Episode 14: Poverty in LGBTQIA+ with Jocelyn Frye & Military Families Facing Hunger with Abby Leibman

In today’s episode, Jeff and Carol talk with Jocelyn Frye, President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, about LGBTQI+ families living in poverty. Then they talk to Abby Leibman, president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger about food insecurity, particularly in the military.

A Functioning Economy is Linked to Policies Around Caregiving

All types of families need caregivers, and all types of people are acting as caregivers these days. Families may not look like the stereotype of a mom, dad, 2.2 kids, and a dog. In fact, many of them don’t look like that at all, especially in the LGBTQI+ community.

Building on a base of decades of work, the National Partnership for Women and Families conducted a study on LGBTQ families and the poverty they’re facing. They used the Household Pulse Survey to conduct their research, as it specifically includes LGBT families in the questionnaire structure.

Expanding the Definition of Family

Many people think that families are only made through blood or marriage. However, in the LGBTQI+ community, many people form chosen families — people who are not related to each other in any legal sense but who make up a family unit nonetheless.

And when one of the members of that chosen family needs caregiving, it can be difficult for other members of that family to make arrangements for caregiving. NPWF is working on many pieces of legislation to help protect those families through bills like the Caring for All Families Act, which would entitle “an employee who is a domestic partner, next of kin of a member of the Armed Forces, or any individual whose close association is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship, to take leave to care for the service member.”

Poverty and LGBTQI+ Parenting

Widespread, systemic discrimination leads those in the LGBTQI+ community to experience economic uncertainty at a higher rate than their non-LGBTQI+ counterparts. This is especially true when issues of intersectionality are introduced — LGBTQI+ families of color or LGBTQI+ parents with disabilities face increased barriers.

There is also less access to government supports within the LGBTQI+ community. The data revealed that LGBTQI+ families received the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit at a much lower rate than the general population.

Jocelyn states this may be due to reluctance to apply for support. Many LGBTQI+ families may fear discrimination or that their families will be disrupted in some way, and thus they don’t seek out the help that is offered.

Working to Put an End to Discrimination

The National Partnership for Women and Families knows that the stereotypes and biases that undergird our current culture can be unwound through thoughtful policy. Check out these policies and offer your support for them: 

  • The Childcare for Working Families Act, which would create affordable childcare and strengthen the childcare workforce
  • The Equality Act, aimed at dealing with discrimination in the workforce by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Do No Harm Act, designed to make sure discriminatory rules and policies aren’t enacted under the guise of religious freedom
  • Updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act to expand the definition of family members
  • The FAMILY Act, which would address America’s paid family and medical leave crisis
  • The Health Families Act, which would provide paid sick days to more employees
  • The LGBTQIA+ Data Inclusion Act, which would begin to really track what’s going on in this community so more policies can be written to help with those specific problems

Jocelyn knows this is a tall order, and it’s crucial that multiple organizations work together to end discriminatory policies and practices across many segments of the population.

“The reality is, if you look at those states with anti-LGBTQIA bills, they're also the same states often that have anti-reproductive rights bills, anti-voting rights bills. They are the ones who are going after the so-called anti-woke agenda, this sort of effort to foster this narrative around exclusion cuts across many different communities.”

MAZON and Military Hunger

Abby Leibman, president of MAZON, discusses a legal glitch that she and the organization are working to undo. Check out their Take Action section to see how you can help end hunger in the United States.

Food Insecurity Among Active-Duty Military Families

You might be stunned to learn that those who serve in our armed forces face problems of food insecurity and hunger — Jeff certainly was.

So was Abby, who first learned of this issue in 2011 when she first began her work with MAZON. It boils down to this problem: Military families need SNAP benefits and can’t access them.


Military families get what’s known as the BAH, or Basic Allowance for Housing. SNAP considers this allowance to be part of a family’s income, even though it isn’t counted as income by other agencies, like the IRS.

One of the main issues is that the BAH doesn’t completely cover the kind of housing that military families need, so not only do these families still have costs associated with housing, they’re cut off from SNAP because it is counted as so-called income.

How big is this problem? 

If the BAH was taken out of income calculation, tens of thousands of active duty members of the military would be eligible for SNAP.

Why do tens of thousands of active duty military members have a need for SNAP benefits?

