The president of MAZON asks why policymakers cannot seem to compromise or come up with creative, new ways to combat food insecurity issues that have been plaguing the country for years.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) released the 2015 House Republican budget on April 1. Predictably, it proposes devastating and monumental cuts to programs that are designed to help those among us who need it most. It slashes Medicaid; it changes the funding, eligibility standards and structure of SNAP (food stamps); it repeals the Affordable Care Act. The same harsh proposals couched in the same tired rhetoric.
At the other end of the spectrum, progressives are quite predictably wringing their hands and describing the cuts as immoral. They invoke images of the seniors, children and disabled people who have done nothing to deserve their terrible lot but will feel these cuts most deeply. They cite independently verified statistics intended to dispel persistent myths about who actually needs these programs, because if they could just get everyone to actually understand the truth, it would be enough to change the tide. The same hitherto ineffective counterpunches couched in the same tired rhetoric.
Perhaps I’m more keenly aware of the sameness of this budget proposal and response because we have just finished that time of year when we ask a very pointed question: Why is this night different from all others? The Passover seder is actually replete with questions — most of them ages old. But these questions, by their very nature, challenge us to stop and think, and to consider the range of possible answers to pinpoint why this night is different from all others — those during this year, or any other year. So I’m struggling to understand how this Republican budget and this progressive response are different from all others.
The facts about the astounding prevalence of hunger have remained essentially the same since the recession began in 2008:
• 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure in 2012. That means 45 million Americans — nearly 1 out of every 6 of us — struggle to put adequate nutritious food on the table.
• The rate of food insecurity in Pennsylvania — a state that 50 Fortune 500 companies call home — has risen 25 percent over the last five years.
• Nearly 340,000 Philadelphians are food insecure — enough to fill Citizens Bank Park almost 8 times.
Despite the supposed recovery of our economy, the struggle of these vulnerable Americans continues to be the same. But the sameness of their struggle does not merit the same polarizing responses.
I have always embraced the rich Jewish tradition of asking questions, a custom that seems amplified during Passover. So especially now, when I consider the recent actions of our policymakers and lobbyists in Washington, D.C., I feel compelled to demand answers to questions that too often go unasked: Why do your rhetoric and the overblown caricatures of “left” and “right” continue to remain so predictably the same?
Why has it become more important for either side to be “right” than to do the right thing?
Why can we not be more courageous and willing to compromise?
What would it take for us to try a new and creative approach or framework that may yield a better result?
How can we make today different from yesterday and all the days that came before it?
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Today, we must stop the insanity. We cannot travel the same path and expect to reach a different destination.
It is not in our Jewish DNA to blindly accept the status quo. We are a people who take action to create change when we encounter an injustice. And there is no greater reversible injustice than the oppressive persistence of hunger in our nation. That so many struggle to survive means our policymakers are failing us. Our job is to continue to ask questions. It is their job to provide different answers.
Abby J. Leibman is president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.