(JTA) — Two U.S. senators want to know if kosher and halal food is being included in the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to help alleviate food insecurity during the coronavirus crisis.
The senators, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who represent large Jewish and Muslim populations, sent a letter Wednesday to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asking for details concerning the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. In April, the Department of Agriculture announced that under the program, the USDA would purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat products to be distributed to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits.
In the letter, Gillibrand and Stabenow asked Perdue to describe what the Department of Agriculture has done “to ensure that kosher and halal food are being included in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, and what steps USDA has taken to receive feedback from Jewish and Muslim communities to ensure their religious dietary needs are met by the program.”
The first round of purchases for 32.4 million in food boxes ended on June 30 and totaled $1.2 billion, according to the USDA. A second round of purchases for 695,000 food boxes is set to end on Aug. 31.
“Americans of all backgrounds and faiths are experiencing increased hunger during this pandemic, and many programs have been put forth to alleviate some of these issues,” the letter said. “However, many in the Jewish and Muslim community only eat kosher or halal food, and have not been able to benefit from these programs if they do not provide these options.”
According to Gillibrand’s office, across New York City, Westchester County and Long Island, about 222,000 Jewish households keep kosher. An estimated 51,700 poor and near poor Orthodox households and 144,400 other poor and near poor Jewish households would benefit from the inclusion of kosher options in the Farmers to Families Food Box program.