Time for Politics Parties to Take a Stance on Poverty
Jewish Council for Public Affairs Leads Outreach Efforts to End Poverty
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A diverse coalition of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders is calling on the Democratic and Republican parties to address poverty in a primetime speech during their respective presidential nominating conventions.
This week, nine leading religious officials, including, Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for government affairs, National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general, Islamic Society of North America; Rev. Jim Wallis, chief executive officer, Sojourners; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), sent letters to Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, asking them to ensure that a primetime speech is dedicated to issues of poverty and opportunity at their respective 2008 presidential nominating conventions. The faith coalition further urged each presidential candidate to propose a comprehensive plan to address poverty and opportunity in America over the next decade.
Currently, there are 37 million individuals in the United States living in poverty, including 13 million children. Of these, 35.5 million are hungry and mal-nourished. In addition, 47 million individuals in this country do not have health insurance and all 435 congressional districts are facing an affordable housing crisis. Childhood poverty alone costs the US $500 billion is each year in lower productivity, poor health, and lost potential. Conversely, it would take $90 billion/year to comprehensively address poverty in America.
Other leading religious figures who coauthored the coalition letter include, Father Larry Snyder, president, Catholic Charities USA; Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism; Dr. Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches; Rev. David Beckmann, president, Bread for the World; Dr. Eboo Patel, Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core.
The faith-coalition wrote, “As people of faith, we believe it is immoral to ignore our nation’s most vulnerable populations. As Americans, we believe enduring poverty undermines our country’s economic strength and prosperity. Everyday, faith organizations serve individuals in need within our communities. But our efforts to sustain our brothers and sisters living in poverty must be complemented with a serious plan from our political leaders to reduce the number of needy.”
The faith-coalition continued in its letter, “By making a commitment to help ‘the least of us,’ you can help create an economy that enables all Americans to move forward together. Giving a primetime speech at the 2008 convention is an important first step.”
“No religious tradition rests easily while people are hungry and poor... certainly not the Jewish religion,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “We are living in a time when the gaps between the poor and everyone else are growing rapidly. We have kept poverty on a backburner as millions live in squalor here in the richest country in the world. We have averted our eyes far too long and we to pay a heavy price. Our streets are filled with the tragedy of young and old needing food and healthcare. This is not okay! It is past time for the presidential candidates to make sure that the steps they intend to take to stop this scourge on our nation are laid out for all to hear. The nominating conventions are the perfect opportunity for both Senators Obama and McCain to make sure that their parties address this critical and national concern and set a true example of leadership before the eyes of the world and millions of undecided voters.”
Last year, JCPA launched its national anti-poverty initiative, “There Shall Be No Needy Among You.” Through its campaign, JCPA and other Jewish, interfaith and civil-rights organizations, urge local, state, and national leaders to advance anti-poverty legislation and programs to help provide food, shelter, additional work and educational opportunities for the nation’s most vulnerable. Their grassroots efforts have led to an increased national commitment to reduce poverty.
Through its anti-poverty initiative, on September 10th – 16th, JCPA will organize and lead “Fighting Poverty with Faith; A Week of Action”. This interfaith effort is endorsed by over 20 national faith-based organizations mobilizing their grassroots to ask candidates and elected officials, “What will you do in your first 100 days in office to address poverty in America? Religious, civic and community-service organizations across the country will organize public events, not only directly help those in need, but also drawing much needed public attention to the poverty problem in this country.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is the community relations arm of the organized Jewish community.
[Letters to Candidates]
The following letter was sent to Senator Obama and Senator McCain:
As communities of faith, we are grounded in a shared tradition of justice and compassion. We are called upon to hold ourselves and our communities accountable to the moral standard of our faith tradition. We speak together now to express concern about the plague of persistent poverty in America.
As we look across our country today, we see a nation in which millions of people lack the basic necessities of life. During these tough economic times too many Americans are only one job loss, health crisis, or foreclosure away from poverty. More than 37 million Americans, including nearly 13 million children, live in poverty today. Our common faith teachings present a vision of shared responsibility that commands that we leave the corners of our field for the poor and the stranger, and mandates, “There Shall Be No Needy Among You” (Deuteronomy 15:4).
We are therefore asking each of our national political parties to present a primetime speech at its 2008 convention that is solely dedicated to proposing a comprehensive plan to address poverty and opportunity in America over the next decade. We believe that all political parties have an important contribution to make on this issue. Your party’s willingness to present your vision on this topic in a primetime address will send a clear message about your priorities to tens of millions of concerned citizens.
As people of faith, we believe that it is immoral to ignore our nation’s most vulnerable populations. As Americans, we believe enduring poverty undermines our country’s economic strength and prosperity. Everyday, faith organizations serve individuals in need within our communities. But our efforts to sustain our brothers and sisters living in poverty must be complemented with a serious plan from our political leaders to reduce the number of needy.
We will mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2008, a date that falls between the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The tragedy in the Gulf Coast temporarily unmasked the depths of poverty that are too common in our country. In the weeks leading up to the election, the interfaith community will be mobilizing our networks and starting a national conversation in churches, synagogues, and mosques--in the shelters and soup kitchens of our faith based service providers, and among people of faith across our great nation. We will be drawing from our shared scriptures and commitment to our fellow beings, working to build the political and public will to combat poverty in the United States. We hope you will do the same from the podium at your party’s convention this summer.
By making a commitment to help “the least of us,” you can help create an economy that enables all Americans to move forward together. Giving a primetime speech at the 2008 national convention is an important first step. We look forward to working with you to make sure our nation’s most fundamental values – a commitment to shared prosperity and opportunity for all – are given the attention they so desperately need and deserve.
Rabbi Steve Gutow
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Father Larry Snyder
Catholic Charities USA
Rev. Richard Cizik
Vice President for Government Affairs
National Association of Evangelicals
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
Islamic Society of North America
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
Dr. Rev. Michael Kinnamon
National Council of Churches
Rev. David Beckmann
Bread for the World
Dr. Eboo Patel
Interfaith Youth Core
Rev. Jim Wallis
Chief Executive Officer