Democrats Seek to Take Back PA 6 With Mike Parrish

Mike ParrishWe spend a lot of time thinking about the presidential race, but we should remember that the House and its 435 seats are also on this November’s ballot. Here in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, the Democratics have an opportunity to capture the seat because their running a strong candidate with a great biography against first term Republican Ryan Costello who’s been committed to voting the GOP line since he got to DC. I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with Mike Parrish, Democrat for Congress and you can read all about his background and his stand on the issues.  [Read more…]

Beware of New Food-Stamp Requirements

Adults between 18-49 years old enrolled in the SNAP/Food Stamp program who are considered able-bodied without dependents will be limited to three months of SNAP benefits in a 3-year period as of June 1.

However, these recipients can retain their current benefits if they fulfill a work requirement, complete required volunteer hours or qualify for an exemption, according to Act Against Hunger, a local Jewish communal initiative of the MAZON Advocacy Project and the synagogues of the Old York Road Corridor in Montgomery County.

This change in the program will affect residents in Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties who rely on SNAP as a critical lifeline. Philadelphia and Delaware County residents are exempt because the unemployment rates in these counties are high.

“Despite lower employment, people still are having a hard time finding work,” said Act Against Hunger co-chair Robin Rifkin.

Losing SNAP benefits when someone is already struggling is like pulling out the rug from under them. Our goal is to get the word out so that people know and have time to find more work, or a place to volunteer, or show they qualify for an exemption to keep their SNAP benefits.

To meet the work requirement, one would need to prove they are working or participating in a job training program for at least 20 hours/week; or volunteering 26 hours/month. Reasons someone can be exempt from the work requirement include: enrolled part-time in school; applying for or receiving unemployment; receiving disability benefits; enrolled in a drug, alcohol treatment or mental health program; homeless; has a medical condition that prevents someone from working; pregnant; or caring for a disabled family member.

If you are a resident of Montgomery County or from an organization that can provide volunteer opportunities, contact Kara Beck, SNAP outreach coordinator at Montgomery County’s Community Action Development Commission (CADCOM), at kbeck@cadcom.org or 610 277-6363 x140.

Act Against Hunger has been working with local anti-hunger groups, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to reduce the barriers to SNAP, the federal program designed to provide nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families and ease the burden of poverty in communities.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services is sending a survey to those who may be affected by this change, according to AAH, which is calling on recipients to complete it.

MAZON Reacts to $40B in SNAP Cuts‏


President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights. The “Four Freedoms” on the Roosevelt Memorial.

A response to the U.S. House of Representatives vote slashing $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

— by Abby J. Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Today is a sad, sad day for America. Today’s vote confirms that far too many of our Congresspeople hold their loyalty to their ideology above all else — more important than their responsibility as our nation’s elected leaders and more important than the needs of their actual constituencies. This mean-spirited legislation was designed to provoke divisiveness and acrimony — and it has succeeded in doing just that.

Our faith, like so many other faith traditions, teaches that the community has an obligation to sustain its most vulnerable. SNAP is the epitome of this fundamental idea, successfully realized on a larger scale. SNAP represents our collective commitment, as a national community, that when times are tough, we will stand together and help families get back on their feet.

More after the jump.
More than 70 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his historic “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, asserting that Americans had a right to “freedom from want.” He understood that a lack of access to basic nutrition undermines a person’s ability to enjoy other fundamental rights.

Now is the time to support smart policies aimed at strengthening our nation’s recovery, not taking food out of the mouths of hungry people. We can rebuild our economy, but not if our fellow Americans cannot meet their most basic need for nutritious food.

We at MAZON are dedicated to working with conferees to negotiate an improved nutrition title. We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that every American is able to meet his/her most fundamental need: to eat.

Splitting the Farm Bill Is Outrageous and Unacceptable


Only 12 Republican Congressmen joined the Democrats today in voting against the Farm Bill (HR 2642) without the traditional funding to feed the poor:
Reps. LoBiondo (NJ-2), Amash (MI-3), DeSantis (FL-6), Salman (AZ-5), Huelskamp (KS-1), Jones (NC-3), Cook (CA-8), Sanford (SC-1), Duncan (TN-2), McClintock (CA-4), Gingrey (GA-11) and Franks (AZ-8).

