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…
At the end of the 113th Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to fund the federal government through the end of September 30, 2015, or to the end of the 2015 fiscal year. The passage of this bill avoided a government shut down by funding the federal government – except for the defense budget, which is appropriated separately – for the next nine months.
As people of faith, we advocate for a just and compassionate federal budget that will promote the dignity of all Americans and will protect the vulnerable. And, in this week’s Torah portion, Mikeitz, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as foreshadowing seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:1-32). We must ensure that our federal government will not act in ways that will ultimately lead to or create more poverty in the future.
This Friday marks the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths, which unites tens of thousands of religious congregations and over 200 religious organizations (including the RAC) of a variety of faiths to speak out and act faithfully for justice for children and their families. This weekend, religious congregations will hold special worship services, lead religious education programs as well as other congregational activities that will inspire people of faith to respond to children’s needs and commit to making this a better and safer world for all children. The RAC even helped create the program guide to accompany this important Shabbat event.
Jewish tradition places a great deal of value on the sanctity of children and their welfare. Qe are taught that “by the breath of children God sustains the world” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 119b). Since children are the inheritors of the future, we have a responsibility to honor children and to ensure that they will soon have the skills and the strength to be our future leaders. We acknowledge how important it is to ensure that children are well cared for and are healthy.
In July 2013, nearly three million children ate subsidized summer lunch on an average day, and the program only reached one in seven of the low-income children who rely on subsidized school lunch during the school year. In contrast to the 31 million children who received free or reduced school lunch during the school year, this divide illustrates how we need to provide lunch for students who rely on the structure of the school day for their midday meal. Food insecurity is nationwide and has major impacts on children – previous USDA studies have shown that children who live in food-insecure households have increased risks of developmental and health problems. Studies also link growing up in poverty to obesity later on in life, further demonstrating how important it is for us to ensure that children do not go hungry. The bipartisan Summer Meals Act of 2014 (S. 2527) would expand, strengthen, and protect access to the Summer Nutrition Programs, which provide federal funding to serve nutritious foods during the summer break. Tell your Senators to support the Summer Meals Act of 2014 now!
As we conclude Sukkot and look to celebrate Children’s Shabbat, think of how you can answer your faith tradition’s call to honor the children who, like all people, are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This weekend, over our shared days of rest, people of faith are uniting together around our joint goal of ensuring a better future for all children.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day of the Jewish year, we fast as an opportunity to reflect on the year past and turn to the future. The Torah instructs the Jewish people that “the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.”(Leviticus 23:27). The fast begins with the Kol Nidre evening service through the shofar’s final Tekiah Gedolah blast at the close of the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This is one way by which Jews around the world look inward and focus on t’shuvah (repentance) and t’fillah (prayer).
Yet, there are many in this country who do not have the luxury of being able to choose when they will or will not choose to eat. 46.2 million Americans live in poverty and 47 million Americans, or 15% of the population, receive SNAP benefits.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. Hunger is still taking place on a massive scale, both in the United States and around the world.
Last month, the six of us began our new year as Eisendrath Legislative Assistants, complete with apples and honey, a RAC tradition to mark our office “Rosh Hashanah.” After two weeks of orientation and several weeks of familiarizing ourselves with our new portfolios, we are looking forward to the Jewish New Year and excited for the opportunities it will bring:
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is an opportunity for us to express our support for important government programs as we look towards the year ahead. In the next year, Congress will need to address issues regarding reauthorization for child nutrition programs. While the programs are permanently authorized, Congress uses the reauthorization process to review the laws and re allocate funding when the laws expire. One existing law in this policy area – the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – is set to expire on September 2015.