Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

42 posts from October 2011

The Earned Income Tax Credit: A Fence at the Top of the Cliff

111101_heatherIn his book, The Rising of Bread for the World, founder Art Simon remembers an old saying of his dad’s, “It’s better to build a fence at the top of the cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom.”

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a fence, and a small amount of assistance at the right time can prevent long term and devastating poverty.  A new report by Tom Dowd and John B. Horowitz emphasizes the temporary use of EITC, which helps families make ends meet in times of transition. The report published in the Public Finance Review says that most families who receive the credit have young children, low wages, and need it for an average of two years, as outlined last week by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Last year, we told you how on this blog how EITC got Ian Finch through a rough spot and gave him the footing to build a better future, helping break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

With the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress must reduce the deficit by a minimum of $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.  Since EITC is not discretionary spending, it is exempt from the first phase of the deficit reduction or automatic cuts (sequestration). But for the Super Committee, currently meeting now and negotiating at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, EVERYTHING is on the table.

The bipartisan task force may choose to look at revenues as they negotiate and could conceivably reduce or cut the program that pulls more children out of poverty than any other government program.  Conversely, they could do nothing. They should follow the principle used in the last three major deficit reducing packages and reduce poverty and inequality at the same time as shrinking deficits, in which case EITC could potentially be expanded.

With the recent poverty numbers being the highest rates of poverty since the Great Depression, we know the fence is working.  EITC kept 5.4 million people out of poverty in 2010.

Bread members again must work hard to maintain those life-saving fences for the most vulnerable by speaking up to members of Congress who have the power to either build fences or steepen cliffs.

Robinstephenson_60pxRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer for Bread for the World who serves Montana.


Photo: Heather Turner uses her EITC reimbursement to stretch her family's budget.

A Message from David Beckmann: Your Senators Need to Hear From You

The Senate is making budget decisions right now that will impact millions of lives around the world. One of those decisions has to do with the amount of funding our government devotes to programs that alleviate hunger and poverty in developing countries.

This funding is in extreme danger—even though it accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. The budget deal members of Congress approved in August requires limits to the overall amount Congress can spend. For the first time, aid to small farmers or nutrition programs for mothers and children are competing with military spending for federal dollars in the fiscal year 2012 budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted recently on this funding and supported much higher levels than the House of Representatives.

As the appropriations bills go to the Senate floor this week, dangerous amendments to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s funding levels will likely be offered. We need you to defend the higher Senate numbers and oppose any further cuts to this lifesaving funding.

It is critical that your senator hears from you now. Tell him or her to protect lifesaving poverty-focused foreign assistance by opposing amendments that further cut this vital funding.

Use our toll-free number—1-800-826-3688—to call your senator. Please make your call by 5 p.m. EST Monday, Oct. 31. Thank you for your voice.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

+Learn more about how you can impact this important vote with your voice!

Albuquerque Hosts Circle of Protection Vigil

Dr. Diane Martinez-Hursh performs a liturgical dance during a circle of protection event at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM, organized by Carlos Navarro, a Bread for the World board member and volunteer. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

About 45 people gathered on the smooth steps of Albuquerque’s Immanuel Presbyterian Church Saturday to offer prayer and advocacy for hungry and poor people—particularly in light of the cuts Congress is considering to programs for vulnerable people in the United States and abroad.

Presbyterian minister Kay Huggins began the vigil, as participants took turns lighting each other’s candles around the circle. “We are gathered in this space as people of faith to contemplate hunger and poverty and our response as people of faith,” she said. Accompanied by flute and guitar, participants sang, read scripture, and prayed before liturgical dancer Diane Martinez-Hursh led the group into the chapel for the remainder of the service.

Carlos Navarro, a Bread board member and volunteer coordinator for New Mexico, started planning the event—called “Joining Hands in Circle of Protection”—in August. With Huggins and others, including 2010 Hunger Justice Leader Debbie Ruiz, the group planned a service that joined pastors and anti-hunger advocates from a variety of organizations and denominations—including Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Lutheran. Ruiz’s Hunger Justice Leader classmate Alicia Sedillo had a role in the service, as did representatives from Catholic Charities, Sojourners, and other members of the Circle of Protection coalition.