— by Abby J. Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Today, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives “split” the Farm Bill, and forced members to vote a bill stripped of the nutrition title providing funding for food stamps.

The bill passed with 216 Congressmen (all of them Republican) voting “aye,” and 208 Congressmen (196 Democrats and 12 Republicans) voting “nay.” (Five Democrats and six Republicans did not vote.)

This is a back-room political maneuver that flies in the face of decades of bipartisan consensus and rural-urban cooperation that have produced past farm bills and balanced diverse national priorities. This ideologically-driven and misguided effort, which is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to decimate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is outrageous and unacceptable. MAZON stands in strong opposition to this effort to split the Farm Bill and shred out nation’s vital nutrition safety net.

MAZON’s commitment to protecting full funding for SNAP remains steadfast. We will continue to rally our supporters and our network of synagogue leaders and grantee partners to stand up for struggling families in America. We look forward to engaging Members of Congress to craft a comprehensive, balanced, and just Farm Bill that provides food assistance to our nation’s children, seniors, working poor, and military families in need.

New Opportunity for House Farm Bill

— by Benjamin Suarato

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed the House of Representatives’ rejection of the proposed Farm Bill. The bill, which included a $21 billion cut to SNAP (formerly food stamps) failed by a vote of 195-234.

“Now is time to press the restart button,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The House of Representatives defeated a Farm Bill that would have eliminated food assistance for 2 million individuals, many of whom are in working families with children or seniors.  Now Congress has the opportunity to debate a serious food policy that aims to feed all Americans, not take food from the hungry.  

More after the jump.
We will continue to work with our partners in Congress and our allied faith and anti-hunger advocates to protect SNAP. We encourage Congress to move forward with a more responsible Farm Bill, one that doesn’t aim to undermine our safety net.”

“Hunger cannot be legislated away or zeroed out through budgeting. It must be confronted with compassion and effective solutions. In SNAP, we have both,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold. “Since the beginning of the recession, SNAP has done exactly what it was designed to do: meet the needs of those who suddenly found themselves unemployed or struggling to support their family through no fault of their own. With a near 97% efficiency rate, SNAP has raised 3.9 million people out of poverty in 2011 alone and kept even more from hunger while also contributing to local economies.  We thank the majority who voted to protect our most vulnerable and are eager to continue working with Congress to pass a Farm Bill that addresses our deficit in a serious manner without targeting the poor our society should be protecting.”

The Congressional SNAP Challenge: What Rep. Barbara Lee Forgot


Rep. Barbara Lee

Once in a while, a politician or two tries living on the budget of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for a day, or maybe a week. This week, 26 members of the Congress will do it, in reaction to the Senate’s Farm Bill, that would once again cut the SNAP recipient budgets. The current amount that the average recipient can eat on is $4.50 a day.

I was struck by Congresswoman Barbara Lee's (D-CA) blog post on her shopping trip:

Getting your budget down to $4.50 a day is complicated. You need to try to make sure you have enough protein, limit your sodium, and find good vegetables. If you have special dietary needs, like diabetes or an allergy, there's even more to think about.

Congresswoman Lee’s heart (and those of the other 25 members of Congress who took on the challenge) is in the right place, but she forgot something: She made a tuna noodle casserole part of her week's meal plan. She noted that she found a box that only required water, since milk and butter were not on her budget. Some SNAP recipients also don’t have electricity or gas. Therefore, they can not cook.

More after the jump.

In addition, food tends to cost more in poorer neighborhoods. I am not saying that only "the poor" are on SNAP — there are many people living in middle-class neighborhoods who have lost their job, and are eking out from unemployment compensation and SNAP. But if your only food source is a bodega, it is likely that a can of tuna will cost more than if you can compare prices at multiple markets from the flyers that get delivered weekly, and choose the best location. 

