It has been 5 months since the North Carolina legislature approved HB 318 which prohibited state agencies from issuing a work waivers to childless adults needing food stamps or SNAP. The law was named the "Protect North Carolina Workers Act." Immediately following its passage (and before) food banks, crisis assistance agencies and officials from North Carolina's poorest counties were issuing warnings about the hazardous effects of this law. Already strapped food banks were worried they wouldn't be able to meet the new demand placed on them when previously eligible recipients of food stamps would no longer be able to receive them.
And now we are clearly seeing the impact of the law as food banks issue pleas for additional donations. Even in Rowan County, one of the 77 counties in North Carolina with the hardest impact from HB 318, Rowan Helping Ministries issued requests to increase food donations from local faith communities. My congregation holds a monthly food drive at both our gatherings located in Charlotte and Salisbury, North Carolina. We gather up food donations as folks come into our Sunday service on the 1st Sunday of each month. I am sure our donations do matter, but I also know that they are completely insufficient in the face of generational poverty.
The truth is that despite our best reasoned logical understandings of generational poverty in this country, there is still a pervasive personalizing of poverty. Issuing work requirements to receive SNAP rests, in part, upon the assumption that there is work to be had. Not to mention the assumption then that some people on SNAP aren't seeking work. If poor people only wanted to work badly enough, then we would have less poverty. If poor people only wanted a better life, then we wouldn't have to spend our tax dollars on them. If we only practice tough love, then they will at last pull themselves up out of poverty.
Thousands of studies have disproven the personalization of poverty. Most recently a study found that Charlotte, North Carolina ranks 50 out of the top 50 largest cities in economic mobility (and 97 out of the top 100). Put simply, if you are born poor in Charlotte, NC you are likely to die poor. It does not matter how hard you work, how badly you want it. The odds are stacked against you. And of course the parallel to this is that if you are born rich in Charlotte, NC you are likely to die rich.
Charlotte created an Opportunity Task Force in order to create concrete recommendations to transform the lack of economic mobility in Charlotte.
In order for real change to come, I think I am going to have to grapple with the reality that my middle class over-privileged life is going to have to change if I really want to see justice to roll down like waters. That is not very comfortable at all. I believe there is enough in our country and in our world. I believe in abundance. I also believe that the abundance of beloved community cannot be realized with radical disparity and disconnection, which is our world today.
In this month of desire, I wonder if I wanted it bad enough, how could my life lead to more justice?