The Other 16 Percent

The Other 16 Percent

If you’re not paying attention to the Farm Bill winding its way through Congress, you should be, especially if you care about fighting hunger in America.

The measure passed by the Senate this week includes a roughly $4 billion cut in the $80 billion federal food stamp program over the next decade. Senators passed a similar version of the farm legislation last year, but the House never voted on its own version, requiring both chambers to pass a one-year extension of existing policy.

Now the House is expected to take up its own draft legislation soon but its proposed cut to the food stamp program, known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, goes much deeper — $20 billion. It will be up to the two houses of Congress to work out a compromise.

There are nearly 50 million Americans, or 16 percent of the population, living in poverty today, including one in five children, according to the Jewish Federations of North America, which has been lobbying hard on this issue. This represents the greatest spike in poverty since the federal government began collecting such data, due largely to the recession and loss of jobs over the past several years. In Pennsylvania, one in seven residents relies on SNAP.

Advocates for the disadvantaged are taking a smart, two-pronged approach: lobbying to limit the inevitable cuts to the federal funds available for food stamps while also educating the poor about the benefits and resources that could help address their hunger and food insecurity.

In the Philadelphia region alone, according to Brian Gralnick, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s point man on these issues, there are 100,000 individuals living in the city, including 60,000 seniors, who are eligible for the SNAP program but are not currently taking advantage of these benefits.

The Federation partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger over the weekend to distribute literature that would alert citizens about how to apply for SNAP and also how to access food pantries and other food aid programs.

The Jewish tradition is steeped in concern for the hungry. From the biblical prophets to our seder tables each year, we are enjoined to remember the needy. So reach out to your lawmakers in Washington to remind them you are watching. As Mia Hubbard of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger put it while lobbying at the Capitol last year: “We like to think of government food programs as the first line of defense, and charitable food programs as the last line of defense,” she said. “Charity cannot do it alone, and we’re certain we cannot food-bank our way to the end of hunger in this country.”