Texas Families to Benefit from Religious Accommodation


asher_block-smallThis week, families in Texas receiving federal assistance through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC) were informed by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (TDHHS) that Kosher and Cholov Yisroel milk and cheese will now be covered under the program in the state, beginning April 1, 2009. A division of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WIC ensures the health and nutrition of eligible pregnant women, nursing women, and infants and children under the age of five. Currently, WIC serves 45% of all infants born in the United States.

asher_blockAlthough most food staples included under WIC coverage, such as eggs, beans and juice, had never posed a problem to observant Jewish families, higher-standard kosher milk and cheese had until now been out of reach for WIC eligible families due to certain federal and state regulations. Rabbi Asher Block, Agudath Israel’s Texas Regional director commented: “I am grateful to TDHHS for their many hours of hard work to ensure that the kosher needs of Jewish families throughout the state are acknowledged and accommodated.”

The development resulted from extensive collaboration over the last several months between Rabbi Block, concerned parents from across the state and officials from TDHHS in Austin. The efforts involved working closely with supermarket franchises in the state that carry kosher dairy products, as well as with milk and cheese suppliers across the country, to ensure that adaptation and implementation of the new WIC-covered kosher products would run as smoothly as possible.
“Educating and sensitizing the public regarding the unique dietary concerns of our constituents was key during the entire process,” said Rabbi Block. “Enabling these families to maximize their participation in this critical federal program will, we hope, help provide hard-strapped families financial relief, especially important during these times of economic uncertainty,” noted Dr. Zev Munk, Advisory Board Chairman of Agudath Israel of Texas.

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, National Director of Government Affairs for Agudath Israel noted that the breakthrough “will provide significant financial savings for families in our communities. Additionally it will hopefully open the door for religious accommodations of a similar nature by WIC state offices across the country.”

{Elisha Ferber-Matzav.com Newscenter}