Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

6 posts from January 2007

Finding True Love While Ending Hunger

Most of you probably know that Bread for the World’s mission is to seek justice and end hunger.  What you might not realize is that Bread for the World (BFW) also has a reputation for bringing staff together in holy matrimony!  In consulting with some long-time Bread staff, there have been at least 10 marriages (one soon to be wedding - which happens to be mine) between BFW staff and at least 2 marriages (but probably many more) between BFW activists in its 33-year history.  Today I would like to remember one such couple that met and fell in love while working at BFW.

11 years ago a Bread for the World domestic policy analyst, working on our Elect to End Childhood Hunger Offering of Letters Campaign, decided she needed an intern.  So, on this very day eleven years ago, she interviewed a recent college graduate and soon thereafter hired him to be her intern.  While Bread does not usually encourage a supervisor/intern relationship, this couple was meant to be; true love was found, which eventually led to a beautiful marriage and an awesome child!!!!  Today, I raise my coffee mug to toast and celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the first time Lynette and Will met each other!!

Here’s to finding true love AND ending hunger!

The Truth About Food Stamps

The Food Stamp Program (FSP) is our nation’s first defense against hunger. Like many programs for the poor, it comes under much scrutiny, especially when it seems that recipients are not using their benefits wisely. These are our tax dollars, people argue; we don’t this money wasted. The FSP, however, is very efficient and effective program, and it is a vital safety net for the poorest people in this country. Many myths about this program persist, though, so let’s set the record straight.

 The Food Stamp Program increases food purchasing power of poor people.
Participating households enjoy greater food and protein availability than eligible households who do not participate. Some studies show that participating households consume more vitamins and minerals, but the evidence for this is weaker (1).

It would be nice to think that people who receive food stamps purchase only healthy, wholesome foods.  However, one of the benefits of this program is that it allows participants to make their own decisions about food. This independence is important for maintaining autonomy and dignity for poor families. Also, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables cost more than processed goods that are often high in sugar and fat. With the average monthly food stamp benefit hovering around $1 per meal for each person in the household, buying healthy food is challenging.

Half of all FSP participants are children. Eight percent are elderly. Around 16% of households who receive food stamps have at least one member who is disabled. Nearly all households who participate in the program live below the poverty line. Two out of five of these households earn incomes that reach less than half of the poverty line. The FSP average participant has countable resources (including bank accounts and some non-excludable vehicles) totaling $137. Only U.S.citizens and some permanent residents are eligible (2).

What all these statistics mean is that food stamps are reaching the poorest people in our country, and those who are most vulnerable to food insecurity. With low incomes and few resources to fall back on, these households depend on food stamps to ensure that they can feed their families.

FSP benefits can only be used for food purchases. Benefits can not be used for cigarettes, alcohol, or pet foods. Te electronic benefit card, which has replaced the old paper stamps, creates an electronic record and reduced improper use of FSP benefits.

The FSP is more efficient than ever. Of households receiving food stamp benefits, 98% are eligible. And of all the errors reported in the FSP, two-thirds are the result of caseworker errors, not participant misinformation. The overwhelming majority of overpayments went to very poor households, and did not even push these families over the poverty line.

The Food Stamp Program ensures that the poorest households in our country can buy food. The program continues to improve in efficiency, and it is our hope that we use the 2007 Farm Bill as an opportunity to strengthen and expand this important safety net. We are one of the richest nations in the world, and we can certainly afford to help our poorest citizens buy the food they need.

1. Fox, Mary K., William Hamilton, and Biing-Hwan Lin. ""Effects of Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs on Nutrition and Health: Executive Summary of the Literature Review, Volume 4". Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report, No. (FANRR 1904). December 2004
2. "Characteristics of Food Stamp Households, Fiscal Year 2005." Food and Nutrtion Services, Office of Analysis, Nutrition and Evaluation. Sept. 2006
3. "GAO Finds Food Stamp Program Improving." http://harkin.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=237281

Why the Farm Bill?

    If you had the chance to reduce hunger in the U.S., strengthen rural communities, and help farmers in the developing world, wouldn’t you take it? In fact, we have just such an opportunity this year. One mammoth piece of legislation heavily impacts all three of these areas, and it is renewed just once every five years. Let me introduce (drumroll, please)… the Farm Bill!