 Lower-level enlisted members work at what is essential poverty wages for families of four in the United States. In many ways, the military pay structure was designed for single men who would enlist at a very young age, but that’s not always the case these days.

When Abby learned of this problem and saw the language of the USDA Food Stamp Program, she thought it would be an easy fix. More than a decade later, they’re still working on getting the BAH excluded from the income calculation.

Single Moms and SNAP

Abby also tells us that since the state government determines how SNAP benefits are administered, there are some states where the burden is much higher on single mothers. For instance, in some states, single mothers are required to cooperate with Child Support Enforcement in order to get SNAP for their family.

This can create confrontation between the main caregiver and the non-paying parent in order to be able to afford food for the family. Some states make exceptions for domestic abuse — if it has been documented through the courts — but not all of them.

MAZON is working with the federal government to stop states from requiring this. But if that doesn’t work, MAZON will go state-by-state to get these requirements overturned.

MAZON’s Virtual Museum and Jewish Values

On their website, MAZON has a virtual museum that tells the story of hunger in America from the Civil War to today. Despite almost eliminating food insecurity in the 1960s and ‘70s, we’re backsliding.

One reason that Abby cites for this is the judgement and misinformation around who is poor in this country and why those people are struggling to put food on their tables.

Since MAZON was founded, it has upheld the idea of tselem Elohim, which means that we are all made in the image of the Divine, and there is no judgement or stigma.

Policies today are built on huge systemic biases that informed this country: racism, misogyny, homophobia, and more. Bad policies move forward because of racist and classist beliefs that those in poverty are base or corrupt.

“Using a false narrative leads you to policy solutions that are actually policy problems.”

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Carol Jenkins

Hello, and thanks so much for joining The Invisible Americans Podcast with Jeff Madrick and Carol Jenkins. We address the travesty of child poverty here.

Jeff Madrick

There are nearly 13 million children living in serious material deprivation in America, and we don't see them. They are our invisible Americans, and we plan to change that.

Carol Jenkins

A couple of words about us. The podcast is based on Jeff's book, Invisible Americans: The Tragic Cost of Child Poverty. He's an economics writer, author of seven and co-author of another four books on the American economy.

Jeff Madrick

Carol is an Emmy-winning journalist, activist, and author. Most recently, president of the ERA Coalition working to amend the constitution to include women.

Carol Jenkins

We are longtime colleagues and friends.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick 

When it comes to thinking about child poverty, you sometimes forget the many ways children are impacted. In this episode, we talk about LGBTQ families and military families, for example: two groups that are hugely damaged by food insecurities, housing deficiencies, and who face enormous hurdles in getting help.


Our guests today are Jocelyn Frye, the president of the National Partnership for Women and Children, and Abby Liebman, the president of Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.


Carol Jenkins 

We begin with the economic challenges facing LGBTQ families as states across the country are passing discriminatory laws and the uptick in anti-gay hate crimes are endangering parents and their children. Here's Jocelyn Frye, explaining why the National Partnership for Women and Children, a 15-year-old social justice organization, issued its special report on the poverty levels in the LGBTQ community.


Jocelyn, thanks so much for joining us today. Jeff and I are big fans of all of your work from the Obama Administration through the Center for American Progress and now the National Partnership. Talk to us about your special report on LGBTQ families -- and they're facing poverty.


Jocelyn Frye 

As you both know, the National Partnership for Women and Families has worked on care and caregiving issues for many, many years, dating back to the work that we did to help pass the Family and Medical Leave Act. And one of the reasons that we did that work is because we know that women disproportionately are caregivers. And we know that our ability to have a functioning economy, as we saw in the pandemic, is inextricably linked to the types of policies that we have around care.


And the thing that we know about care is that the folks who are caregivers are diverse. They fall well outside of the narrow stereotypes that we have cultivated over decades. And we understood, as many have, you know, increasingly understood that one group of folks who rarely get discussed is our LGBTQIA+ communities, but they are doing a lot of caregiving.


If you look historically at some of the data around caregivers, the folks from the LGBTQIA+ community are far more likely to have people who are not necessarily their family, in terms of blood relatives, right, but they are their chosen family. And they rely on those folks for caregiving. And many of those folks are parents.


So we thought it was really important in a moment when we are looking intensively at care and how we support care to make sure that that conversation included those families who are often left out. And in particular, we were able to do this research in part because the Household Pulse Survey, which was the survey that was created specifically around COVID to see what was happening to families added some measures in it so that we could actually ask questions about LGBT families.


