Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Rebbe: WIC and Food Stamps Programs
Turning Disappointment into Food for the Hungry
When Shirley Chisholm was elected in 1968 (she died in 2005) to represent New York's 12th District, which included her own neighborhood of Crown Heights, she made headlines as the first African-American woman elected to Congress. However, she soon found her congressional career stunted at its start, by race-related politics.
Bowing to political pressures from southern politicians, the House's leadership, assigned Chisholm to the Agriculture Committee, a place where it was assumed that she could have little influence.
At the time, some in the New York media questioned the appointment, and expressed doubt, as to Chisholm's ability to affect the legislative agenda.
The less-than-open-arms welcome caused Chisholm, an lot of frustration.
According to Anna V. Jefferson, a former state senator from New York's 22nd District: "She was trying to help poor people," explained Jefferson. "She was interested, in improving the issues in the inner city; but that committee, had no power" to do that.
(who was a senior advisor, and a 20-year veteran of the staff, of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.); and chairs the political science department at Touro College);
in 1983 heard the following story first-hand from Shirley Chisholm, at a party celebrating her retirement from Congress.
She said that, she received a phone call from the Rebbe's secretariat –who said that "the Lubavitcher Rebbe wants to see you"
At their meeting The Rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, told the congresswoman, "I know you're very upset."
Chisholm, who lived a block away from the Rebbe, and had met him once before, when she was running for Congress, and searching for endorsements, told the Rebbe: "I am upset, I'm insulted; what should I do?"
The Rebbe answered: “What a blessing G‑d has given you!" "This country has so much surplus food, and there are so many hungry people. You can use this gift that G‑d gave you, to feed hungry people. Find a creative way to do it."
On her first day in Washington, Chisholm meet U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas). The farm-state politician (and later Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate) was looking for help, in shoring up the economic plight of Midwestern farmers, who were losing money on their crops.
"Americans had started purchasing [produce] from Cuba," explained Jefferson, who was a close associate of Chisholm's. "As a result of these imports, American farmers were poor."
Dole told Chisholm: "Our farmers have all this extra food, and we don't know what to do with it."
Chisholm thought, "One second, the Rabbi!"
As a result, the 1969 White House Conference on Food Nutrition and Health, recommended targeted food supplements, for high-risk pregnant women and their infants.
Chisholm, in the House; and Dole, in the Senate; championed the idea and got Congress to approve, a two-year pilot project called WIC, that would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It was in the creation of the WIC program (Women, Infants, and Children), that Chisholm really made her mark.
The USDA, though, fought the measure. It finally took a federal lawsuit to get the USDA to relent; and today more than 8 million people receive WIC benefits each month, according to U.S. government figures.
During the next few years, and for the duration of the 1970s, Chisholm also worked to expand the national Food Stamp Program, which allowed poor Americans to buy subsidized food.
Finally, in 1973, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act mandated, that Food Stamps be made available, in every jurisdiction in the United States.
Chisholm "was responsible for the food program," said Vernell Alburary, former president of the "Shirley Chisholm Institute for Children". "She was a strong, determined individual."
But, said Luchins, Chisholm herself gave ultimate credit to the Rebbe.
She said at her retirement party: "I achieved this, because a Rabbi who is an optimist taught me, that what you may think is a challenge (an obstacle), is a really gift from G‑d.'"
"And if poor babies have milk, and poor children have food, it's because
this Rabbi in Crown Heights, had vision.'"