Alleviating Hunger and Food Insufficiency

Jewish tradition teaches us that we must feed the hungry. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges … you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger.” (Lev. 23:22)  “Whenever you give food to the poor, G-d accounts it to you as if you gave food to G-d.” (Midrash Tannaim on Num. 28:2) The Haggadah, the story of our people’s journey from slavery to freedom, enjoins us to open our doors and “[l]et all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need come share our Passover.”  For where there is hunger there can be no freedom.


Hunger is a problem that affects people of all ages, but is a particularly devastating problem for children.  Recent research establishes that malnutrition during early childhood impairs proper development of the nervous system and causes lasting emotional and cognitive problems.  Poor nutrition at any age has adverse effects on cognitive abilities including problem-solving, concentration, and organizing memories.  Those who are hungry often are not productive learners and workers in our society.  Hunger and food insufficiency reduce productivity, increase costly absenteeism and illness, diminish our GDP and burden our economic system.[1]  In the elderly, malnutrition contributes to the onset of illness and spread of disease in typically compromised immune systems.  Thus, there is both a moral and an economic imperative to address this problem.


In 2007, over 36 million Americans,[2] including over 12.6 million children,[3] met the definition of food insecurity.[4]  11.9 million households (up 40% since 2000) are in the worst-off category of very insecure (the hungriest).  Black and Hispanic households experience hunger in far higher numbers (over 20%).[5]  In 2008 the U.S. had a vast increase in unemployment and skyrocketing food prices.    In our present economic crisis, food banks and community food pantries are reporting vastly increased demand over last year and critically inadequate supplies.[6]  No one should have to choose between purchasing adequate food and purchasing medicine.


Internationally, a world conference of nations twice (in 1996 and again in 2002) set a goal of reducing world hunger and food insufficiency by one-half by 2015, but no effective action has been taken.[7]  There are numerous urgent crises requiring us to join with others to strengthen the programs supplying food for the 825 million hungry people in over 100 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceana, and elsewhere; to help people, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, improve agricultural methods and supplies so that the scourge of perpetual hunger and food insufficiency will be substantially reduced, and to respond effectively and in coalitions to the numerous present and future food crises caused by war, other conflicts and natural disasters.[8]  Recently these problems have been exacerbated by rapidly escalating food prices, , and the global economic recession and by uncoordinated measures taken by individual countries to hoard crops and restrain food prices.   


There are numerous effective federal nutrition programs designed to alleviate domestic hunger: the School Breakfast Program (SBP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Summer Nutrition and Food Service Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Elderly Nutrition Program (ENP) (includes Meals on Wheels), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) (resources to assist afterschool, homeless, and preschool programs in using the child nutrition programs), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Community Food and Nutrition Program (CFNP).[9]  Some of these are entitlement programs (e.g. SNAP) and others (e.g. WIC) cover those eligible only until the amount appropriated for that program in a given fiscal year is exhausted.  Hunger is caused principally by poverty.  Not surprisingly then, in addition to these specific nutrition programs,  improved economic policies such as increasing the minimum wage, broadening the earned income tax credit (EITC), providing a Child Tax Credit, and, in the current economic crisis, expanding the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program are among the most effective means to alleviate hunger.[10]  There are also special programs for homeless children and youth, legal immigrants, and senior citizens to access SNAP and other assistance.


Our federal government’s excellent nutrition programs suffer from woefully deficient participation and only reach a fraction of the people who need them because of repeated substantial under-funding, unnecessarily burdensome administrative rules, confusing eligibility provisions that lack coordination with other agencies, and inadequate implementation in many states.  It is estimated that one in three eligible urban families does not receive SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, and the same poor participation rate is true for seniors across the country.[11]  One in five eligible children does not receive food stamps, and the amount of food received even by those who do is not adequate for proper nutrition.[12]  Infants and toddlers in a food insecure household are 30 times more likely to have been hospitalized during the first three years of life, and 90 percent more likely to be in poor health.  State WIC and SNAP agencies are struggling to meet escalating caseloads and need increased administrative and benefit funding.  Fortunately, the current administration has established two interlocking goals: to eliminate child hunger by 2015 and to reduce poverty by one-half in 10 years.  Important steps in fulfilling these promises would be expanded coverage and improved food quality (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables) in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2009 and inclusion of increased temporary funding for SNAP (Food Stamps), TEFAP (food banks), and child nutrition programs, including WIC, in an economic stimulus program as soon as possible.


