As we start the holiday of Hanukkah we are reminded of miracles and generosity. It is that time of year when we remember those in need and feel generous to help. We remember and help the hungry. In the story of the Maccabees, the Jews had to defend their right to worship G-d. Today we used our democratic right to speak out about a great injustice taking place in our own country.
- 46.2 million Americans — one out of every six — are living in poverty.
- Nearly one in four U.S. households with children has difficulty feeding their families.
- 47.4 million Americans participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
- 41% of SNAP households are among the “working poor” who struggle to make ends meet.
- 45% of all SNAP recipients are children and 14% of SNAP recipients are elderly.
On Monday the CRC cosponsored the “Hunger Crisis in NJ” press conference at the State House in Trenton, which was organized by the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition. The press conference brought together different faith-based representatives: Islamic, Lutheran, Baptist, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish — from different parts of the state that shared similar stories. The cupboards are bare while the need is growing. All the faith-based groups help to feed the hungry in their communities but the message is clear: we cannot replace the government role in helping feed the hungry.
In our Greater MetroWest community many of our beneficiary agencies are involved in helping the food insecure in the Jewish community: our seniors, those needing emergency food support, Holocaust survivors, the unemployed, and more. Many of us and our synagogues are involved in supporting community food pantries. Helping the hungry is a front-and-center issue for us all.
New Jersey is one of the wealthiest states in the country. As stated by NJ Assemblyman Timothy Eustace, our country is not one struggling with famine and drought. We have enough food and means. If we choose to help the hungry then we will succeed. And as state Senator Raymond Lesniak said, “When one is hungry it is like death, death from hope and achieving their dreams.” That is not the American way.
In November 2013, the SNAP program saw unprecedented across-the-board cuts during sequestration, resulting in a loss of benefits to all recipients. Additional cuts were implemented with the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. All together, these food stamp cuts have resulted in benefit cuts of almost 15 percent. Federal cuts without additional investment from the state in the FY 14 budget make New Jersey one of the hardest-hits states in the nation for those who face food insecurity. Our CRC believes that we must speak out on this issue and help mobilize the community to reverse the negative course of action and its potential impact. To this end, we launched the End Hunger Campaign in Greater MetroWest and received a grant from Mazon.
We are deeply concerned about these cuts with real-world consequences for children and adults. Poor nutrition and hunger in children have been linked to poor performance in school and impaired development. Adults suffer from illnesses caused by the effects of hunger and malnutrition. While some of those who suffer from hunger are easily identifiable, others suffer in silence, behind closed doors. But our country has safety nets for our friends — including SNAP, which provides the most vital of commodities, food.
We began with a Food Stamp Challenge where 18 state legislators and 36 Jewish leaders participated. Our model was featured on a JCPA webinar. We helped sponsor the Community Challah Bake, where we helped to educate 300 community members on hunger in New Jersey and enabled them personally to combat it. During Super Sunday we wrote a community letter calling on all our congressmen to make ending hunger a priority issue and reinstate SNAP funds. Hundreds of our community members signed on. And this week we held the press conference.
We want to thank the legislators who attended the press conference and collectively urged a call for action throughout the state. Immediately after the press conference, a legislative package to prevent application delays and ensure that those in need receive their benefits in a timely manner was approved by the Assembly. Legislators at the press conference included Sen. Lesniak, Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assemblyman John McKeon, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, and Assemblyman Eustace.
The interfaith community must join with state legislators and work at the state level; we must consider a March on Washington and do all we can before we are in crisis. This is a crisis that must be addressed and vigorously supported by federal legislation. The NJ legislators understand the situation. This is not a Democratic or a Republican issue — we must find a bipartisan solution to hunger.