Child poverty is a national crisis that must be addressed. In the United States, there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children. This means that the number of poor children (14.7 million) is greater than the combined populations of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Read more…
On Passover, Jews around the world eat matzah instead of leavened bread to remember how the Jewish people did not have time to wait for their bread to rise before they were escaping slavery in Egypt. While matzah can be delicious in certain forms – there is nothing like Grandma Fineman’s matzah meal pancakes, her chocolate covered matzah, or her matzah brei recipes – after eating the umpteenth peanut butter and jelly sandwich on matzah, the unleavened staple can start to seem old or tiresome. When seeing boxes upon boxes in grocery stores, I am among the first to groan. Yet even though we may not enjoy eating matzah, we have to remember that we are lucky to have food on our tables and in our bellies, unlike far too many people in our country. Read more…
Too many children are going to school hungry. We are all told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but imagine that day after day, having breakfast may not be a stable option for you or your family. And imagine that food is scarce for other meals as well. How well could you do on tests? On papers? In class discussions?
A study recently released by No Kid Hungry found that three out of four public school teachers also say that students regularly come to school hungry. Though child nutrition programs like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, already exist, these programs need to be strengthened. Breakfast is connected to benefits in the classroom: a majority of teachers see students paying better attention in class and having improved attendance. 48% of educators also note that their teens have fewer disciplinary problems when they eat breakfast.
Over the course of the L’Taken season (which just ended this past weekend), participants learned about the different government programs that comprise the social safety net and how all of these vital programs work together to help our country’s most vulnerable. One of these programs is the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which provides nourishment for those living in poverty.
SNAP is a vital program that works: because of SNAP, 4.7 million Americas were lifted out of poverty in 2011. According to 2013 data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), over 49 million Americans lived in a household that faced difficulty affording enough food in 2013. 15.8 million children struggled with food insecurity issues in the past year. Additionally, 50% of U.S children will receive SNAP benefits at some point before they reach the age of 20. 92% of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes that are below the poverty line, and two fifths of SNAP households are below half of the poverty line. SNAP helped over 46 million low-income Americans afford a nutritionally adequate diet around the end of 2014.
I have always loved Purim. I remember eating hamentaschen in my religious school classes (deciding amongst the apricot, poppyseed, chocolate or strawberry flavors), playing bean bag toss at the Purim carnival, and waiving the groger enthusiastically as my rabbis, dressed up in costumes to accompany the theme of that year’s Purim spiel, recited the name of Haman, the wicked villain who tried to kill the Jews.
I remember feeling so honored when I got to wear my own costume as part of the Purim spiel and read the megillah the year after I became a Bat Mitzvah. We are taught that Purim is a time for “feasting and merrymaking” (Megillat Esther 9:22). However, there are also a number of traditional obligations we have as Jews in addition to feasting and merrymaking, which remind us of the struggles for justice that continue year round. Read more…
At the State of the Union on Tuesday night, President Obama announced his proposals for the upcoming year, discussing his agenda for the next year. Throughout his speech, President Obama stressed the importance of having a budget that can truly help Americans and expand opportunity. He reminded all those watching about the different programs and improvements will address: “we set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure.” These programs are important, and we hope that they will not be cut or that funding to them will not be sacrificed in order to make room for more programs.
When reflecting on his experience marching in Selma, Alabama with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated that he was “praying with my feet.” This act of transforming words and faith into action for justice and equality is a key underpinning of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as Jewish social justice – one of the many reasons why there was such a deep Jewish involvement. One of the core issues that the Reform Movement has in common with Dr. King is our mission to combat economic inequality.
Dr. King believed strongly that everyone should have access to a livable income and he advocated passionately for equal access to jobs and economic opportunity. Although four states voted to increase the minimum wage last November, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is far too low. In 1968 (the year Dr. King was assassinated), the federal minimum wage would be worth over $10/hour in today’s dollars.
The current minimum wage engenders a cycle of income inequality, for it is near enough for anyone to live by: in no states can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40 hour week. Raising the minimum wage would also help improve the economy, by increasing productivity, reducing turnover, saving on recruiting/training costs, reducing absenteeism, and lifting 2 million Americans out of poverty.
While we have seen some positive changes in the economy – such as November’s jobs growth pace of 321,000 jobs a month – the Economic Policy Institute estimates that it will take at least two years before the economy looks like how it did before the recession.
A report from the US Conference of Mayors found that in the past year 71 percent of cities surveyed saw an increase in requests for emergency assistance. Additionally, 43 percent of the cities saw an increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness. However, there were not enough resources available to accommodate everyone– 82 percent of the cities surveyed reported that food pantries and emergency kitchens had to cut the amount of food distributed during every visit, and 77 percent said that food assistance providers reduced the number of monthly visits allowed. The majority of cities expect that the number of requests for emergency food assistance will increase in the year ahead. Read more…