Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

9 posts from May 2011

Overall Spending Caps Would Dismantle and Defund Programs for Hungry and Poor People

Right now, members of Congress are looking at how to best to reduce the federal government’s long-term deficits. One idea that has re-emerged, despite being rejected in previous budget debates, is creating a cap on all federal spending. This proposal has serious consequences for how the government provides aid to needy families.

An overall spending cap, also known as a global spending cap, would limit the total amount of money the federal government can spend each year. Although it could be implemented in different ways, the most prominent plan for a cap by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would restrict spending to 20.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This cap, while representing a 40-year average in spending, does not reflect a federal government with greater responsibilities nor the costs of rising health care and retiring baby boomers. Today, spending is closer to 25 percent of GDP, meaning that hundreds of billions of dollars would have to be cut to reach the Corker -McCaskill target. As we’ve seen from recent attempts to cut spending, those cuts would disproportionally come from low-income programs.

Undoubtedly, the country faces difficult fiscal decisions. In the long term, debt is expected to increase to unstable proportions, putting government assistance at risk. Congress must take action to reduce future deficits. Yet the economy is still recovering, and many who can’t find work rely on government programs to put food on the table and pay healthcare expenses. It’s important to recognize that not only do caps do nothing to energize the economy, they also put struggling families at further risk by cutting critical programs.

These caps also do nothing to address the true drivers of our deficits. As shown in this graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, rising healthcare costs and retiring baby boomers are expected to drive up the costs of Medicaid and Medicare in the future. Interest payments on debt borrowed to pay for the wars, tax cuts, and recession are also expected to grow. A spending cap would not fix these structural problems but instead force even deeper cuts to other programs to make room for the increasing costs.

While proposals for overall caps have not yet cited specific changes to spending, you can look to Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to see the kinds of deep cuts needed to meet those targets. That plan attempts to balance the budget on programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which does not contribute to increasing deficits as discussed in Institute Notes, and by cutting international and domestic poverty programs by at least a third. And like the Ryan plan, using tax revenues for deficit reduction is not an option under a spending cap that only counts the dollars that would be cut from the budget.

During a recession, GDP naturally falls as jobs are lost and consumers buy less. As we saw in the last few years, the only sector that can spend and counteract this trend is the government. Spending on SNAP, for example, is designed to, and did, automatically increase with need. But if an overall spending cap is enacted, the government would lose its ability to respond to rising needs during economic downturns and even natural disasters. In fact, because GDP shrinks, the government would actually have to make cuts.

Along with other Christian leaders, Bread for the World recently asked Congress to form a circle of protection around programs for poor and hungry people. Instead of focusing on enacting spending caps that harm these families, we must look to Congress to take responsible action on deficits with a holistic whole-of-budget approach that also includes revenue increases and that ensures the budget is not balanced on our most vulnerable populations.

For more information on how budget negotiations could affect hungry and poor people, please visit our budget page.

Ben D'Avanzo is Mimi Meehan fellow at Bread for the World.

Cell Phones and Health in Sauri, Kenya

By now most people know cell phones have helped improve the lives of many living in developing countries.

A study published by the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2007 found that a group of poor fishermen in India increased their profits by an average of 8% after using their cell phones to find the best prices for sardines. Mobile banking has become the alternative way for many poor people to pay for goods: they trade unused minutes for things they need.

But I have to admit, this story from Kenya was the first time I heard of cell phones helping health workers speed up diagnoses and help fight preventable diseases. In this video, Steven Omollo, the health worker, even uses his phone to confirm a suspected case of malnutrition.

From cell phones to solar panels, technology plays a big role in alleviating hunger and poverty around the world. As we wrote in the 2010 Hunger Report:

There are many simple and affordable technologies, like caulk guns or ceramic stoves, which can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While we want to make sure that advanced technologies like solar and wind power are shared, we also don’t want to miss relatively easy solutions that will have a big impact.

Sometimes smaller is better. Certainly, Steven Omollo would agree.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.


India's Free Lunch

It's a fact: Hungry kids have a hard time learning. They can't concentrate. They don't behave well. Their academic performance suffers. It's why Bread for the World pushed Congress to renew the Child Nutrition Act last year. We were excited when it passed.

Over in India, all primary schools have been providing a free lunch for their students since 2001. The students also get vitamin A, iron, folic acid, and de-worming tablets with their meals. The result has been improved student health and lowered truancy rates. In the state of Karnataka, the number of children out of school fell to 70,000 in 2007 from 1 million in 2001, said Vijay Bhaskar, secretary of primary and secondary education for the Karnataka government.

"I would only say that children would like only a hot cooked midday meal," said Bhaskar. "Because any person who has seen children eating a hot meal would know that no cookie can substitute for it."

