Rabbi Saperstein: "As you enter the final week of negotiations before the November 23rd deadline, we agree we must address our growing national debt and stagnant economy, but we must do so in a way that lives up to the highest aspirations of our society to ensure the well-being of all Americans."
WASHINGTON, DC, November 18th, 2011 -- Yesterday, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, sent a letter to the chairs and members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction urging them to protect anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs vital to the well-being of the vulnerable in American society. The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Senator Murray and Representative Hensarling,
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis, I write out of deep concern for the most vulnerable Americans who will be impacted by the work of the deficit reduction panel that you lead. As you enter the final week of negotiations before the November 23rd deadline, we agree we must address our growing national debt and stagnant economy, but we must do so in a way that lives up to the highest aspirations of our society to ensure the well-being of all Americans.
In the Jewish tradition, there is no more urgent moral command than the demand for economic justice as a founding principle of society - to protect and uplift the poor and the weak, to reach out to the stranger, and to build a community that strives for a time when "there shall be no poor among you" (Deuteronomy 15:4). We are taught in Deuteronomy 15:7, 8: "If however there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that God the Eternal is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman. Rather, you must open your hand and lend him sufficient for whatever he needs." The rabbis remind us that "sufficient for whatever he needs" implies we are commanded to maintain him at the level he is at, neither making him rich nor allowing him to fall into poverty. These texts and teachings continue to inspire us and our commitment to assisting those who are struggling.
Today, more than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line. The Department of Agriculture reported recently that in 2010, 17.2 million American households were food insecure. The rate of food insecurity among households with children was 20.2 percent. Anti hunger programs are clearly essential, particularly for children and teens whose development is significantly and negatively impacted by poor nutrition and by the gnawing hunger that often prevents them from concentrating in school. For this reason, cuts to anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, school breakfast and lunch programs, and more would further imperil millions of Americans.
In addition, many of these programs are valuable economic stimuli. In August, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted that every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in economic activity. There is bipartisan agreement that the best way to reduce the deficit is via economic growth. To cut programs that help spur economic growth, then, would be to undermine the goal of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction: fostering a healthy economy.
Other programs, specifically Medicare and Medicaid, are similarly vital to the well being of millions of Americans. Damaging cuts that alter the ability of these programs to provide a safety net to the elderly, disabled, children and others would also be detrimental to our national well-being. Indeed, both the Bowles-Simpson report and past deficit reduction packages have recognized the importance of refraining from cuts to means-tested programs. The Bowles-Simpson proposal was explicit in stating that deficit reduction must "protect the truly disadvantaged."
We recognize the challenges inherent in the work of the Joint Select Committee. We believe that government must be balanced in its approach to any problem, reflecting the American spirit of compromise and the pursuit of the common good. We urge that a balanced approach be taken by the Joint Select Committee, employing both new revenues and cuts to meet the overarching goal of deficit reduction.
We thank you for your service, and look forward to working with you on these challenging issues that will shape our nation for generations to come.
Rabbi David Saperstein