It does have limitations. So for example, it really just deals with lesbian, gay, transgender families. It doesn't have the nuances to have families who identify as queer, intersex, but nonetheless, it tells us something about what's happened to families during COVID that we didn't have information about before. And so we weren't able to, you know -- our team delved into this research and produced a report that looked at the caregiving needs particularly for parents who identify as LGBT families.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, it's fascinating to me. I wrote a book called Invisible Americans. And when I wrote it, which was only a few years ago, the LGBT community wasn't necessarily a part of that invisible communities, so to speak. So I was fascinated by it. And 491 anti-LGBTQ pieces of legislation passed at the state or local level, I believe.


What accounts for this anxiety about LGBTQ? Is that a sexual anxiety, a racial anxiety?


Jocelyn Frye 

That data point comes from research from the ACLU, and I believe 491 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills that were introduced over the last, you know, year -- and I think there are many things that are going on. And we could probably spend the entire time talking about that.


The heart of it is, I think, a very intensive effort to rely on fear, right, to poke at other anxieties that people may feel, whether it's around economic anxiety, whether it is around, you know, sort of just general anxiety about how people's lives are going. I think if you asked people to put their finger on it, I'm not sure if they could put their finger on it, other than we have a deep entrenched history going back to the founding of this country -- around differences and our unwillingness to be accepting of people who we perceive as different, whether it is racial difference, whether it is people with disabilities, or whether it's people because of their sexual orientation, immigration status -- has historically been used to create a sense of other and to deny opportunities to one group in favor of another.


And when you have political leaders who are willing to deploy those types of divisive practices, you can feed a narrative that ends up denying rights to a whole community of people. I also think the other thing that is going on -- and this has been true historically across many movements -- is whenever you make progress, you will face backlash. And you will see backtrack before you make that progress. Again, that has been true with civil rights community and civil rights movement. It was true with women's rights. And I think it's true here.


You know, we have made enormous progress. But I think you're seeing the backlash. You know, our task is to be persistent about making sure that -- notwithstanding that backlash from a vocal but small minority -- that we continue to tap into our values and principles to really continue to make progress for families.


Carol Jenkins 

If you could for us explain what the numbers translate to that you have published in this report.


Jocelyn Frye 

You know, what we found is that we were comparing and contrasting periods during the pandemic and 2021 to the latest data that was available when we did this report, which was ranging from December of 2022 to May of this year. And what we found is that generally speaking, LGBT families were much more likely to experience economic insecurity than non-LGBT families. They were far more likely to deal with a sort of discrimination in the workplace that meant that their employment was uneven, which led to economic hardship. They were far more likely to not have access to certain types of protections that facilitated caregiving, things like paid sick days and paid family leave, some form of time off just to navigate their caregiving responsibilities.


They were also far more likely just to report disruption around childcare and caregiving supports, I think a third more likely than non-LGBT families to report disruptions and childcare during COVID are because of lack of closure. So because of affordability or safety issues or something of that measure -- and the other thing that the data shows is that family who have multiple sort of intersecting barriers, right, like LGBT families of color, LGBT parents with disabilities, found that their hardship experiences were even more pronounced. So what became clear -- and the last thing I would say is that, to the extent that some of those economic challenges were addressed during the pandemic because there were supports in place early on, those hardships have increased in the most recent data, in part because many of those supports have gone away. So the bottom line is that the LGBT families are experiencing, you know, hardships at a higher rate than their non-LGBT counterparts. And there are mechanisms and policies that we can pursue to address some of those.


Jeff Madrick 

You made a point in the research. I read that they received the Child Tax Credit that was adopted at the federal level in 2021 at a much lower rate. Why was that the case?


Jocelyn Frye 

It's a great question. And I think there are a couple of things going on. You know, the information that they had about the availability, some of it may be a reluctance to actually seek out the support, in part because many families are worried that you know, their families will be disrupted or something, some of the disruption that just comes from higher rates of discrimination that sometimes families are encountering. So there's also economic disruption happening in their families. I think all of those things factor in to, you know, sort of lower rates of accessing supports that may be available.


