JSPAN Newsletter 4/4/14

JSPAN Newsletter - April 4, 2014

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: April 4, 2014
JSPAN 2014 Haggadah Supplement Available Now
JSPAN announces its fifth annual Haggadah Supplement, titled "A Passage to Equality." The theme, overcoming inequality of opportunity, is also the primary subject of our social action programming for the year.

The Passover story is a passage from slavery to equality, and the Haggadah Supplement seeks to provide additional relevance to the story with modern prayers and readings. The readings take up the meaning of Zdakah, how we address poverty and economic inequality as a society, women's rights issues, and other modern conditions that impact lives. The Haggadah Supplement provides fresh ideas and opportunities for discussion at your Seder table.

The Supplement is a 12-page booklet, including photos, and may be downloaded and viewed or printed in full page or booklet size, at the links below.

  • The Supplement is a 12-page booklet, including photos. In order to download and view or print the booklet as a.pdf, click here.
Thanks to Ken Myers, JSPAN Vice President, for producing this year's Haggadah Supplement. (Ed.)


From Farm to Seder Table: Locally Grown Matzah on the Rise
Talia Lavin
(March 25, 2014)

NEW YORK - In their small farmhouse bakery in Vermont, Doug Freilich and Julie Sperling work round the clock producing matzah in the period preceding Passover - a matzah that feels ancient and modern at once.

Using a mix of grain they grow on their own farm and wheat sourced from other local farmers, the couple creates hundreds of pieces of the wholesome unleavened bread they call Vermatzah.

"The idea came because of our initial interest in growing grains, looking at them from the harvest to the baking in a very simple sense, and highlighting grains that have good flavor," Freilich said. "We celebrate our own Passover each year, we go through the matzah-making ritual for both the spring awakening and remembering the storytelling of this holiday."


[read more]



Should We Care About Inequality? Let's Ask *Another* Philosopher
David Stasavage
Washington Post
(March 31, 2014)

In his Monkey Cage post of March 28, David Williams answers this question by using the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As a firm believer that commercial societies would witness an inexorable increase in inequality, Rousseau in his "Discourse on Political Economy" wrote of the corrupting influence of inequality and "luxury" and of the need to levy taxes on the rich to curb the problem. Rousseau's stance has obvious relevance for the problems we face in the U.S. today with inequality on the rise and many calling for government to use the tax system to do something about it.



Saint-Lambert was among the first to move the debate in a new direction. He suggested that luxury itself was not the problem; what mattered was how luxury was generated. If luxury was earned thanks to institutionalized privilege, or by those who had gamed the system, then it would inevitably have a corrupting influence. The effects for the nation would be disastrous. In Saint-Lambert's own words:

When wealth is acquired without work or through abuses, the newly wealthy promptly enjoy their quick fortunes, and right away they get used to idleness and frivolous pursuits. They become odious to the majority of their fellow citizens to whom they have been preferred unjustly, and whose enrichment they have prevented.



[read more]


Who Cares About the Value of Work?
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Washington Post
(March 30, 2014)

Finding a way out of our current political impasse requires some agreement on what problems we need to solve. If anything should unite left, center and right, it is the value of work and the idea, in Bill Clinton's signature phrase, that those who "work hard and play by the rules" ought to be rewarded for their efforts.

This is why one of last week's most important and least noted political events was the introduction of the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray favors a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour, but she also has other ideas that would help Americans at the bottom of the income structure to earn more.


[read more]



Mississippi Can't Afford Food
Eleanor Goldberg
The Huffington Post

Twenty-five percent of Mississippi residents struggled to afford food last year -- more so than any other state -- a new Gallup report found.

For the sixth straight year, Mississippians were the most likely to have problems putting food on the table, according to the report. Those who revealed that they've been struggling said that there was at least one point in the past year when they didn't have enough funds to buy the nourishment they or their families needed.

But the second two hungriest states didn't trail that far behind. In both Louisiana and West Virginia, 23 percent of residents said that they, too, couldn't afford the groceries they needed.

Nationwide, America is facing slightly more hunger issues now than it did since the last report was released. Last year, 18.9 percent of Americans said they struggled to afford food, compared with 18.2 percent in 2012.



[read more]



Mortgage Tax Breaks Trickle Up, New Study Shows
Benefits said to help wealthier people acquire larger homes more than boost ownership

Nick Timiraos
The Wall Street Journal
( March 24, 2014)

Federal tax benefits for homeowners primarily help wealthier people borrow more money to buy larger houses rather than boost homeownership, according to a new study.

The ZIP Code-level analysis of Internal Revenue Service data, conducted by a team of economists for the right-leaning R Street Institute, examined how tax benefits are distributed across income levels and major metropolitan areas. The study estimates that tax preferences, particularly the mortgage-interest deduction, have helped drive up the size of houses by as much as 18% in the nation's most affluent areas while not broadly encouraging people to buy homes.



[read more]


The Plot to Cut Food Stamps, Foiled
The Editorial Board
The New York Times
(March 20, 2014)

The Republican Party has spent years stigmatizing the food stamp program while trying to cut benefits or make them harder to get. In last month's farm bill, conservative lawmakers thought they had imposed an $8 billion cut in the program. In the last few weeks, though, it has become clear that that cut isn't going to materialize, thanks to a few states more generous than Congress. And this has infuriated a party that doesn't believe that poor families should get public assistance in buying groceries.

The cut involved the so-called heat-and-eat program, in which food stamp benefits are increased for those who qualify for a small amount of state heating assistance so that they do not have to choose between heat and food. Several states were providing only a token amount of fuel aid, as little as $1 a year, to prompt the extra benefits of $90 or so a month, and many lawmakers saw that as gaming the system.

So negotiators on the farm bill agreed that states would have to pay a minimum of $20 a year in fuel aid to prompt the benefits. Republicans thought this would save more than $8 billion over a decade, because they assumed the states wouldn't want to pay $20. Democrats went along because it was better than the original Republican plan to cut $40 billion from food stamps. But to the shock of Republicans, at least eight states decided to do the right thing and raise their heating-aid payments to $20. New York and Connecticut were first, followed by Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts, Vermont and Montana. Even Gov. Tom Corbett, Republican of Pennsylvania, agreed to go along.

[read more]


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JSPAN Officers
Deborah Weinstein

Judah Labovitz
Vice President

Richard I. Malkin
M.D., Vice President

Kenneth R. Myers
Vice President

Burt Siegel
Vice President

Jay Meadway

David Gutin
Assistant Treasurer

Joanna Klein

Jeffrey Pasek
Policy Center Chair

Stewart Weintraub
General Counsel

Rabbi George Stern
Executive Director

Irwin Aronson
Susan Bolno
Adam Bonin
Hon. Ruth Damsker
William Epstein
Brian Gralnick
Margot Horwitz
Adrienne Jacoby Ph.D.
Hon. Babette Josephs
Nathan Kleinman
Marlena Kleit
Ruth Laibson
Theodore Mann
Adena Potok
Audrey Ann Ross
J. Sanford Schwartz M.D.
Dan Segal
Marc Stier Ph.D.
Rabbi David Straus
Ilene Wasserman Ph.D.
Lynn G. Zeitlin
Jill Katz Zipin
Gail Zukerman

Judah Labovitz
Ken Myers
Deborah Weinstein

Ira Goldberg




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