that we make caring for the poor a national and local priority in 2014.

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