And I think we can't discount the fact that there's a lot of families in an environment where they encounter discrimination and bias in a variety of different settings, that they may be reluctant to seek out support because they're not sure if they're actually going to be treated fairly and so forth.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, the discrimination issue seems to me to be a very big one. So that reminds all of us of our fights for civil rights and how we had to teach people not to discriminate. Was there any effort at that? I'm sure.


Jocelyn Frye 

You know, one of the reasons that we did this research, you know, one of the reasons is that we participate in a number of, you know, coalitions that work on sort of broader civil rights issues, women's rights issues because I think we collectively understand that many of these issues go hand-in-hand.


It is not surprising that some of the economic insecurities that are experienced by LGBT parents are even more exacerbated for families of color, families with disabilities because that also tracks what's happening in in the workforce, you know, even just among families. And so, I think increasingly what we certainly recognize, that many of our partners recognize is that we have a shared fight, whether it's around ensuring that LGBTQ+ families are being treated fairly, whether we are talking about families and, you know, Black families and Latino families and [INAUDIBLE] families and Native families, whether we're talking about people with disabilities, whether we’re talking about women, many of the stereotypes and divisiveness that feel is discriminatory attitudes cut across many different issues.


I mean, the reality is, if you look in the states and those states with those anti LGBTQIA bills, they're also the same states often that have anti-reproductive rights bills, anti-voting rights bills, that they are the ones who are going after the so called anti-woke agenda, you know, like this sort of effort to foster this narrative around exclusion cuts across many different communities.


And when we think about some of the policy solutions, it is really critical for us to be in in partnership with our friends, you know, across the civil rights community, human rights community because we have a shared understanding of what's driving the problem, but also the solutions that we sorely need.


Carol Jenkins 

Jocelyn, our focus is child poverty. And we know that children living in these families are subject to discrimination, persecution. If they are gay or queer themselves, children often end up homeless themselves. We know that you will concentrate on solutions to all of our society's ills. What do you think about our children and the way forward?


Jocelyn Frye 

Some of the stereotypes and biases that undergird some of these problems are, you know, sometimes you can solve them through policy. And sometimes you really have to be more intentional about changing culture. And they're certainly things like the Childcare for Working Families Act. It's focused on creating more affordable childcare to limit how much families have to pay towards childcare but put new money into really strengthening the childcare workforce because, you know, childcare workers are disproportionately women of color, are often paid very low wages and don't have access to benefits.


They're things that are focused on discrimination that targets LGBTQ+ families, things like the Equality Act that would deal with discrimination in the workforce, the Do No Harm Act, which is focused on making sure that discriminatory rules and policies aren't adopted, you know, particularly under the guise of religious freedom as a way to deny protections to LGBTQIA+ families. The Caring for all families Act would update the Family and Medical Leave Act so that the definitions of family members covered is more inclusive.


You know, one of the problems that LGBTQIA+ families face sometimes is that they're not defined in the law as a family because they may not be related in a traditional way, but they very much are family. So we need to update our definitions to what people often call this chosen family. The Family Act, which would pass paid family and medical leave, the Healthy Families Act would provide paid sick days. All of those are particularly important for kids who need to have caregivers who are capable of caring for them, you know, when they are sick.


There's a bill called the LGBTQIA+ Data Inclusion Act. And it's really where we started the conversation, because one of the problems that we have is we often just don't know what's happening. We don't historically track this data unless we actually are really intentional about it. The Biden administration has been good at sort of broadening the spaces and places where we are tracking and gathering information from a more diverse group of families. And so we actually need to make sure that we're tracking and gathering the information necessary to know what families are doing.

And I would go back to the other question you asked about the CTC. I mean, what we know about the Child Tax Credit is that, you know, when that child tax credit was deployed in full, we across the board reduced poverty for, you know, down to some of the, I think, the lowest levels in decades. And so making sure that that's available and being intentional about making sure that LGBT families are actually being able to access it.


The very last thing I would say, Carol, is that, in addition to all of that, you know, there's a lot that's happening at the state level that is really going after transgender kids in particular, and all of the anti-LGBTQ, you know, legislation that is really limiting the ability of families to access health care, gender-affirming care. That is just an environment that creates a lot of danger and hostility for kids when they need all the support that they can get.


So I think investing in supports, making sure that people have access to health care, supporting families on the ground, that's also essential at this time.


