Last week, the Brookings Institution invited Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a panel of experts to discuss the President’s ambitious plan to expand early childhood education. The American Jewish community, and the Reform Movement specifically, have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that “any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1). The URJ affirmed in 2001, “Historically, the public schools have been the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life.”
In just 5 days the Senate will vote on the Farm Bill. The current version proposes, among other things, over $4 billion in cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) over the next 10 years. As the economy pulls itself up in recovery, those most vulnerable in our communities still lag behind and struggle in the remnants of the recession. It is never the time to cut the social safety net—essentially our country’s societal insurance programs—but now is definitely not that time.
As the Senate considers some truly scary amendments (along with some better ones), now is the time to tell your elected officials to protect those most vulnerable in our communities. The vast majority of SNAP benefits go to households with children, seniors or people with disabilities. I can’t see a clearer American parallel from the prophets’ protection of the widow, the stranger and the orphan than these struggling families.
Speak up! Champion the cause of the poor in our nation and bring the biblical prophets’ words to Congress. Tell your Members of Congress to reject any cuts to the vital program of SNAP as the Farm Bill faces its next vote.
For some background on the Farm Bill and how our Jewish values inform its content, here’s a quick refresher course:
The Farm Bill, which sets much of U.S. food and agriculture policy, is currently making its way through Congress. This major legislation, which is only considered every five years, has a far-ranging impact, from foreign assistance and food safety, to environmental conservation and anti-hunger programs.
Anti-hunger programs governed by the Farm Bill, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help millions of individuals and families keep food on the table in spite of harsh economic conditions. In 2011, more than one in five children in America was hungry. In October of 2012, more than 47.5 million Americans participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the program lifted 3.9 million people out of poverty that year. There is a great and unmistakable need for anti-hunger programs, and Congress must make sure that strong funding for SNAP is included in the Farm Bill.
Past proposals by the House Agricultural Committee slashed SNAP funding by $16 billion over ten years. These are real cuts that will have a damaging effect on real families. Representative James McGovern (D-MA) has introduced H. Res. 90, calling on the House to reject the cuts to SNAP proposed in the current Farm Bill.
Our Jewish tradition further teaches us that we must fight hunger not individually, but rather by working together as a community. The Talmud explains that each Jewish community must establish a public fund to provide food for the hungry, and our sages explain that feeding the hungry is one of our most important responsibilities on earth: “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17).
Image from PC(USA) Office of Public Witness
Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that I was the oldest audience member in the Broadway theater last weekend, except for parents with their pre-teens. “Newsies” is, after all, a Disney musical. In our standing room only “seats,” my friend and I were able to dance along to all of the songs we had known by heart since seventh grade. As we sang along—sometimes a little too loudly — I realized a lot of the meaning of the lyrics I had missed years ago.
All eyes are on Grapevine, Texas today as the Boy Scouts of America begins the annual meeting of its National Council. Earlier this year the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would postpone a reconsideration of its policy prohibiting gay scouts and scout leaders until the meeting this week (see the letter that Rabbi Saperstein sent to the BSA in response to that decision). Today the 1,400 person National Council, including representatives from across the country, will vote on whether or not to lift this ban and make the organization a more inclusive one.
While the new Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill takes many strides toward improving our immigration system, it also includes some significant steps backward. Our Jewish tradition not only teaches us, but commands us to treat the foreigner living in our country with the same laws as our own.
It can sometimes be tough to put a human face on many of the issues we work on here at the RAC. Sure, climate change is a pressing issue facing our planet. Yes, fighting school prayer is a crucial social justice topic with incredibly important implications. But who exactly is affected by our work? Which people, which families, are we fighting for when we lobby on Capitol Hill?
One population that often gets missed in the frenzied political discussions is children. In immigration reform specifically, we hear about the agricultural workers and the women and the adult married children and the LGBT spouses – all really significant demographics that we absolutely should be keeping in mind as we craft comprehensive legislation. But what about their children? Children of immigrants now comprise 25% of the U.S. child population. They make up a crucial sector of our future workforce, yet have little to no voice in the advocacy process.