Eidtor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the number of signatories is now more than 650, and the statement is still open for signing.
On Tuesday, the National Council of Jewish Women (www.ncjw.org) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (www.mazon.org) called on the U.S. government to increase and expand access to federal nutrition assistance for low-income families in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The two organizations garnered more than 650 signatures from Jewish clergy and organizations at the national, state, and local level for their statement, which is still open for signing and reads as follows:
“The coronavirus crisis is not only a national health pandemic, but a time of urgent concern for those who are most vulnerable in our country; those at economic risk are facing dire consequences right now. On behalf of the undersigned Jewish clergy and organizations, we call on the President, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Congress to work together to increase and expand access to federal nutrition assistance for food insecure Americans in the wake of the coronavirus crisis (COVID-19). Our Jewish texts and traditions command us again and again to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and safeguard those who are most vulnerable — to not ‘harden [our] heart[s] or shut [our] hand[s] against [our] poor brethren’ in need (Deuteronomy 15:7). This has never been more important than now.
“As the coronavirus forces school closures around the country, millions of children will not only lose vital instructional time; they will also lose critically needed food that they receive through school nutrition programs. Nearly 22 million students each day depend on free or reduced-price school lunch as a key source of their daily nutrition. We know that eating regularly and well is a vital prerequisite for keeping children healthy and during this national health crisis,support to make this possible is critical.
“We must make it easier to feed children during COVID-19-related school closures.
“Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all households stockpile two weeks of food, but families living in poverty, as well as those hardworking families living paycheck-to-paycheck, are unlikely to be able to afford to buy that much food. The federal government must take the initiative to adopt measures that prioritize the needs of low-income Americans to prevent further hunger and hardship. Additionally, older adults who are at an elevated risk of contracting the disease will no longer be able to participate in congregate meal programs, and must instead have access to home-delivered meals and other sources of nutrition.
“We are pleased to see USDA approving state requests for flexibility to serve free meals to children affected by school closures. But this is not enough. We urge you to do everything in your power to increase and expand access to nutrition assistance including:
• create a nationwide waiver authority, which allows school officials to distribute food in various settings across all nutrition programs;
• provide states the option to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to households with children affected by school closures; and
• temporarily increase benefits and enable flexibility on alternative food delivery systems for federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and
• enable meal providers to move funds allocated to support congregate nutrition sites to support expanded home-delivery meal programs.
“We believe that a democratic society must provide for the needs of those unable to provide for themselves. And, while many of our organizations work directly with people who are struggling in our communities, we know that we cannot do this work alone. Nearly 40 million Americans struggle to put food on the table on a regular basis, and COVID-19 has real potential to exacerbate their struggles. While charitable organizations will continue to play a vital role in addressing hunger and poverty, we know that the overwhelming majority of food assistance in this country has historically come from — and must continue to come from — federal programs.
“Jewish tradition is based in the understanding that each person is made in the image of God. Everyone has the right to live with dignity, provide for their family, and fully participate in society. And no matter a person’s circumstance, no one deserves to be hungry.”