Carol Jenkins 

You've given us many ways forward, Jocelyn, as always. You never disappoint in terms of knowing what the solutions are and the things that we need to act on. We thank you so much for being with us today and for the work that you're doing at the Partnership.


Jocelyn Frye 

Well, thank you for having me. These are such important questions, and I really appreciate both of you giving me the opportunity to share with you some of our research.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, we appreciate your doing that. Thank you very much.


Jocelyn Frye

Thank you.


The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John


Carol Jenkins 

Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger, is a 40-year-old organization with a big portfolio that includes ending food insecurity for LGBTQ older adults, Native Americans, single mothers, veterans, and military families.


Jeff Madrick 

Mazon believes that strengthening assistance programs like SNAP are essential to ending child poverty. Here's Abby Leibman explaining why.


Carol Jenkins 

Abby, thanks so much for being with us today. I love what you were doing at Mazon. The website is just fabulous. And the education pieces are miraculous. The history is wonderful. Tell us a little bit more about what this whole concept evolved into, how it started and what you're doing.


Abby Leibman 

I have to thank you for those very kind words. Mazon -- full name Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger -- has been around for almost 40 years. It was founded by some visionaries who were appalled by the fact that there was actually terrible hunger in America. And some of that had been brought to the attention of the American public in the 1960s in a documentary that CBS had done, but the country established certain programs at that time.


But then, as these things go, sort of turned its attention away to something else. And Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger was these men that the Jewish community needed to be a part of not only the larger social justice community, but that it had to make food justice a priority in that.


And the work of Mazon has always been about the big picture, visionary, policy-change thinking. We are created and run with the intention of working to end hunger and its causes. And we have no illusions that this will take time. But we understand that unless you get started, then you are doomed to fail.


So the work that we do is about identifying where there are challenges or barriers or even opportunities where we could increase food security in America. And right now, there are about 35 to 38 million Americans who are food insecure, which essentially means that they do not know where their next meal is going to come from. And our work is about saying, “Why?” and then saying, “Well, here's what you could do differently.”


And in recent years, probably for the last decade, 12, 15 years, something like that, Mazon has looked at those parts of America where the specific concerns of the populations that are food insecure are not being addressed adequately. That is, a one-size-fits all approach is a great foundation, but it will not move the ball forward for many populations. So we focus on these -- what we think of as our vulnerable populations.


And those right now include currently serving military families, single mothers, veterans, LGBTQ seniors, the peoples of Puerto Rico and the other territories, and tribal nations and other indigenous people.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, I am a little bit stunned that military families have hunger problems. I couldn't have imagined it until I read the research you all have done. How did you discover it? Because it seemed like the military was trying to hide it.


Abby Leibman 

When I first arrived at Mazon, the week after I started work here in 2011, is the big national anti-hunger policy conference in Washington, DC. And while at that conference, I could see that there was a session about military and veteran hunger. So we went to that session. And on the panel, all of the panelists were discussing hunger among veterans. And there was a man in the room introduced himself, Dave Rainey, who is the head of the Alabama Food Bank.


He said, we have an issue with currently serving military families because they cannot get access to SNAP, which is what we call the food stamp program in America. And he said there's this weird glitch in the law that keeps them from being able to access this, despite being income eligible, and the panel had no good answer for him.


First of all, they didn't really understand what he was talking about. I followed him out into the hall after the session and said, “Can you tell me more about what you're talking about?” And he explained to me that military members get a base took allowance for housing. And that allowance is typically set at what the median rent and utilities, rent or mortgage payments would be in that surrounding community. Members who live on base don't need that allowance.


But there's a huge waiting list to get on base housing. And for military members who are parts of families, usually the head of household, right, this allowance doesn't cover the kind of housing that they're going to need for their families. But it is important resource for them. It is counted as income for purposes of determining whether your income eligible for SNAP, despite the fact that it is not treated as income by the IRS or other federal agencies.


So if you include the BAH in an income calculation, currently serving members of military are not eligible for SNAP. If you take it out, literally tens of thousands of them are. So this is the problem. You know, base pay for people in the lower-level enlisted is essentially poverty wages for families of four in the United States. So this -- because military pay really was never conceived of as being the income for a family. These things were set when the idea was that you had young men graduating from high school and didn't know what to do with themselves, and they enlisted in the military.


Jeff Madrick 

Well, I wanted to ask you how this housing exclusion developed? What was the source of that?


