After the State of the Union
Serious fiscal challenges confront our country. Our national leaders must create jobs and strengthen the economic recovery, stabilize the long-term budgetary outlook, and assist the most vulnerable in our society. Opinions on how we go about achieving these goals differ among legislators, economists, journalists, and citizens. But one thing is clear: the federal budget should support a government that provides its citizens with the greatest opportunity to succeed, even during tough times.
A Vision for the 112th Congress
Last week the 112th Congress was sworn in to office. While a solid agenda is still being shaped, the JCPA is strongly urging the House and the Senate to set aside time to deal with some of the biggest challenges facing America’s poor: unemployment and hunger.
Last week it was announced that the unemployment rate was 9.4% in the month of December, the largest decrease in the past year. Though these numbers are encouraging, 14.5 million Americans remain unemployed. If we have any hope of bringing the jobless rate down significantly in the next few years, Congress must start developing an effective job creation mechanism. The myth of a “jobless recovery” is not realistic. Whether it is a direct public jobs program or a combination of public and private partnerships, the House and Senate must come together and commit to fixing our economy.
Job creation legislation should make sure to benefit the neediest among us, create jobs that pay a living wage, and are sustainable. Members of Congress state that job creation is a top priority. They must not lose sight of those that need the most help. There is a place in this emerging economy for all of us, and properly-drafted legislation will create a workforce that is better trained, stronger, competitive, inclusive, and more viable in the future.
Fulfilling the American DREAM
This week Congress is considering an incredibly important piece of legislation that affects America’s youth. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act has been under consideration for years. And even though it has consistently received bi-partisan support, it has yet to become law. The DREAM Act would allow some of the more than 2.1 million undocumented children and young adults in the United States to emerge from the shadows and become legal residents of this country. This important piece of legislation allows students who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 illegally, have stayed out of trouble, and attend two years of college or military service to earn conditional permanent residency. Each year, tens of thousands of young people graduate from primary or secondary schools, often at the top of their classes; but because of their legal status, these students are unable to continue on to higher education and realize their true potential. These are students who were brought to this country illegally, through no fault of their own, and have been raised as Americans. The United States is there home and for many of these children it is the only country they have ever claimed as their own. They speak English, they stay out of trouble, and they participate in school activities. They want to become doctors, teachers, soldiers, business owners, and community leaders, yet are stopped because of their immigration status. The DREAM Act would provide an opportunity for them to live up to their full potential and make greater contributions to the U.S. economy and society.
Thou Shall Not Steal
The issue of stealing is well covered in the Torah. Besides being part of the Ten Commandments, there is story after story illustrating how stealing is a sin and offering examples of how we should treat our employees with respect, especially the poorest amongst us. Hebrew scripture clearly speaks out against the crime of wage theft: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to the Lord against you and you will incur guilt.” Deuteronomy (24:14-15).
Yet wage theft remains a major issue in this country, especially among those at the lowest rungs of the earnings ladder. The U.S. Department of Labor has found that violations of wage and hour laws occur in more than half of businesses they have investigated, including construction, garment assembly, poultry processing, and retail. Because of the recent recession, there is anecdotal evidence that abuses by employers are on the rise, and workers are more susceptible to wage theft and labor law violations. Out of fear of losing their jobs, many employees are staying silent while these crimes are committed.
The Final Days of the Child Nutrition Battle
With Congress returning November 15th, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and fellow advocates are gearing up for a final push on Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). We are working hard to secure a compromise that will both pass the child nutrition bill and restore the cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) that were used to partially pay for the Senate bill.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) makes a number of improvements to nutritional quality, ending childhood obesity, and takes a step forward in reaching President Obama’s goal to end childhood hunger by 2015. Part of the bill is paid for with future benefit cuts to SNAP (previously known as food stamps) participants. Though it is not a perfect bill, it is the most likely opportunity for Congress to make proactive reforms to these important programs by the end of the year. One in four children live in food insecure households. The passage of S. 3307 is paramount to putting an end to this problem.
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