Having said all that, I applaud the members of Congress taking on this challenge. I wish that at least one of the members of Congress voting for the cut to SNAP would take it on also, and see how expensive it is to buy food.

Every time I write an article about SNAP, I look  at my log and see what I ate the day before, and how much it cost. Yesterday, I had three cups of coffee (58¢/cup), about a half pound of grapes ($1.50), a yogurt (79¢) and a salad from a fast food restaurant, plus dressing. I hit $4 before even figuring out the cost of the salad. I am a tiny eater, and I know that "regular" people wouldn't be able live on what I eat. Some people have no choice.

If you want to help, you could try eating on $4.50 a day, or just add up what you spent on food yesterday. And then call your Congress member. If they are participating, thank them. If not, ask why.

We have money for weapons, money for corporate welfare, tax cuts for the rich, but no money for kids who will be very hungry this summer, when they will not get school lunches. I called my Representative’s office. They wrote down my questions, but I doubt that I will get an answer. Maybe you will do better.

Why Does the Farm Bill Matter to Us?

— by Hannah Lee

Most Americans are protected from the travails and vagaries of our food sources.  The five-year cycle of Congressional debates on agricultural subsidies may underwhelm you, but it is relevant to your family’s well-being in hidden ways.  On Thursday, the Senate approved a new farm bill that would cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

More after the jump.
Sugar subsidies were left in place.  Crop insurance was reduced for the wealthiest farmers, those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.  This was through the efforts of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), saving $1 billion over 10 years. Recipients would now have to take steps to reduce erosion and protect wetlands, according to a last-minute amendment by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia).  The bill eliminated about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, whether or not they grew crops.

The limited good news is new funding for the next generation of farmers through an amendment by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).  The bill will also expand block grants to states for research and promotion of fruits and vegetables.  It will encourage the expansion of farmers’ markets.  It will consolidate several conservation programs to make them more efficient.

Despite the efforts of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), the biggest cuts were to the food stamp program, now known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.

The House will begin discussion of the bill after the July 4th recess.  The House Republican budget presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) would reduce food stamp spending by about $134 billion over the next decade and turn the program into block grants for the states.

Among the 64 Senators approving the Farm Bill was our own Robert Casey (D), while among the 35 Senators rejecting the Farm Bill was Patrick Toomey (R).   Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) was the sole abstention.  

Food Stamp Challenge: The Week The Rabbis Went Hungry


— by Eric Harris

This week Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other members of the RAC staff, is taking the Food Stamp Challenge. Part of “Fighting Poverty with Faith’s” initiative to focus people of faith on issues of economic justice and the need to sustain vital social safety net programs, Food Stamp Challenge participants live for seven days on the standard weekly food stamp allotment of $31.50. Rabbi Saperstein will participate in the Challenge from October 27th through November 2nd, joining a half dozen prominent Jewish leaders and ten Members of Congress in this effort to call attention to anti-hunger programs and educate the faith community on the plight of hunger.

We are honored to be able to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge, and experience even for a brief time the ongoing struggle of the millions of Americans nationwide who are confronting hunger on a daily basis. We have long advocated for anti-hunger programs, like SNAP and WIC that meet the needs of the 49 million food-insecure Americans but the Challenge places in stark relief how difficult it is to obtain enough food and nutritious food on a food stamp budget – and why we must do better as a nation.

Jewish tradition teaches that feeding the hungry is a vital responsibility. The Midrash says:

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 God, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.’

Participating in the Food Stamp Challenge will not, by itself, end hunger in America; that will take a sustained commitment by our nation and its leaders. To that end, we are hopeful that our participation in the Food Stamp Challenge this week will inspire others to advocate for policies addressing families and individuals who confront hunger nationwide. During these difficult economic times, easing the burden on those who are most vulnerable must be our number one priority.

All members of our congregations are being called to register online, and join us in the Food Stamp Challenge and use it as an opportunity to educate your synagogue and community.

Other food stamp challenge participants are listed after the jump.

Who else is taking the challenge?

Ask your Member of Congress to take the challenge too.