Therefore the JCPA calls upon the federal government to:

  • Significantly strengthen and expand the federal nutrition assistance programs at a level that will move over 36 million Americans, including well over 12.6 million children, out of food insecurity and stimulate economic growth across the country. Prompt enactment of an improved Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2009 is imperative.


  • Substantially streamline rules and enrollment processes and increase, creative outreach efforts and administrative improvements for program sponsors at state and community levels. These changes must be addressed to all programs, to improve the participation of low-income families and seniors in SNAP, of seniors in ENP, of mothers and young children in WIC, of school age children in School Breakfast, Lunch and Out-of-School Time programs, of schools in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.


  • Encourage the planting of self-help fruit and vegetable gardens, such as community gardens and home gardens (21st century “victory gardens”).


  • Respond to periods of economic crisis by temporarily boosting benefits as well as support for states to prevent cuts in their vital support systems. In addition to improved access, we call upon the federal government to increase funding for assistance programs in order to improve the nutritional quality of meals in a time of rising food costs.


  • Mandate appropriate and sufficient reimbursements, national nutrition standards, and provide nutrition education funding.


  • Take the lead in cooperation with other countries and international and non-governmental organizations to reform the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) so that donor countries’ policies are not improperly favored, expand emergency responses and humanitarian assistance to food- insufficient peoples; eliminate unilateral producer-country export bans and restrictions; as necessary and appropriate; support and encourage fast-impact and sustained agriculture programs in key areas; review and revise biofuel policies;as necessary to reduce or eliminate their pressure on food prices; and complete the current, deadlocked round of the World Trade Organizations’ negotiations concerning agricultural commodities and exports.[13]


The community relations field should:

  • Educate the Jewish community, the general public and public officials on hunger and food insufficiency needs and solutions among children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and other at-risk populations in the U.S. and internationally.


  • Urge the federal administration and Congress to implement plans and take the actions indicated above to alleviate food insufficiency generally and eliminate child hunger in the U.S. by 2015 and, where appropriate, urge each state to fully implement these programs.


  • Participate in coalitions with other local, state, and national faith, community, humanitarian, and non-governmental organizations, and engage political and community leaders to alleviate hunger and food insufficiency through education, service, advocacy and action.

[1] Pathways From Brain Research To Policy (U.S. House of Representatives 3/1/2008)

[2] 12.2% of Americans, over 13 million households in 2007.  The number has risen rapidly since 2007 due to the economic crisis, housing foreclosures, rising unemployment, and increased prices for food and medicine.

[3] In 2006.

[4] Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources.  See

[5] FRAC,

[6] E.g. St. Louis Jewish Light, November 12, 2008, pp. 1, 13  The Jewish Food Pantry reported a 61% increase in demand since 2007.  See also St. Louis Jewish Light, November 19, 2008, pp. 1, 4 (reporting “critical shortages” in more detail)

[7] 2002 World Food Summit, see “International Alliance Against Hunger”.

[8] See, citing many FAO publications.

[9] For information on the nature and utilization of these programs see Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) or Bread for the World

[10] FRAC, and listing programs such as EITC as federal programs to alleviate hunger:  See also, Obama-Biden “Tackling Domestic Hunger”  at p. 2.

[11] FRAC report. .

[12] Pathways From Brain Research To Policy (U.S. House of Representatives 3/1/2008)  at p.6.  Also stating that “Infants and toddlers in a ‘food insecure’ household are 30 times more likely to have been hospitalized during the first three years of life, and 90 percent more likely to be in poor health.”

[13] Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N., report,