Abby Leibman 

So it truly is a glitch in the law under the code that governs the USDA Food Stamp Program. There's a long list of things that are excluded from the income calculation for purposes of determining your income eligibility. And the BAH is not listed there. What language of that statute says is, if it's not listed here, it's income. So we have spent -- I will tell you, I looked at this when I first learned about it. And I said, That's so easy. I'm a lawyer, by training and experience, and I thought, Not bad, we can get this fixed.


Here we are 12 years later, still trying to get it fixed because the only fix that USDA says it can do is to amend the statute, so that this gets listed in the statute. They can't do it by regulations. They can't do it simply by policy. It therefore needs an amendment to the legislation. And the Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has not been willing to do that. So we're trying again this year. So we will see.


Carol Jenkins 

So glad you're working on that, Abby, as well as 80% of the families that are headed by a single parent are women and over 40% of them are food insecure. Talk to us a little bit about how you fix that. You have a lot on your plate. You know, this is a fabulous portfolio that you've created.


Abby Leibman 

The need is there, and you have to do it. And we have a remarkably visionary board of directors that really sets this course. So the issues for single mothers are, I think, fascinating for many people who know that one of the things that triggers us looking at an issue is that others are not.


Now, it doesn't mean that others aren't concerned about single mothers in America, because there are many organizations that are, but focusing on the food insecurity aspects of their lives is something that most anti-hunger organizations do not do, nor do many women's rights organizations. It is, you know, global concerns about poverty or working poverty, but never about what it means to be food insecure.


And there's challenges, again, that they face that others don't. For example, states set a lot of the rules and regulations about how SNAP will be administered. The money comes from the federal government. And in some states, single mothers are required to cooperate with child support enforcement in order to get their SNAP for the family. Oftentimes, this means that the ex-spouse who's receiving the child support has to confront the non-paying spouse. And some states have exceptions for circumstances in which there has been a court order around domestic violence, but not all of them.


And the idea that in order to get food for your family, you have to first go pursue somebody who's probably in an adversarial relationship with you seems abhorrent to the whole purpose of what the food stamp program is supposed to be. And it places a challenge in the path of single mothers that nobody else is facing.


So we're going to try to get the federal government to tell states can't do this anymore. And if we can't do that, then we will go into each of these states and work with advocates on the ground there to get this changed in state law.


Jeff Madrick 

Are you making some progress?


Abby Leibman 

What we haven't really discussed -- there's this big elephant in the room this year because this is the year of where we have to pass the Farm Bill. Farm Bills must pass legislation every five years. A huge, comprehensive piece of legislation that governs water and forests and the growing of food, the production of food and food insecurity in America.


So this is where you have an opportunity to pose new legislation, new policy changes, and you try to do it through the Farm Bill. So that's part of what we're trying to do. And we are working in a couple of states to see that there's some movement here. But we're just beginning a lot of this work.


Carol Jenkins 

Abby, talk to us a bit about SNAP. Your website indicates that the average support per meal per person is $1.80. And we don't really understand how there is an expectation that people can actually live on what's being offered. So talk to us about that $1.80 that has to nutritiously feed each person.


Abby Leibman 

Now, you know, that's an all-time high. And at this point, there are members of Congress that are arguing that the USDA had no authority to use a different measure -- They changed the way they calculated your eligibility for benefits and how much those benefits would be based on something called the Thrifty Food Plan, which had not been updated in 60 years, and so that this current administration updated the plan. So it made more sense in terms of what the current economics are of the United States. So $1.80 is sizably more than what it had been.


So my first answer to you Carol is, I don't know. I have no idea. I have no idea, first of all, how anyone could manage on that. And second of all, how anyone thinks that someone can manage on that. But yet, there are members of Congress that are strong advocates for cutting the benefit further and for cutting the program down to a very minimal amount.


So, you know, SNAP is a progressive entitlement program, which means that if you meet the criteria, you get the benefit. And so it expands as the need expands and then contracts when the need gets smaller. And you can imagine, during the pandemic, there was a lot of discussion about the fact that it had to really expand far more. Then we saw these boosts in the benefits that people were getting both in terms of unemployment and in terms of the Child Tax Credit and in terms of the SNAP benefit. And we saw child poverty decreased by 50%. Stunning.


