Poverty

Poverty and income Disparity (2006)

The Torah teaches us that the ultimate goal is the eradication of poverty. In the meantime, we must open our hands to the poor.

Although Israel’s economy is booming, there is a growing gap between rich and poor. There are close to 10,000 Israeli millionaires; but poverty is increasing, especially for low-wage employees, the elderly, the ultra-orthodox, Arabs, Jews from North Africa and women. One in every five Israeli families lives in poverty. One out of every three Israelis under the age of 18 (738,000) children lives below the poverty line. Pensions, welfare payments and child allowances have been slashed.

Therefore, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism urges the Israeli government to institute and/or continue to:

  1. Establish, fund and administer a comprehensive policy focused on reducing poverty;
  2. Provide adequate welfare benefits and either raise the minimum wage or establish a negative income tax for low-paid workers;
  3. Establish and fund business training courses; grant loans to establish small businesses and provide mentoring and technical assistance to women and others for economic empowerment;
  4. Allocate resources to education to ensure that the poor receive a level of education that will enable them to participate in the labor market, and establish education programs for the unemployed, the underemployed and the poor that include interest-free, long-term student loans.

Confronting Poverty (2004)

Our tradition teaches us to fight poverty. 35 million people in the United States are not getting enough to eat. In the 1960s, many government-sponsored programs were in place to feed the hungry and house the mentally ill who could not work. Many of the federally- funded programs were eliminated in the 1980s. Misguided social policy encouraged states to close mental institutions, creating a new population of street people that was exacerbated, in some instances, by substance abuse.

This broken public trust has resulted in a proliferation of private organizations that try to feed and house these disenfranchised Americans.

Recent tax cuts were not beneficial to our working poor; huge tax breaks were given to the richest 1% of our population. Poverty and hunger in such a wealthy nation is a travesty. As Jews, we cannot ignore the helpless, homeless and hungry among us. Justice is what we strive for; but charity isn’t justice.

Women’s League for Conservative Judaism supports:

  1. Reform of our tax code: the closing of tax loopholes, write-offs, etc. so that all Americans pay their fair share of taxes;
  2. Government programs to ensure decent-standard housing for all citizens;
  3. America’s renewed social and economic contracts with its citizens that address our nation’s problem;
  4. Decent minimum wage so that the employed are able to properly feed their families.

Poverty and Welfare (2003)

Any efforts to create a just society must address the interrelated issues of welfare reform and poverty. In Judaism, tzedakah is often used synonymously with justice, with the relief of poverty seen as an act of justice. Maimonides’ eight levels of charity teach us that the greatest form of charity is to give a helping hand to a person on the verge of financial ruin: by giving a gift or loan, by entering into a partnership, or by providing gainful employment.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) enacted in 1996, made welfare benefits contingent on work, and restricted most individuals to a maximum of no more than five years on the welfare rolls. Overall, the program has been deemed a success, with the number of persons receiving welfare declining by more than half.

The 1996 law is to be reauthorized. It is urgent that we address the conditions which keep from poverty those who have left welfare behind. Many persons moving from welfare lack education and marketable skills. They then become the working poor, in jobs that do not provide the benefits needed to achieve economic security or to support a family. Often, those remaining on the welfare rolls face serious mental and emotional problems that serve as barriers to gainful employment. This vulnerable community is negatively impacted by any economic downturn, being the first to lose their jobs.

Women’s League for Conservative Judaism supports reauthorization of The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), which will emphasize poverty reduction by:

  1. Offering states incentives to implement effective policies;
  2. Increasing funding for services, such as job training, to those who are “hard to place;”
  3. Focusing on services that address the causal barriers to employment such as: pregnancy, lack of child care, domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness;
  4. Increasing time limit requirements;
  5. Improving access and funding to federal support programs serving low-income families: Food Stamp Program, Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grant and the Social Services Block Grant.