What Should Food Stamps Be Able to Buy?

JSPAN Newsletter - October 7, 2011

Jewish Social Policy Action Network
In This Issue:
Newsletter: October 7, 2011
Urgent Message to JSPAN Members and Supporters
These are critical times. Many of the rights we have fought for over decades, and which we thought were secure, are now under concerted attack which, if successful, will roll the clock back on social justice more than fifty years. Legislatures across the country are enacting provisions that would severely limit a woman's right to choose an abortion and to set up a test case to challenge Roe v. Wade. As a result of the 2010 census, politicians are engaged in redistricting not to assure one person, one vote, but to secure their own positions and that of their party. The Pennsylvania General Assembly is also considering legislation that would require photo IDs in order to vote, thus disenfranchising minority and under- privileged communities, seniors, people with disabilities and students, without any serious evidence of voter fraud.

JSPAN is the preeminent organization in Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey taking action with respect to these issues from a Jewish liberal perspective. For example, JSPAN has testified before Philadelphia City Council with respect to some of the criteria for fair redistricting of councilmanic districts. It has sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sibelius congratulating her announcement of a requirement that health care plans cover several women's preventive services, including contraception and voluntary sterilization. JSPAN is presently bringing together a multi-ethnic, multi-religious coalition to make sure that if photo IDs are required for voting, both financial and logistical support will be available to those voters who will be disproportionately impacted by the need to obtain those IDs.

But JSPAN cannot wage this fight without your support. On November 21, 2011, JSPAN will present its Social Justice Award to the firm of Langer, Grogan & Diver. You can show your support for JSPAN and for the important contribution to social justice by the attorneys at Langer, Grogan & Diver by becoming a Benefactor ($2500), Patron ($1000), Sponsor ($500) or Supporter ($180). For more information, please contact our Executive Director, Ruthanne Madway (215-546-3732). Thank you in advance for your support. We look forward to seeing you on November 21st.


The Pennsylvania legislature has under active consideration legislation that would condition the right of a registered voter to vote upon the presentation of a state issued photo ID in all elections. Although the purported justification for this requirement is to prevent fraud, there is no evidence of such fraud in past elections. Moreover, data from states that already have such a requirement strongly suggest that the result is the disenfranchisement of minorities, underprivileged communities, seniors, disabled people and students. At its October 4 Board meeting, therefore, JSPAN adopted a resolution opposing any state requirement for a photo ID as a condition for voting.

Editors Note: As we prepare to abstain from food by fasting, this Yom Kippur issue of the Newsletter is devoted to the topic of food - the ethical and social policy issues related to the availability of food, what we eat, and how we obtain our food. The editors wish all our readers any easy fast, and may we all be inscribed for a year of good health and peace, and a year in which no one need go hungry.


What Should Food Stamps Be Able to Buy?
By Alfred Lubrano
Inquirer Staff Writer (Sep. 22, 2011)

Hard times are compelling 46 million Americans to use food stamps, a number up an astonishing 70 percent from four years ago. Now totaling about $65 billion a year, the recession-swelled food stamp program is drawing attention from some conservatives in Congress who wonder whether such spending should be corralled.

Part of the renewed conversation involves questions over the list of items that food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), can and cannot be used to buy.

Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes, and tobacco are forbidden. So are vitamins, any food that can be eaten in a store, pet food and toilet paper. But soft drinks, candy, cookies, and ice cream, as well as birthday cakes, are allowable.

Is that a good thing?

Many people say no. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example, believes food stamps shouldn't pay for soda, given its contribution to obesity, said to be more prevalent among the poor.

Bloomberg led a recent failed effort to preclude soft-drink purchases with food stamps. (With obesity on his mind as well, Mayor Nutter lost a two-year fight to affix a citywide tax on soft drinks.)


[read more]


Many Egg Producers still not Complying with Food-Sanitation Rules
By Mattea Kramer, Washington Post (October 1, 2011)

Two-tenths of a penny per dozen. That's what it costs Pennsylvania farmers to make eggs safer. By disinfecting henhouses, trapping rodents and testing regularly for harmful bacteria, the state's egg farmers have cut the presence of salmonella by more than half.