“This service came together very easily,” said Navarro. “The circle of protection is something a lot of people are concerned about. The challenge is taking how it touches us and doing something with it. That’s where advocacy comes in.”

After the vigil, participants stayed for a supper of rice, beans, and tortillas—and advocacy. They signed letters Navarro wrote for five candidates who are running for the open seat in the first congressional district. “We ask that if you’re elected to Congress,” the letters read, “you consider joining us in forming a circle of protection around programs that meet the essential needs of hungry people at home and abroad.”

About 25 people signed each letter by the end of supper. Navarro and others will take the letters to other meetings to get additional signatures. After they get about 100, they’ll visit the candidates personally to deliver the letters.

“We have to work at systemic change,” said Mike Shawver, director of social outreach for Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in downtown Albuquerque. “I don’t think people really realize the scope of the problem—you can cut a budget and it really hurts.”

His church hosts a weekly meal program for homeless people. “Every Sunday we open up the church to anyone who wants and provide a hot, home-cooked meal, and try to refer people to other services,” he said. “We have limited resources, but we do what we can.”

“It’s important for us to let people know what’s happening—especially here in New Mexico,” Shawver continued. “Our [representatives] are pretty accessible, so we can really have an influence.”

Molly-marshMolly Marsh is managing editor at Bread for the World.



Hunger Resources: Climate Change. Human Rights. Farmers.

Bread for the World Librarian Chris Matthews curates a list of resources for readers who want to stay on top of the latest information about hunger.

In this next installment of hunger resources, I've gathered a collection of articles on how people suffer from hunger and the overall cost of hunger in a society. Got any hunger resources of your own? Share them in the comments section below.

  • Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2011.  Claiming Human Rights:  The Accountability Challenge.  (Brot fur die Welt, FIAN and ICCO, Oct. 11, 2011)
    "Despite the growth of a worldwide Right to Food movement and the existence of international frameworks and mechanisms to protect human rights, an unacceptable number of violations remain unpunished, according to the Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2011, an annual publication released today that monitors food security and nutrition policies from a human rights perspective." 
  •  Food Sovereignty:  Reclaiming the Global Food System. (Branford, Sue. War on Want, Oct. 2011.)
     "The scandal of global hunger stands as a rebuke to humanity. The fact that record numbers of people are classified as hungry, at a time when there is unprecedented wealth in theworld, challenges the very concept of human progress."
  • Farmers Facing Loss of Subsidy May Get New One (Neuman, William, New York Times, Oct. 17, 2011)
    "It seems a rare act of civic sacrifice: in the name of deficit reduction, lawmakers from both parties are calling for the end of a longstanding agricultural subsidy that puts about $5 billion a year in the pockets of their farmer constituents. Even major farm groups are accepting the move, saying that with farmers poised to reap bumper profits, they must do their part."
  • Hunger In America:  Suffering We All Pay For (Shepard, Donald S … et al, Center for American Progress & Brandeis University, Oct. 2011)
    "The Great Recession and the currently tepid economic recovery swelled the ranks of American households confronting hunger and food insecurity by 30 percent. In 2010 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, meaning they were hungry or faced food insecurity at some point during the year."

+Click here for a full list of what we're reading at Bread for the World.

Chris Matthews is the librarian at Bread for the World Institute.

Rep. Fred Upton: The Middle Class Are Losing Jobs in Michigan

111026_fredupton[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Michigan’s 6th District, please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Rep. Fred Upton on his Facebook page or through Twitter.] 

