Last week came the sad news that the journalist, thinker, and activist Leonard Fein died at age 80. In addition to launching Moment magazine, “Leibel” Fein created MAZON, the anti-hunger group that asked Jews to set aside a percentage of their catering bills to feed the needy. “To be interested in a serious Jewish culture means, necessarily, to be interested in politics — in whether the hungry are fed and the naked clothed, in whether justice is pursued and mercy loved,” Fein wrote.
Fein would have been disappointed with a decision by the state not to continue “Heat and Eat,” a policy that simplified administrative procedures and preserved food assistance benefits for as many as 160,000 needy New Jersey households. Heat and Eat linked the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, with the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It smoothly provided LIHEAP benefits directly to SNAP households, alleviating some of the untenable “heat or eat” choices faced by the disadvantaged. The 2014 federal farm bill attempted to eliminate what critics called a “loophole”; Gov. Chris Christie vetoed an item in the state budget that would have allowed families to qualify under new rules.
The NJ State Association of Jewish Federations is a members of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, which pushed for an extension of Heat and Eat. This week, the coalition expressed its dismay. “The loss of the ‘heat and eat’ option in New Jersey will mean up to $90 a month less in SNAP benefits, a serious blow for many struggling people,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the coalition. The coalition is also concerned with a monthly drop in benefits for all SNAP recipients, and increased pressure on area food banks. (The Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Family Services of Central and MetroWest NJ are inviting the community and lawmakers to take part in the Sept. 8-14 Food Stamp Challenge, as part of a bipartisan Anti-Hunger Campaign.)
Advocates for the poor say the governor can act administratively to restore the “Heat and Eat” option. Here’s hoping he will.