                U.S. Hunger and the Farm Bill

    The largest expenditure in the Farm Bill, by far, is the nutrition program. Ninety-five percent of this goes to the Food Stamp program, our nation’s first defense against hunger. Food stamps allow low-income families and individuals to buy nutritious food. Food stamps are also an essential safety net for households who experience natural disasters. After the Katrina and Wilma hurricanes, 4 million additional families used food stamps to avoid hunger.
    In our country today, 11.4% of households are hungry or at risk of hunger. This means that, while they are not dying of starvation, there are days when they skip meals because they cannot afford to buy food. The Food Stamp Program helps to combat hunger, but it does not do enough. Half of the households who receive food stamps still report hunger. Perhaps this is because the average monthly Food Stamp benefit per participant equals $92.72, or $1.03 per meal!
    Bread for the World wants to increase benefits and participation in the Food Stamp Program, as well as provide incentives for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. This is a great opportunity to improve the food security and nutrition for poor people in this country.

                   Rural Communities in America

    When you think of rural America, do you picture farmers? Today, 50 million Americans live in rural communities; only 3 million of them are farmers.  Many rural communities are struggling to keep up with the changing economy. The poverty rate in rural America is 14%, and the child hunger rate is a horrifying 20%! If we want to address rural poverty, we must examine the whole picture.
    In the last Farm Bill, only 3% of the budget went to rural development. Bread for the World is asking for an increase in this budget, to allow for local incentives to revitalize rural towns, to provide resources and incentives for rural entrepreneurs, and to increase telecommunications and Internet access in rural areas.
    While rural development got only a sliver of the pie, 21% of the last Farm Bill budget went to commodity payments for farmers. The wealthiest 10% of farmers received 66% of the payments. In other words, most of the money went to the farmers who needed the least! Bread is asking that the commodity payment program be more efficient, so that government support can go to those who need it most.

                       Farmers in Developing Countries

    The vast majority of the world’s poor and hungry people work in farming. Our commodity payment program hurts them when the world agricultural market is flooded with cheap American crops. Our commodity payment program pays farmers based on how much they produce, encouraging them to produce more than the market demands. Farmers in developing countries cannot compete with these artificially low prices for agricultural products and often cannot make a living anymore from their farms.
    Our trade-distorting commodity payment program is ruining the livelihoods of many farmers in the developing world. Bread for the World wants to reform this program in the next Farm Bill, so that we help the American farmers who are struggling instead of encouraging the largest commercial farms to overproduce. This, in turn, would allow farmers in the developing world to earn a living. It’s a win-win situation!

    The 2007 Farm Bill has great potential to reduce hunger and poverty both in the U.S. and internationally. Many people, churches, and organizations from all over the political spectrum are working together to revise this legislation to better our nation and the developing world. Whether you are a long-time activist or this is your first introduction to Bread, the 2007 Farm Bill promises to be an exciting opportunity to impact world hunger.

Become a Change Leader

Change_logo_2 The Oxfam America CHANGE Initiative is now accepting student applications for the 2007-2008 academic year.

The CHANGE Initiative aims to develop capable and confident young leaders, who are active agents for positive social change.  Oxfam is looking for a diverse group of undergraduate students - rising sophomores and juniors - committed to social justice issues.  Students must have an interest in global issues including mining, Fair Trade Coffee, hunger, and international trade, and be willing to carry out campaigns on their campuses and in their communities.

Applications are due April 1, 2007. Apply online at www.oxfamamerica.org/change. If you have any questions please call 800-77-OXFAM ext. 2464 or email CHANGE@oxfamamerica.org.

The Change Initiative is a challenging and exciting program.  Working together with organizations like Oxfam and Bread for the World you can help end poverty and injustice.

What's Up for 2007

2007_ol_logo_color_1 Bread for the World's Offering of Letters campaign for this year, 2007, focuses on improving the U.S. farm bill to help struggling farmers and hungry people - in this country and around the world.  Stay tuned for more detailed information on this campaign and how you can be involved.

In the mean time, if you want to read more about why the Farm Bill is important and what are07hrcoversm some of the hot issues within the bill, let me suggest two places to look.  First, Bread for the World Institute released its 2007 Hunger Report called Healthy Food, Farmers and Families. Key nutrition programs, rural development initiatives, commodity payments, conservation programs and agricultural trade issues are all shaped by the farm bill. Hunger 2007 brings these strands together into a single narrative, presenting a case for reform that can substantially reduce hunger.  It also comes with a study guide!  Yeah!

To get more information on the subsidy portion of the Farm Bill, please check out a series of articles the Washington Post has been writing called Harvesting Cash Working a Farm Subsidy.  There's a lot of information there for your enjoyment, but I would like to highlight one recent December article that highlights Bread for the World, Powerful Interests Ally to Restructure Agriculture Subsidies.

Happy Reading and Researching!  Share your thoughts/questions/concerns here.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!  I hope that 2007 is a year that brings more peace and justice to our world.Bfw30thlogo_1 

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