Supplementary Security Income & Today’s Economy

By Rabbi Michael Holzman

Every year when our elected officials have to pay the bills they make choices.  In a year when tax revenues are way down, they must wrestle with their decisions.  In Pennsylvania, this year, the choices were brutal, and the budget process drawn out.  What finally emerged was grim:  a substantial cut in the state contribution towards Supplemental Security Income. Monica Yant-Kinney reported this on January 24, 2010.  So, in case you are keeping score, in the same year that President Obama is cutting 47% of the federal contribution towards unemployment and 25% towards child support, the state of Pennsylvania is cutting their share by 20-25% as well.  All of this in a down economy, which means these funds are more necessary than ever before.

The Pennsylvania buget process ended in November, but these cuts were not publicized at all, and only came to light when the directors of the state program realized they needed to reduce individual checks. 

What is our response from a Jewish perspective?  The texts are obvious and clear:  our contributions to the poor do not belong to us.  The Torah minces no words:  the corners of the fields belong to the poor.  A creditor cannot take a poor man’s coat as a pledge.  When we reduce our contribution, we are actually stealing what is rightfully theirs! 

Yes, we’ve all suffered a rough year economically.  Business is down.  Some of us have lost jobs. We’ve had to cut back.  But the last people who can tolerate a cut right now, are the impoverished, weak, and elderly amongst us.

We have an opportunity to voice our displeasure.  Tomorrow evening, I will participate in a demonstration against this budget and a call for action to restore funding for the most vulnerable.  We will meet at the Broad Street Ministry (across from the Kimmel Center) at 5:00 and process to City Hall.  We will carry a casket and stage a mock funeral mourning the passing of this legislation.  More information can be found here.