So this isn't rocket science. When we go back to the idea of, what are the causes of hunger? And how can we do this? We know how to do it. In fact, we almost ended hunger in the United States in the 1960s and ‘70s.


And Mazon has this new educational resource, which is a virtual museum that tells the story of hunger in America from about the Civil War all the way through to current time and how we moved to a place of worse and worse food insecurity. And then we started to move out of -- and improve it. And now we're back where it's bad.


Again, I think there's a lot of mythology around first of all, who's poor, why they're poor, and what it takes to get out of poverty in America. I’m no longer surprised, Carol, by what I hear from people about their misperceptions. I'm only angry and inspired to do more as they use those misperceptions to create policy. And that's the danger that they are in positions of authority and can make law for hundreds of millions of people and it's based on an ignorant assumption about what they're trying to address.


Jeff Madrick 

Amazing that this country -- because I've written a fair amount about poverty, this country thinks of itself as decent and allows itself to have such high poverty levels.


Abby Leibman 

So one of the things that Mazon is unique in its role is because we use Jewish values and teachings to inspire the work that we do, and they're really a huge part of how we approach our work. And among those are the idea tselem Elohim, which means that we are all made in the image of the divine.


So we approach this work by saying there's no judgment here. There's no stigma, and that there is only need. And if you are in need, then you need help. And the obligation for us about not standing idly by while your neighbor bleeds means that we step in when we see what's wrong, and that it's not really a movement toward decency or compassion. It's about justice. And in Hebrew, the root word for charity is justice. And it's really about being responsive to vulnerabilities that were not of people's own making.


There are huge systemic biases that have informed this country and infected its responses, for lack of a better term, including the horrible legacies of systemic racism that stemmed from having enslaved people for hundreds of years, and systemic misogyny. And then we see renewed vigor around homophobia, and these are not small considerations. These are the ways in which we have shaped policy. And our response to people and why they're in the circumstances they are, there's no blaming here.


We did this, we as a nation, and we have to take responsibility for that. And I think that when the leaders in the Republican Party and the extreme portions of that party talk about what they want to do to these programs, by eviscerating them, it is because they embrace an antithetical view to that. Their view is that people are base or corrupt or all kinds of other, what I would see as racist tropes, frankly, that are completely false. And again, using a false narrative leads you to policy solutions that are actually policy problems.


Carol Jenkins 

Every one of the great things about your website, in addition to the museum is your Take Action section where you give people a way to easily respond to those policymakers. Talk a little bit about that.


Abby Leibman 

So, you know, as I said, you know, Mazon was really founded on the notion that if we can change things, we can make the world a better place. And so it's really rooted in this idea of change. And the way in which we make change in America is through our democracy and our democratic processes. And those don't work unless people participate.


So the idea for us is to say, “Here are these targeted actions here are things that you can do,” and to make it as easy as possible because, you know, if the entry point is low, then people will come in. And we believe the more they learn, the more they engage, the more they will continue to learn and engage.


We do more work that is much more focused and hands-on and entails more on the part of individuals who want to volunteer and do this, much of that is done locally and at the state level. But we are conscious of the role and responsibility we have to bring this message to those leaders, both in the administration and in the Congress. And we need other people behind us to say, “Here's what I think, too. Here's what I know.”


And even when, you know, you're in the museum itself, at the end of the museum, there is a place, the Wishing Tree. In the Wishing Tree, you can leave a perspective about something that you think should be done, the way in which it has moved you, the way in which you have experienced these issues yourself. And there are ways to go to take action, again because I never want to leave people feeling helpless or hopeless.


This is really about saying, “Yes, you should be devastated by what you're learning. And that should drive you to action.” Because when we can work together, we actually really can move this country forward to, I think, Jeff, where you were alluding to this place where our ideals tell us we are supposed to be. And that's the essence of what that take action is supposed to be.


Carol Jenkins 

Abby, thank you so much for the work you do and for being very, very illuminating.


Abby Leibman 

Thank you for having me.


Jeff Madrick 

Thanks so much for joining us.

