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Advocates fear impact of food program cuts
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Advocates fear impact of food program cuts

Pantries feeling bite as Congress slices $400m from FEMA budget

Volunteers, from left, Jessica Singh, Jaswin Singh, and Lorraine Fisch go shopping for the Jewish Family and Children’s Service food pantry in June. Photo courtesy Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County
Volunteers, from left, Jessica Singh, Jaswin Singh, and Lorraine Fisch go shopping for the Jewish Family and Children’s Service food pantry in June. Photo courtesy Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County

Heeding a national call, New Jersey Jewish federation leaders are campaigning to overturn cuts in federal funds for food and shelter programs.

Their efforts are being spearheaded by the Jewish Federations of North America, which is urging restoration of $200 million in cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

JFNA hopes to overturn a proposed 40 percent cut in funding to the program, which “regularly comes under attack” in presidential budget proposals and congressional appropriations committees, according to Robert Goldberg, JFNA’s senior director of legislative affairs.

Jewish agencies throughout the state run kosher and nonsectarian food banks and pantries.

In 2009 and 2010, the EFSP allocation grew by nearly $200 million. As the effects of the 2007 recession eased, a cost-cutting Congress reduced the EFSP allocation from $200 million to less than $120 million. “The funding level is expected to remain flat or worse in FY 2012,” Goldberg wrote in a letter to colleagues.

“Right now, Congress is in a mood to cut discretionary spending,” said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. “Given this environment, it may be difficult to make the argument that this is a program that shouldn’t be cut.

“But in a recession, when people aren’t working, they certainly have to eat. It is counterproductive to cut this type of a program.”

While other agencies have lost funding, the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County will receive a $4,000 increase in its annual FEMA grant — previously $6,000 — for its kosher food pantry.

“We asked for an increase because our needs are increasing,” said JF&CS executive director Linda Meisel, noting that in 2010 its client list jumped from 318 to 348 — with 70 percent of them families with children and 20 percent senior citizens.

She said the $10,000 allocation will buy 400 bags of food for clients who are “just over the income eligibility level for food stamps and are marginally employed” with hourly wages or jobs with no benefits.

She said last year the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks raised $12,000 in a special one-time campaign for the food program.

“But when people see the Dow-Jones averages fall, they hold back.”

Goldberg is urging local Jewish agencies to lobby elected officials heavily.

“With a continued weak economy and up against an extremely difficult federal budgetary environment, we wanted you to be sure that we are working hard on behalf of this critical program,” he wrote.

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