Can You Live On $4.50 Per Day? Some Rabbis Will Try, But They Won't Be Haredi Or From YU.
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The JTA reports that rabbis and cantors from across America have agreed to spend no more than $31.50 per week ($4.50 per day) per person for food and beverages in the third year of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge. $31.50 is the amount of money allocated per week for individuals on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that is more commonly known as Food Stamps.
Participants in the challenge follow rules that include keeping receipts for all food and drinks purchased; calculating food costs for everything consumed, even if purchased before the challenge; and avoiding free food, including food at parties and coffee and tea at the office.
By following those rules and limiting the money spent on food and drinks to no more than $31.50 per week, participants discover how difficult it is for the poor and working poor to get enough to eat and adequate nutrition.
Many previous participants have reported becoming lethargic, having difficulty concentrating, eating little or no fresh fruits and vegetables or animal protein, and always being hungry.
The rabbis and cantors, who cover the gamut of Jewish affiliations except for Orthodoxy (the only Orthodox group participating is Uri L’Tzedek, the small, left-wing Orthodox social action nonprofit), are asked to donate the money they normally would have spent on food to local food banks or anti-hunger advocacy organizations.
They will also educate their congregations about hunger.
Hunger and food insecurity are “rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood…[The challenge] is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community’s deep commitment to help those in need,” Rabbi Leonard Gordon, who is the co-chair of the challenge, told the JTA.
The problem, however, is that the Jewish community’s commitment to help people in need is not “deep.” In many areas of the country, it doesn’t even exist. Needy people are shunted off to county welfare offices. Food shelves and soup kitchens are run by Christian religious organizations like Catholic Charities or by secular groups.
Most Jewish communities have no housing support for those in need.
New York City, which houses the country’s largest Jewish community, does better. Even so, food support is minimal and housing support is almost nonexistent.
The city’s haredi communities have their own food shelves and soup kitchens which, in theory (but much less so in practice) will serve anyone in need. Most of these organizations get some support from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which in turn receives help from the city, state and federal governments and New York City’s Jewish Federation.
Haredim who are poor have better access to benefits and services through haredi-run organizations that are often funded by the government to serve a neighborhood or a geographic area (but which in practice serve haredim almost exclusively), or through specific haredi organizations that receive government support but which exist to serve the haredi community. These organizations receive food and food vouchers from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which may also channel government grants to them.
What this means is that poor haredim in New York City may often be more insulated from the effects of poverty than poor non-haredim are.
But that is not really true for other Jewish poor in the city, who have access to lesser support directly from the Met Council or from its affiliates.
Outside New York City and its suburbs few Jewish anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs exist.
The bottom line here, which may not be as clear to haredim as it is to others, is that Food Stamps alone do not provide enough support for people to eat in a way that they will stay well and function optimally.
And that will be even more true over the next 12 months as food prices rise sharply in response to this summer’s drought.
To understand what that will mean for America’s poor and working poor, try to live on $4.50 per day for all your food and beverages for three consecutive days. See how hungry you are, and how little protein and fresh produce you eat. And then realize that in a few months, that $4.50 will buy about 20%-25% less food. And if the government cuts Food Stamps – something Paul Ryan wants to do – that $4.50 per day may drop to $3.00 per day, or even less. Could you live on $3.00 in food and drinks per day now? So how in the world will people do it when food costs rise?
Since we don’t have three consecutive days available to do this until after Sukkot and Simchat Torah, do it for two days, this coming Sunday and Monday, so it doesn’t get pushed off and forgotten. You won’t be as hungry at the end of day two as you would have been at the end of day three, and you be as sluggish, but you’ll still get an idea of what poverty is like.