Congressman Keith Ellison

Representing the 5th District of Minnesota

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Press Release: Ellison, Jewish Council for Public Affairs Join Forces to Fight Hunger

Sep 20, 2007
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Keith Ellison will join with Rabbi Steve Gutow, Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and other religious and civic officials in a show of solidarity underscoring the inadequacy of the food stamp program at a press conference on Tuesday, September 18th at 11 a.m. in HC-8 in the U.S. Capitol. The purpose of the press conference is to announce a week-long “Food Stamp Challenge” as part of a year-long effort on poverty initiatives.

Congressman Ellison, Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Rabbi Steve Gutow at a press conference for the food stamp challenge

Participants in the “There Shall Be No Needy Among You” campaign will live for a week on $21 ($3 per day, $1 per meal), the national average for food stamp benefits. In addition to taking the “Challenge,” Congressman Ellison, and Rabbi Gutow also intend to join in assisting a local D.C. food shelf on Wednesday morning.

Congressman Ellison’s and Rabbi Gutow’s participation have special significance since the week they will be joining the year-long challenge falls during Ramadan, Islam’s traditional holy month of solidarity with the needy, and between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ellison is the first and only Muslim to serve in the United States Congress.

“In this season of Yom Kippur and Ramadan what could be more important than raising the profile of poverty and the inadequacy of our food stamp program,” commented Steve Hunegs, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for Minnesota and the Dakotas.

“I can think of no better way to celebrate Ramadan than by participating in the ‘Food Stamp Challenge,’” Ellison said. “And to do so with my brethren in the Jewish Community is especially fitting because it underscores poverty does not discriminate; it knows no age or gender; no religion or race,” Ellison stated. “Raising the awareness of the depths of hunger in this country and ways in which we can alleviate it is such an appropriate gesture for each of our communities to do during our holy holidays,” the 5th District Congressman said.

Ellison and Gutow’s participation symbolically resurrects the historic human and civil rights alliance between the Jewish community and the African American community as well. “We are no longer connected to the communities from which the poor usually come,” Gutow said. “We’re not as close to the Hispanic community or the African American community, and we need to re-galvanize that. Part of our strength as American Jews is that we have always been able to connect with different groups, and we need to get back to that.”

Congressman Ellison chopping onions at a DC soup kitchen
Congressman Ellison and Rabbi Gutow preparing food at a DC soup kitchen

The year-long initiative on poverty coincides with the U.S. Senate’s consideration of the 2007 farm bill. While the name “farm bill” suggests that it impacts rural communities exclusively, it in fact is comprehensive legislation that affects anyone who cares about food, the environment, sustainable energy policy and international and domestic hunger.

Currently, 10.4 % of all adults (22.7 million) and 16.9% of all children (12.4 million) live in American households considered to be food insecure or hungry. This includes 264,000 Minnesotans currently receiving food stamps with another 200,000 eligible. Nearly 50% of those recipients (128,000) are children.

The goals of the “Food Stamp Challenge” are to raise the minimum food stamp benefit, improve food stamp benefit adequacy, fully restore food stamp access to all lawfully present immigrants, raise and index asset eligibility limits, allow households to deduct childcare expenses and exclude military pay when calculating eligibility, increase and index annual funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and reauthorize the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).