Today, United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue requesting information on what the USDA is doing to include Kosher and Halal foods in their Farmers to Families Food Box program.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed what was already an unacceptable hunger crisis into an emergency that many observant communities who keep kosher and halal are struggling to manage,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Our government must do its part to ensure that the Farmers to Families Food Box Program provides foods that meet the faith-based dietary needs of our neighbors. No one in our country should ever have to face food insecurity, especially because of how they worship or what religion they practice.”
According to the UJA Federation of New York, an estimated 3.5 million observant Jewish and Muslim people would benefit from kosher and halal options at food pantries nationally. Across Westchester New York City, and Long Island, about 222,000 Jewish households keep kosher. An estimated 51,700 poor and near poor Orthodox households, the majority of which keep kosher, as well as 144,400 other poor and near poor Jewish households would stand to benefit from the inclusion of kosher options in the Farmers to Families Food Box program.
Senator Gillibrand has previously led efforts to urge the USDA to label kosher and halal food for the national school lunch program, a federal meal program that provides low-cost or free lunches to school children. In New York City alone, more than 180,000 Jewish children are living in poor or near-poor households.
Read the full text of the letter below:
Dear Secretary Perdue,
As the United States continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as an increasing number of Americans continue to face hunger and food insecurity, I have been deeply concerned by reports of shortages of kosher and halal food available to the many observant individuals and families in New York State and throughout our country. I write today to request information regarding what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has done to ensure that kosher and halal food are being included in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, and what steps USDA has taken to receive feedback from Jewish and Muslim communities to ensure their religious dietary needs are met by the program.
On April 17, 2020 you announced that USDA would be purchasing up to $3 billion in fresh produce, diary, and meat products to be distributed in boxes to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits. However, you did not specify how much of that funding would be used to purchase kosher and halal specific food, or give details on how you will meet the dietary needs of the faith-based organizations you planned to serve, some of which observe religious beliefs that have dietary restrictions.
Neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities have already been experiencing high concentrations of poverty and hunger before the pandemic started. In the five boroughs of New York City alone, there are more than 500,000 people living in poor or near-poor Jewish households. Americans of all backgrounds and faiths are experiencing increased hunger during this pandemic, and many programs have been put forth to alleviate some of these issues. However, many in the Jewish and Muslim community only eat kosher or halal food, and have not been able to benefit from these programs if they do not provide these options.
I ask that you provide an update on the purchase and distribution of kosher and halal food in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, and provide what input and feedback you received from Jewish and Muslim communities when determining what products would be included in the boxes. Thank you, and I look forward to your timely response and attention to this matter.