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

‘No Más Hambre’

Hunger and poverty rates among Latinos are higher than in the general U.S. population. That’s among the reasons folks at Latino magazine launched “No Más Hambre” (Hunger No More), an initiative that aims to bring more attention to the thousands of Latinos who go hungry.

Community leaders, hunger relief advocates, and government officials will share ideas and develop a Latino anti-hunger agenda at next Tuesday’s No Más Hambre summit in Washington, DC. Ricardo Moreno, Bread’s national organizer for Latino relations, will be among the panelists, as will Tony Hall, executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, a Bread partner.

“People need to become aware of the pressing need to end hunger in this country, especially among Hispanics—who are now more than 16 percent of the population,” Moreno said. “These forums help us create awareness and develop synergy to lobby for change and speak on behalf of the needy, particularly those who are hungry and poor.”

In the United States, more than one in four Latino households—26.9 percent—struggles to put food on the table, compared to 14.6 percent of all households. Latinos are also disproportionately affected by poverty. Latino children represent a growing share of all poor children, with 33.1 percent—or 5.6 million—living in poverty.

Attendance is free at No Mas Hámbre, which takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 17 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC. Register here.

A Challenge from Bill and Melinda Gates

Did you know most of the world’s poorest people are small farmers who grow their own food and make money from their plots of land? They often lack tools and resources that enable them to grow more and have enough crops to take to market.

One key to reducing hunger and poverty is to invest in these farming families. This is already happening—and there are successes around the world from these investments.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a challenge: Create a compelling message using your design, filmmaking, or writing skills that shows why investing in small farmers is good for the world. Take part and give a shout-out for small farmers.

Read more about the challenge.

Coping with Soaring Food Prices in Mexico

Back in 2008, rocketing food prices sparked riots and may have pushed an estimated 100 million people into extreme poverty. Three years later, the world is once again faced with a food price crisis. People are rioting in Uganda and higher prices helped trigger the downfall of leaders in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.

What can be done on an individual level?

It's worth watching this story to see how Angela Lopez and her husband coped during the last crisis. Lopez planted a garden and--with help from the Mexican government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization--harvested rainwater for crops. Would you do the same? Are you already?

This story also touches on immigration from Mexico to the United States, tracing the root cause of migration to the fact that people can't support themseves in Mexico and thus need jobs back home. Bread for the World takes this same stance. You can learn more about it in our video, Stay: Migration and Poverty in Rural Mexico.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Empowered Ethiopian Women Work on Water Issues

Water and weather are two critical factors in ending hunger. One in six people have no access to safe water, and changing climate patterns mean shorter growing seasons in some parts of the world and floods in others.

Drought is the problem in southern Ethiopia. Women there often suffer the most when climate change leads to unpredictable rainfall and weather patterns: They are the caretakers of both children and cattle, and so they're acutely attuned to a lack of food or water. Through a partnership with a local organization, these women are sharing their knowledge to help pinpoint when droughts are happening. Then they take action.

"Sitting idle is good for nothing. It does not sustain or change your life," said Kalicha Chachu, a community elder. "So we rehabilitate ponds. We are also clearing invasive bushes and preparing rangeland."


Do you like this story and want to see more? Then you're in luck. This is the first in a weekly series of videos Bread for the World will be featuring from ViewChange, a nonprofit that connects people to short films about global development and the resources to take action. (We had one of our immigration videos featured on the website.)

We'll be showcasing some amazing stories and also letting you know how they connect to Bread for the World's work on hunger and poverty issues. We believe powerful stories can compel people to action. So watch the blog every Wednesday for the latest video. We hope you'll be educated and inspired by what you see.

Can We Feed the World?

This is sure to be an interesting conversation: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Harvest Public Media will host an online forum answering the question posed above. (It's also an in-person forum for those of you near the Reynolds Journalism Institute on the University of Missouri-Columbia campus.) Bread for the World's own David Beckmann will be a call-in guest at 7:45 p.m. ET. You can follow on Twitter and ask questions at #food4world.

Myths about Foreign Aid

When it comes to foreign aid, many Americans believe we spend—and send—far more than we do.

For years, public opinion polls have shown Americans think the United States spends 20-25 percent of its budget on foreign aid. The actual amount? Less than 1 percent.

That’s one of the myths John Norris debunks in “Five Myths about Foreign Aid,” which ran in Sunday’s Washington Post. Norris is executive director of the sustainable security program at the Center for American Progress.

Four other myths:

  • Republicans hate foreign aid.
  • We give aid so countries will do as we say.
  • Foreign governments waste the aid we give them.
  • No one ever graduates from U.S. foreign aid.

On that last point, Norris writes, "Nations across Latin America and Asia were dismissed in the 1960s as perennial basket cases, yet countries in both regions combined sensible reforms with a jump-start from U.S. assistance programs to achieve dynamic, lasting growth."

The short piece is worth a read.


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