U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY) today announced legislation they introduced in both chambers of Congress to ensure that kosher food pantries receive adequate supply of food for hungry families as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). With an estimated 117,000 Jewish households in New York City living in poverty, the lawmakers' legislation requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target, label, and track distribution of kosher food to make certain that more meals are directed toward kosher food banks that need it the most.
"With food insecurity in New York reaching disturbing, historic highs and food banks facing extreme shortages of kosher meals, many families are at risk of hunger and malnutrition," said Senator Gillibrand. "We must take steps to help the neediest observant families and children get access to nutritious food during these difficult times."
"No one should ever have to struggle to put food on the table, but unfortunately, too many New York families find themselves in that very position," said Congressman Crowley. "New York's food banks are on the frontlines of helping our neighbors in need, and we must do all we can to help support and sustain these critical resources. One way is by making it easier for these food banks to provide kosher meals and food items, and our legislation will do just that to help them to better meet the needs of the communities they serve."
"The Department of Agriculture's food assistance programs are critical to many food banks across the country, but they do not account for the dietary restrictions of many food-insecure individuals who abide by religious dietary laws," said Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty CEO William E. Rapfogel. "Food insecure individuals with religious dietary restrictions have limited access to the food they so desperately need and are entitled to. These modest changes would greatly increase access to Kosher and Hallal food for Met Council and organizations across the country without causing any additional outlays. We are grateful for Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley's advocacy and support for this effort."
According to the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, over 500,000 poor or near-poor people in Jewish households citywide are struggling to get by, including a huge portion of Jewish children living in poverty.
Currently, the USDA purchases some kosher foods under TEFAP but does not track or label them to ensure those meals end up in kosher-specific pantries and communities. Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley authored legislation that would boost kosher meals for TEFAP and that would establish a system to monitor and account for the dietary restrictions of food-insecure individuals who can only eat kosher food due to their religious beliefs. The bill would require the USDA to target and purchase cost-effective kosher food from certified manufacturers as well as monitor and label the meals as such for local kosher food banks.
Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand pushed the federal government to help New York City food banks, many which are experiencing shortages of kosher food, to provide meals and nutrition to observant seniors and families by making sure they receive the maximum kosher food allotment from TEFAP.
Senator Gillibrand has led the fight in the U.S. Senate in opposing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which allow low-income households, including kosher families, to buy food. Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley will continue to urge Congress not to tighten its fiscal belt on the backs of families and children facing a constant struggle against hunger.