But egg producers in much of the rest of the country haven't followed suit. Last summer, two large Iowa producers recalled 500 million salmonella-tainted eggs - the largest egg recall in history. More than 1,900 people nationwide grew sick, causing alarm for consumers.

Millions of Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year. Michael Batz, head of food safety programs at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, calculates the cost of salmonella-contaminated eggs at $370 million a year. Salmonellosis is an infection that causes diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Batz factors in missed work, medical bills, victims' assessments of how their illness harmed them (called "quality-adjusted life") and premature deaths.


[read more]
Ganging Up on Guest Workers
Two bills in Congress would gut the H-2A visa program, replacing it with one more open to abuses.

Los Angeles Times editorial (September 23, 2011)

Getting consensus on immigration issues is hard. But few would dispute that the existing system is broken. Its failure can be seen most clearly on farms: An estimated 70% of all agricultural workers in the U.S. are here illegally.

Without undocumented workers, crops would rot in the fields. Skeptics need only consider the plight of growers in Alabama and Georgia, who say that new anti-immigrant state laws have put their harvests at risk. Latino migrant workers have fled those states because they fear being deported, and few documented workers or U.S. citizens have applied for the jobs even though they pay above minimum wage.

Nor is it difficult to understand why farmers are reluctant to use the existing guest-worker program that allows them to apply for H-2A visas for temporary foreign workers. Growers say the program is expensive and cumbersome, and requires them to predict harvest schedules and labor needs a year in advance.

This month, Congress stepped in with two proposals to address the situation, but both are deeply flawed. Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Dan Lungren (R-Gold River) have called for gutting the H-2A visa program and replacing it with one that would roll back existing labor protections for U.S. and foreign workers and make it harder to detect abuses.


[read more]


Inquirer Editorial: School Districts Ignore Importance of Nutrition (Oct. 3, 2011)
It's a shame that thousands of youngsters in New Jersey public schools are needlessly missing a chance to start their day with a nutritious breakfast. New Jersey has one of the lowest school breakfast participation rates in the country. For the 2009-10 school year, only 28.7 percent of the eligible children statewide received a free or reduced-price school breakfast.

Districts are doing a much better job with lunch, with 77.8 percent of eligible children statewide receiving meals, but there is still room for improvement. New Jersey law requires districts that have more than 20 percent of students qualifying for free- or reduced-price lunch to establish a school breakfast program. But a troubling study recently released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey found that just 4 percent of the 313 school districts required by state law to provide school breakfasts are serving between 75 and 100 percent of the eligible children.


[read more]


Somalia's Worsening Famine
New York Times editorial (September 12, 2011)

Famine has pummeled the Horn of Africa generally, but Somalia has been the hardest hit - and the situation is getting worse. Severe drought-induced scarcities of food and water would pose a daunting challenge for any nation. It is even more daunting for Somalia, where a barely functioning central government and ruthless militant groups are undermining international efforts to respond to the most devastating famine in 60 years. It is easy to be discouraged since Somalia has long been a failing state, but the international community must not give up on urgent efforts to help the innocent victims.

United Nations officials last week said tens of thousands of Somalis died over the last three or four months, more than half of them children. The famine recently spread to a sixth area of the southern part of the country, putting 750,000 more people at risk in the next few months unless aid efforts are scaled up. Experts predict the drought will end in October, but then seasonal rains could exacerbate cholera, malaria and other diseases already infecting camps in Kenya, where more than 400,000 Somali refugees have fled.


[read more]


Who Says Food Is a Human Right?
Anna Lappé, The Nation (October 3, 2011)

In 1981, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen published Poverty and Famines, challenging the common perception about the root causes of hunger. Through careful analysis of hunger in India, Bangladesh and Saharan countries from the 1940s onward, Sen documented that famines had occurred amid ample food supply, even in some countries exporting food. His conclusion-radical at the time-was that famine is not a crisis of productivity but a crisis of power. Ten years earlier, in her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, my mother, Frances Moore Lappe, put forward a similarly heretical notion: on a planet that produces more than enough calories to make us all chubby, hunger's root cause is clearly not a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.

