U.S. Senator Patty Murray visited Jewish Family Service Wednesday to tour its Polack Food Bank and speak with community members about federal funding.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be here today is to remind all of us that these are people with lives that want their hopes and opportunities that this country’s always offered,” Murray told reporters. “It’s our job to make sure that all of us collectively — as Jewish Family Service does so well — make sure that our community is strong. By helping all of you be strong, our country is stronger.”
Murray (D), who chairs the Senate budget committee, spoke about the need to restore funding to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“We have to scour the budget to cut responsibly,” she said.
Murray has been working with fellow Democrats and with Republicans in the Senate to come to a budget agreement in the coming months, especially in the wake of the 16-day shutdown of the federal government earlier this month.
“I am looking forward to the big challenge that bridging the significant differences between the House and Senate budgets presents,” she said in a recent press statement. “I am absolutely committed to finding common ground, and I hope Republicans are too.”
Murray met with JFS’s CEO, Will Berkovitz, its board president Eric LeVine, and community members who have benefited from local social-service programs over the past years such as those offered by JFS.
During her visit, Murray spoke with Emma Chapman, a single mother whose child has benefited from the federal Head Start program. Chapman said she herself has been able to make significant career advancements due to the assistance of the program.
Syreeta Bernal talked about the food bank and some of the dietary needs she and her child require, which she has been able to satisfy due to SNAP funding. Starting November 1, however, many benefits will change as JFS begins to see the effects of cuts from the SNAP program.
“That’s five meals a month that families won’t get,” Berkovitz said. “Because of the government shutdown, people weren’t able to work and end up at our food bank for emergency services.”
The direct impact on the agency itself is relatively minimal. One-eighth of JFS’s funding comes via federal aid for its programs — specifically for its the refugee-resettlement programs.
“There were 28 refugees that weren’t able to get out of their countries,” Berkovitz said.
But it’s the indirect effects of the shutdown JFS leaders are seeing as having the most negative impact.
“Our clients are exactly the people who are in the crosshairs of this public debate about what’s the role of society to help those people on the fringes, or those people who are trying to claw their way back up,” said LeVine.
“I think these kinds of cuts that have hit — from the sequester, from the government shutdown, from the budgets that have been coming forward — can really damage our country in the future,” said Murray. “So that’s why I came here today.”