Members of Congress Say Only Intense Pressure Will Force Lawmakers to Alleviate Nation’s Hunger Crisis

November 7, 2020

Members of Congress told rabbis and other religious leaders in Washington last week that only intense political pressure will generate congressional action to address rising hunger and food insecurity across the country. The legislators made the comments during the Jewish Clergy Justice Mission led by MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

“Hunger is a political condition because it will take political will to solve it. Up until this point, we haven’t demonstrated that political will,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-2nd), during a panel last week on hunger and food insecurity as part of the mission. “The day somebody starts losing the election over hunger and food insecurity is the day that people are going to start paying attention,” McGovern added. “We need grassroots pressure to get behind some of these initiatives.”

JCJM 2020 Representative Jim McGovern Panel Photo

McGovern was among several legislators who joined 75 rabbis, cantors, and rabbinical students from across the country for the third annual mission — which included meetings with nearly 60 Members of Congress and their staff. While being held remotely this year, MAZON’s mission was the largest such gathering to date.

This event came at a time of MAZON’s deepening concern that the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout means the crisis of hunger and food insecurity is growing exponentially. Another legislator speaking with the group, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9th), said reports show the problem is worsening, and visibly, with people lining up for food pantries nationwide.

“Nearly 15% of adults with children reported that their families didn’t have enough to eat in October. Compare that with last December (2019) when 1% of adults said that,” she said.

While the political will has been lacking on Capitol Hill to find solutions, organizations like MAZON working to combat hunger and food insecurity — the ability to reliably access adequate food — are raising awareness and fully focused on the crisis, Schakowsky said.

MAZON JCJM 2020 Rep. Jan Schakowsky Panel Photo

“The most important thing has been the organizing going on outside, the coalitions that are coming together for justice. There’s an enormous pressure, and it can’t be ignored anymore. God bless MAZON,” she said.

Yet McGovern said MAZON and religious leaders bring a moral voice to the issue that political leaders can’t. “There’s a role for our faith-based community. In particular, they have a moral voice that, quite honestly, I don’t have. That needs to be a focus.”

Another plenary speaker, Islamic Relief USA President Anwar Khan, said in order to fight hunger, one must seriously engage those disproportionately affected. “It’s not enough for us to say that everybody matters because historically, that hasn’t been the case. So let’s listen to our Black brothers and sisters and absorb the pain that they have. And after we listen, let’s work with them,” he said.

MAZON JCJM 2020 Plenary Panel Photo

MAZON’s clergy mission also explored the challenges of food security and food sovereignty in Indian Country. “While there are 60,000 food producers in Indian Country lands, 70 percent of Native Americans live in cities and are also impacted by the hunger crisis,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, Executive Director of IllumiNative, a MAZON partner that challenges negative images of Native Americans.

Mia Hubbard, MAZON’s Vice President of Public Policy, added that “the legacy of colonization and conquest has left deep wounds and harms on indigenous communities, and food is very much a part of that story.”

MAZON JCJM 2020 Indian Country Panel

MAZON President & CEO Abby J. Leibman said that while race, gender, employment status, and other factors all play into the hunger crisis, it’s the partnerships between political leaders, clergy, and others that will make a lasting difference.

“In these vulnerable times it’s never been more crucial that our country’s faith leaders advocate for the most vulnerable in their communities,” Leibman said. “Through strong and consistent coalition and congressional relationship-building, we’re confident we can work with state and federal lawmakers, and the new Administration, to move the needle on anti-hunger policies.”

To watch the full panels featuring Reps. McGovern and Schakowsky, please visit MAZON’s Facebook page.