State Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) announced that they agreed to take the “Food Stamp Challenge,” an anti-hunger initiative being sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Appearing at the CRC Legislative Breakfast held May 30 in Whippany, the lawmakers agreed to take on the challenge of living on the average food stamp benefit of $29.40 a week from Sept. 8 to 14 in order to raise awareness and help find a bipartisan solution to hunger in New Jersey.
“I applaud the CRC for taking on the war against hunger,” said Lesniak. “I believe we have lost the American Way. Hunger is now a growing problem not addressed in New Jersey or Washington, DC. The problem of obesity is because so many people can only afford cheap food that supplies calories, not nutrition.”
Kean agreed, saying that more needs to be done to educate people about nutrition. He suggested that the CRC help ensure that urban communities have access to fresh produce through urban gardens and other means.
Ending hunger is a priority of the federation and its partner agencies, in a state where 14 percent of the state’s population is considered food insecure; of that group, only 55 percent qualify for state and federal assistance.
The CRC will be inviting legislators and community members to take the challenge; Assembly members Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and John McKeon (D-Essex), who also attended the breakfast, have also agreed to participate. As of Nov. 1, 2014, all households eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see an average cut of $36 per month as a result of the cuts to the Food Stamp program under the new federal Farm Bill.
Attendees at the breakfast also discussed the connections between SNAP and LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), which provides additional SNAP benefits to households that qualify for home heating subsidies.
With that “Heat & Eat” program also threatened by changes in the Farm Bill, Tom Beck, the executive director of the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, urged the legislators to cosponsor a bill that would enable LIHEAP recipients to maintain their eligibility for “Heat & Eat.”
Sen. Lesniak supports a budget resolution that would allocate funds to increase the minimum LIHEAP benefit and ensure that 177,000 needy families in New Jersey do not lose $90 per month in SNAP benefits.
Reuben Rotman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, spoke about a recent grant from the anti-hunger group Mazon for a project to raise awareness about SNAP among people age 50 and older. JFS MetroWest is one of 13 Jewish family service agencies nationwide participating in the initiative.
Other issues on the agenda included countering the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, the status of NJ-based Iran sanctions legislation, and serving vulnerable seniors and those with special needs.
“People with special needs still face discrimination as both children and adults,” said Linda Press, executive director of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled. “For children, we want to make sure they have the right supports so they can be included in community life. For adults, employment opportunities and access to affordable, accessible, and supportive housing are lacking and obstacles are financial and attitudinal, as well as policy-based.”
Press said there are more than 8,000 individuals said to be on the state waiting list for supervised, supportive housing. “I think we all know that the reality is much higher,” she said.
She urged legislators to support a special education bill that would allow students who cannot receive the education services they require in their own districts to be allowed to go to any accredited school. Currently, such students may not be sent to nonpublic schools. Press also requested support for NJ Assembly Resolution 75, which calls on the United States Senate to ratify the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“We believe that these legislative breakfasts are very useful programs that give us an opportunity to share with legislators issues of great concern to the Jewish community and engage in discussion on their positions and strategies to address them,” said Ken Rotter, CRC government affairs cochair. “We also learn about priority areas of concern to legislators that they would like the Jewish community to focus on, and foster positive working relationships on areas of mutual concern.”
To learn more about how to participate in the Food Stamp Challenge or about the legislation discussed at the CRC legislative breakfast, visit www.jfedgmw.org/crc or contact 973-929-3064.