Washington, DC -- U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY) today applauded the enactment of their amendment to ensure that kosher and halal food pantries receive an adequate supply of food for hungry families as part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Included in the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, or the FARM bill, signed by President Obama on Friday, the Gillibrand-Crowley amendment requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target, label, and track distribution of kosher and halal food to make certain that appropriate meals are directed toward the food banks that need them 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 choose between deeply-held religious beliefs and putting food on the table," said Congressman Crowley. "Yet, oversights in current law have meant that many food banks in New York and elsewhere have struggled to meet the demand from families with religious dietary restrictions, making it difficult for these families to get the food they need. I am proud to have worked with Senator Gillibrand on a law that creates simple, common-sense solutions to support our food banks on the front lines and help them to address the needs of all the populations they serve."
"Met Council thanks Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley, who while tirelessly fighting against the Farm Bill's unconscionable cuts to SNAP, also recognized that, far too often, many food insecure New Yorkers are forced to make the impossible choice between feeding their family and observing their religion. Through their advocacy and leadership on the Kosher/Halal amendment, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley made great strides toward eliminating that inconceivable hardship for millions of Americans. The amendment will ensure that, at no additional cost to the taxpayer, the maximum amount of food procured from manufacturers meets the needs of Jewish and Muslim New Yorkers who are food insecure," said David M. Frankel, CEO and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. "More than one-half million Jewish New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity each and every day. To address this growing crisis, Met Council has developed the nation's largest kosher food pantry, each month providing food packages for 15,000 households -- regardless of their religious affiliation."
An estimated 330,000 Jewish households in New York City and 300,000 Muslim households in the tri-state area live in poverty, including large numbers of children living in these households that are struggling to get by.
Currently, the USDA purchases some kosher and halal foods under TEFAP but does not make a deliberate effort to do so, nor to label it as kosher or halal on the list of available food for food bank operators to review. As a result, the USDA has trouble ensuring those meals end up in kosher- or halal-specific pantries and communities. The Gillibrand-Crowley provision will boost TEFAP's ability to provide kosher and halal meals by requiring the USDA to target and purchase kosher and halal food from certified manufacturers in cost-effective ways. To further ensure these foods get to the food banks and the individuals who need them, the USDA will now track this food through the distribution process, as well as improve the labeling of the program's food list, so that when TEFAP has purchased kosher and halal food, food bank operators are able to identify which food options are best for their community.
In 2012 and again in 2013, Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley introduced similar language in the form of a bill in both chambers of Congress. Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Crowley have been strong advocates in the fight against hunger, opposing cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, which allow low-income households to buy food, including kosher and halal products.