January 19, 2017

Statement: MAZON Dismayed by Nomination of Governor Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary

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Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, released this statement today in response to the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Governor Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture:

“While we have serious concerns about decisions made during Sonny Perdue’s two terms as governor of Georgia, we welcome the opportunity to work with him to become a strong supporter of federal nutrition assistance programs. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is a critical cabinet appointment, particularly for millions of Americans struggling with food insecurity. Fifteen federal nutrition assistance programs are under its purview, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest and most impactful anti-hunger initiative in the nation. Together, these programs improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans, from low-income children, families and seniors to residents in rural communities and Indian Country, as well as veterans and currently serving military families.

That’s why it is crucial to have a Secretary of Agriculture who is a strong advocate for strengthening and improving our federal nutrition assistance programs — not weakening or dismantling them. As a faith-based organization, we look to our leaders to champion the best in American values, and that includes helping those most vulnerable in society.

Under Governor Perdue’s leadership, Georgia had a dismal record in addressing poverty. When unemployment rates soared as a result of the Great Recession, the state seemed more concerned about shrinking the TANF rolls than providing needed assistance to help residents who were struggling to make ends meet. The failures of the 1996 federal welfare reform law and its block granting of what is now TANF serve as a cautionary tale for the irreparable harm that could happen should the structure of SNAP be altered.

As Secretary of Agriculture, we have to hope that Governor Perdue will show more consideration toward the millions of Americans experiencing hunger and poverty.

SNAP and the other federal nutrition assistance programs make a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans struggling to put enough nutritious food on the table. We cannot rely on charity alone to solve the problem of hunger as the charitable and faith community sectors are struggling to meet current levels of need and are not able to fill the gaps created by harmful cuts to these programs. 

The vital role of federal nutrition assistance programs, and the frightening prospect of deep cuts to them, is best articulated by the actual voices of those in need. MAZON’s “This Is Hunger” multimedia exhibit offers a powerful and personal way to understand the painful reality of hunger in our country. We extend an invitation to Governor Perdue to tour this community engagement program with MAZON leaders when it arrives in Washington, D.C. in February to gain a deeper understanding about hunger and the role of programs such as SNAP in addressing it. 

We thank outgoing Secretary Tom Vilsack for his service. Throughout his term, Secretary Vilsack set an exemplary standard for leadership of the USDA by balancing the federal nutrition programs with other agency priorities, including agricultural production, food safety, conservation and rural communities. Continued cohesion of these diverse interests will be essential in helping to advance passage of a comprehensive and robust Farm Bill, due to be reauthorized in 2018.

We urge the next Secretary of Agriculture to follow Secretary Vilsack’s example by leading an agriculture department that furthers the interests of all Americans.”