Anti-Hunger Leaders Call on Faith Values, Urge Congress to Protect and Strengthen Food Aid in Farm Bill

September 11, 2023

Washington, DC — Last week MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger joined partners from Bread for the World and Islamic Relief USA to jointly call on Congress to protect and strengthen key federal food assistance programs in the upcoming Farm Bill.

“As the Jewish community approaches the sacred time of the High Holy Days, we reflect upon injustices in our communities, including the fact that nearly 40 million Americans face the pain and indignity of hunger,” said Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO. “People of faith around the country demand effective policy solutions to address food insecurity. Our community food drives are important and meaningful, but they will never end hunger. Only our federal government has the scope and resources to do that.”

The Farm Bill, widely considered the most important piece of anti-hunger legislation, must be reauthorized by Congress every five years. Currently set to expire at the end of this month, the Farm Bill sets policies for key federal safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which serves tens of millions of Americans each year.

“It’s important for communities of faith to come together and advocate, to speak on behalf of those who are impacted by hunger,” said Minister Heather Taylor, Managing Director of Bread for the World. Minister Taylor detailed her personal experiences as a child and college student struggling with food insecurity, adding that, “If we are not able to speak to our humanity, then we have lost. We are about God’s business. We can lend a moral voice.”

Policy experts outlined several key priorities for the next Farm Bill, such as defending and maintaining the update to the Thrifty Food Plan benefit that was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, which adjusted SNAP benefits to an average of $2.03 per person per meal. Speakers also emphasized the need to support particularly vulnerable populations like Indigenous communities, military families, and the people of Puerto Rico, as well as preventing any further restrictions of harmful and ineffective work restrictions for SNAP recipients.

“During the debt ceiling showdown earlier this year, some legislators employed harmful, misleading rhetoric that sought to demonize SNAP recipients in order to enact further work restrictions,” said Josh Protas, MAZON’s Vice President of Public Policy. “Such rhetoric dissuades people from accessing food assistance and leads to real harm. The anti-hunger community is united in its commitment to protecting SNAP against any further cuts or restrictions.”

Congress made important policy adjustments during the pandemic, such as boosting SNAP benefits. However, those increases phased out earlier this year, and Congress also imposed new restrictions on SNAP beneficiaries during the debt ceiling negotiations. Congress is now deadlocked on passing an overall federal budget and avoiding a government shutdown altogether — and that also threatens to worsen hunger nationwide.

“Our nation’s policies must reflect the reality and the needs that we see on the ground in our community,” said Malek Bendelhoum, Executive Director of the Sahaba Initiative, which provides emergency food aid to food insecure families in Riverside, California and throughout San Bernardino County. He issued a plea to Members of Congress and their staff: “We can’t fight hunger ourselves. We need policy to truly affect change within our society. That’s why we ask and urge all of you to expand this year’s Farm Bill to help take care of the people who are in need in our community.”

Also last week, over 125 faith-based organizations sent a letter to congressional leadership, calling for a “faithful Farm Bill” that supports those facing food insecurity as well as all those working throughout the food and farm systems. Recognizing shared values of compassion, charity, and justice, the group’s core principles include protecting, expanding, and strengthening programs that reduce hunger, address food insecurity, and improve nutrition across the country.

Anwar Khan, President of Islamic Relief USA, offered a powerful and unifying closing prayer: “Oh Lord, help us to have effective policy solutions to fighting hunger. Oh Creator, help us to strengthen and defend the SNAP program. Oh God, help voters in rural America, and in city America, in tribal lands and all who depend on food assistance. Let us not turn our backs on them. Bring mercy into the hearts of those who turn away from the hungry. Bring spiritual strength and food to those who need food assistance. Creator, translate our prayers and thoughts into food and action.”

A recording of the full briefing can be found here.