What do Shavuot, Subsidies and SNAP Have in Common?
While sanctuaries are filled with the white robes of Confirmation and the chanting of the story of Ruth, we sometimes forget that Shavuot is also a harvest festival and that Ruth’s story is not just one of choosing Judaism, but one deeply steeped in farming, gleaning and reaping. What better time of year, then, for the Senate and House to mark up the Farm Bill?
The Farm Bill governs America’s food policy for the next five years—from farm subsidies to crop insurance to international food aid to domestic anti-hunger programs. Wait, anti-hunger programs? Why are those included in the Farm Bill? Why is an anti-poverty program included in a huge bill all about farming? If we look at Jewish tradition, however, it makes total sense.
One of the oldest forms of public assistance in the Torah, and appearing in tonight’s megillah reading, is to leave the corners of our fields un-gleaned (Leviticus 19:9-10). Struggling members of the community can then come into the fields—as Ruth does—to take the food they need. In the story of Ruth, we see this in action. Ruth walks right behind the harvesters, and as they take their crops, she picks up what is left for herself and Naomi. In this way, Jewish anti-poverty programs are directly connected to farming practices.
Today and tomorrow, we have the chance to support our tradition’s commitment to this connection. As the Senate and House Agriculture Committees mark up their Farm Bills, SNAP is under threat. The Senate bill cuts about $4.1 billion from SNAP, expected to cause about 500,000 households to lose an average $90 per month in benefits. The House bill cuts even more: over $21 billion from SNAP, meaning that 2-3 million individuals will lose benefits entirely and 280,000 children will lose access to free school meals. In addition, the House farm bill would make a significant cut to SNAP nutrition education, cutting $274 million from this program that is essential in educating households on how to best utilize their meager nutrition supplement.
Your moral voice is needed. This is “no time to cut food stamps.” SNAP is efficient, supports work and provides modest benefits to vulnerable people. SNAP helps millions of individuals and families keep food on the table in spite of harsh economic conditions. The Torah and Jewish tradition are explicit in the command that we feed the hungry and help eradicate hunger from our society. Contact your Members of Congress and, on a holiday centered on learning, take action. Lift up a message of Shavuot. Urge them to reject any cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill.
Image from Haaretz.