Forty years later, the debate about the roots of hunger, and therefore the most effective solutions, persists. Yet, an idea once heretical-that to address hunger we must talk about democracy, power and human rights-is now gaining traction. Perhaps the most important figure helping to integrate the notion of the right to food into global policy-making is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter. In his role, De Schutter helps governments identify how to best address these complex roots of food insecurity. Through country missions-like recent ones to Mexico, China, Syria and Madagascar-De Schutter documents best practices and shares these ideas in reports and recommendations to governments and the United Nations General Assembly.

[read more]


Challot in the Holy Ark

In the year 1502, a man named Jacobo, and his wife Esperanza, came to settle in the city of Tzfat, high on a mountain, in the holy land of Israel. Jacobo and Esperanza had been born in Spain, but in 1492, Spain expelled all her Jews. Jacobo and Esperanza, then young and strong, traveled from Spain to Salonika in Greece, where they lived for several years. There they heard of the great rabbi, Isaac Luria, who was known as the Ari, who led the Jews of Tzfat, a community steeped in kabbalah, the mystical teachings. Rabbi Luria taught that God is hidden and mysterious, but can be seen in the actions of those on earth who acknowledge God's creative power and seek to obey God's will. And so, in Salonika, Esperanza and Jacobo boarded a ship and sailed for Eretz Yisrael.

In Tzfat, they found a community of Jews dedicated to serving God, but struggling to feed themselves. One Shabbat, the rabbi, an elderly man, taught the congregation that when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, before it was destroyed by the Romans, God was offered 12 loaves of bread each week just prior to Shabbat. Jacobo was a simple man, whose honesty, integrity, and kindness far exceeded his learning. He did not understand much of what the rabbi had said, but did remember about the loaves, so when he arrived home, he told Esperanza, "Next Friday morning, let us bake 12 loaves of challah. The rabbi taught this morning that God loves challah for Shabbat. I will bring them to the synagogue and give them to God."

Now Esperanza was a wonderful baker, and Jacobo was filled with joy at the thought that he and his wife would be able to please God in this manner. That week, they baked the finest 12 loaves of challah they had ever made. They kneaded the dough with love, expressing their awe of God and their love of mitzvot through their efforts.

When the loaves came out of the oven and had cooled, Jacobo carefully packed them in a burlap sack, hoisted them onto his shoulder, and headed for the synagogue. When he arrived in the synagogue, he looked around to be certain that no one saw him, then tiptoed to the Holy Ark. Opening the Ark doors and placing the loaves of challah in the Holy Ark, Jacobo whispered, "Senor Dios, I have brought You the challah You love so much. My Esperanza and I made it just for You. Tomorrow, on Shabbat morning, when they open the Ark to take out the Sefer Torah, I am going to look to see if they are gone -- every crumb -- so we will know that You like our gift." With that, Jacobo closed the Ark, drew the curtain closed across it, and tiptoed out of the synagogue.

No sooner had he left, than the shammes entered the room to sweep the floor and prepare the synagogue for Shabbat. When his eye caught sight of the Holy Ark, he put down his broom and approached it. "Lord," he prayed, "I don't ask for much. You know I am not paid for being the shammes of the synagogue. I do this job out of love for You and the Holy Torah. But my children are hungry. I need food for them. Even if the people of Tzfat cannot pay me, perhaps You can feed my children, Lord." It was then that the shammas noticed the enticing aroma of warm bread emanating from the Ark. Impulsively, he took a step forward and opened it. Gasping, he exclaimed, "My Lord, a miracle! I knew You would feed my children, just as we pray ha-maycheen mazon le-chol b'riotav. Oh, thank you, Lord, thank you so much!"


[read more]


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