After 3 years of partisan squabbling, the U.S. Senate followed the House and passed a landmark FARM Bill. The measure will now go to the president for his signature. Among its many provisions is one of particular relevance to the Jewish needy who keep kosher dietary laws.
The legislation calls on the Secretary of Agriculture to implement a plan that increases the purchase of certified kosher and halal foods in the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a major program to alleviate hunger. It also calls for new labeling that will allow entities that participate in the program — such as food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens — to better identify kosher and halal foods.
“This is a vital step forward for addressing the needs of the Jewish poor,” noted Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director. “It will make kosher food more identifiable, available and accessible to the food entities that serve those persons entitled to TEFAP assistance.” Agudath Israel and other groups have worked on the issue with the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) championed the provision on Capitol Hill.
Jewish social service agencies have observed that the number of needy families within the Jewish community is substantial and, in some cities, on the increase. A large percentage of these families rely on TEFAP-supported food centers to help satisfy their hunger and receive the basic nutrition they require. A unique problem exists, however, for the many thousands of Jews who observe kosher dietary laws.
There is a serious shortage of kosher-certified foods within TEFAP and, when these items do make it into the system, they do not always reach the individuals who need them. This is because food centers are not always able to identify and, consequently, select kosher certified items for their food or menu offerings.
“Those in the kosher-observant community who are eligible for this vital assistance clearly suffer a distinct disadvantage, and this legislation will go far in addressing that disadvantage,” noted Rabbi Cohen. “It accommodates religious observance while fulfilling the objective of the program — to alleviate the hunger pangs of the needy with the nutrition and sustenance they require.”