The Invisible Americans theme by Bridget St. John

Jeff Madrick

History will judge the nation's decency in various ways, one of them will surely be the well-being of all its children. American neglect of its poor children is both inexplicable and deplorable. By basic measures, it has the highest child poverty rate among rich nations in the world. A generation of careful academic research has shown how damaging this has been to children's cognition, health, nutrition, and future wages. And 2021 Congress and the president adopted an enlightened program that expanded the Child Tax Credit and made it available to almost all children no matter their race, ethnicity, or how little their parents earned. The results were stunning, cutting the poverty rate by half. But Congress refused to renew the program. In coming months, this podcast will examine the future of the Child Tax Credit and other key policies to protect children from the destructiveness of poverty. We are dedicated to restoring a bright and optimistic future for all children in this land long celebrated for equal opportunity.


Carol Jenkins 

Thanks so much for joining us on The Invisible Americans podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, but we urge you to visit our website for transcripts, show notes, research and additional information about our guests and their work. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Please follow us on social media and our new YouTube channel. And our blog posts are up on Medium, as well as our website. That’s www.theinvisibleamericans.com.


Jeff and I will see you the next time.



Jocelyn Frye

President of the National Partnership for Women & Families

Jocelyn Frye is President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Under her leadership, the organization is focused on advancing economic justice, affordable and equitable health care, civil rights, and reproductive freedom for women who face the steepest barriers – including women of color, women with the lowest incomes, women with disabilities, and transgender women.

Prior to taking the helm of the National Partnership, Frye was a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), one of the country’s foremost progressive think tanks. In that role, she shaped policy development for CAP’s Women’s Initiative across a wide range of issues – including narrowing the gender pay gap, improving women’s employment opportunities and economic stability, combating gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence, and addressing the Black maternal health crisis.

Before joining CAP, Frye served in the White House during the administration of Barack Obama. As Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Policy and Special Projects for the First Lady, she oversaw a broad issue portfolio focused on improving the lives of women and families. She helped lead the two signature initiatives of then-First Lady Michelle Obama: tackling childhood obesity and supporting military families. She also played an important part in fostering career development opportunities for young women through the White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative.

Frye’s current tenure at the National Partnership marks her second stint with the organization. She previously acted as the National Partnership’s General Counsel, concentrating on employment and discrimination issues facing women of color and low-income women. Furthermore, she helped spearhead the organization’s advocacy around judicial nominations and the Supreme Court.

Frye began her legal career at the firm of Crowell & Moring. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan.

Abby Leibman

President & CEO at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Abby J. Leibman has been President & CEO at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger since 2011. Prior to her current tenure, Ms. Leibman had a consulting practice to assist social justice organizations, businesses, and public institutions meet the challenges of growth and change, including leadership development, managing diversity, and implementing strategies to respond to discrimination. Among her clients, Ms. Leibman worked with some of California’s most innovative organizations, including Jewish World Watch, Food Forward, L.A.’s BEST, UCLA Hillel, Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (now Bend the Arc).

For over 20 years, Ms. Leibman has worked with and led some of California’s most prominent nonprofit organizations, including the California Women’s Law Center, which she co-founded and directed for 12 years. Prior to founding the California Women’s Law Center, Ms. Leibman was the Directing Attorney/Community Programs for Public Counsel, where she developed and then directed its Child Care Law Project and managed its project providing pro bono transactional assistance to nonprofit organizations. Ms. Leibman served a two-year term as one of five civilians appointed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to the Equity Oversight Panel for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. Ms. Leibman directed the New Leaders Project of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, for which she developed the project’s curriculum to guide emerging leaders on making civic engagement a priority.

Ms. Leibman also has a distinguished record of community leadership including: the Board of Directors for Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the Board of California Women Lawyers, the Court and Community Outreach Task Force of the California Judicial Council, Women Lawyers’ Association of Los Angeles and as President of the California Children’s Council. She served as chair of the West Hollywood Human Services Commission, a member of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Child Care, a member of the Women’s Advisory Council to the Los Angeles Police Commission. Ms. Leibman has served on the Board of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and on the Executive Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Commission.

Ms. Leibman served as adjunct faculty at UCLA and the Graduate School of Management at American Jewish University.

Ms. Leibman has received a number of prestigious honors, including the Hastings College of Law Alumnae of the Year, California Women Lawyer’s Faye Stender Award, Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles’ Ernestine Stalhut Award, UCSD’s Top 100 Influential Alumni Award, USC Law Center’s Public Interest Advocate Award, and the So. California Employer Round Table’s Carol F. Schiller Award.

She has a J.D. from Hastings College of Law and graduated magna cum laude from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Political Science.