Nancy Hamilton has lived in Michigan for 52 years and says she has never seen the economic situation as dire as it is now. “People in the middle class are just getting squeezed in so many different ways. They’re losing jobs at all levels, not just at the lowest levels,” she says. Hamilton, 74, is retired and lives in Kalamazoo, MI and is financially comfortable, but that doesn’t stop her from advocating for others who are struggling economically. Since the ’70s, she has been an active hunger advocate and supports several local direct-service organizations such as Ministry with Community, which provides services to those struggling with issues such as poverty, homelessness, and mental illness.

In Michigan, where the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in August, more than 18.7 percent of households in Michigan’s 6th congressional district struggled to put food on the table in 2010 (compared to 14.6 percent nationwide). Furthermore, 27.9 percent of children in the district were at risk of hunger in 2009 (compared to 16.6. percent nationwide). Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), who represents Michigan’s 6th congressional district, has an opportunity to support these families struggling with food insecurity in Michigan and throughout the nation as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee). Nancy Hamilton hopes that Rep. Upton will remember these families in Michigan as he makes decisions on how to trim the federal budget by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.

“I hope that Rep. Upton would work towards trying to solve the problem of poverty and homelessness and hunger,” she says. “I would encourage him to not cut any more than necessary and to not cut anything that involves people getting the food that they need.”

Join Nancy Hamilton and Bread for the World in asking Rep. Fred Upton to not cut programs that help people get the food they need such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC).

Call Rep. Fred Upton today at 1-800-826-3688 and ask him to protect poor and hungry people in Michigan and the nation.

Official photo of Rep. Fred Upton.

A Mother's Education

A community health worker shows mothers how to make a vitamin-rich porridge.

Many of us know that the first 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday are crucial to the child's development and future well-being. But not everyone knows that. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of doctors and local volunteers are educating women about the importance of proper nutrition for mothers and their children.

"What makes me happy is knowing that if I help my people, they’re going to benefit," said Mukobe Kabaila, one of the volunteers. "I would like them to live well, with good health and education."

Watch the video below to learn more.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen: Maryland Families Rely on SNAP

111026_chrisvanhollen[Editors’ note: For the next few weeks, we’ll be running a series of posts on the Bread Blog about each member of the Super Committee. If you live in Maryland’s 8th District please share this blog post with your local family and friends, and message Rep. Chris Van Hollen on his Facebook page or through Twitter.]

Maryland Hunger Solutions—an organization that fights hunger and improves nutrition for Maryland families—launched a fascinating project this past September that challenged participants to experience life on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) by trying to live on just $30 a person for food for one week. Called The Food Stamp Challenge, this was the second year Maryland Hunger Solutions held this program, and more than 90 people participated. People were encouraged to blog about their experience as they tried to make $30 of food last through the end of the week. (Alternatively, according to USDA, in FY2010 an average household in Maryland received $275.27 in SNAP benefits.)

One participant, Cathy Demeroto, wrote about her overwhelming hunger: “When I got home, I was sooooooo hungry. … But once again, I am reminded how much we can take things for granted, like having a nutritious meal,” she wrote.

Another participant, Bill McCarthy, the executive director of Catholic Charities Maryland, recounted going to Wal-Mart for his weekly groceries in a video interview with Maryland Hunger Solutions: “I passed five grocery stores to get to Wal-Mart. Many people that are using and living on the food stamp supplement don’t have the opportunity to go to Wal-Mart. They don’t have the transportation that would actually allow them to pass many grocery stores to get to a store that has more affordable food,” he said.

Indeed, nearly one in 12 people living in Maryland’s 8th congressional district—Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s district—including just under one in 10 children, lived below the poverty line ($22,113 for a family of four) compared to more than one in seven persons, and more than one in five children nationwide. Despite the fact that Maryland’s 8th congressional district includes Montgomery county—one of the welathiest counties in the nation—13,003 households in Maryland’s 8th district received SNAP benefits in 2010. Among the SNAP participants in Maryland, 38.4 percent live in households with two or more workers.

With so much poverty and food insecurity in the state, it is imperative that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) protects programs such as SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and other programs that so many people in his district receive. As a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (or Super Committee), we ask Rep. Chris Van Hollen to place a circle of protection around programs that are vital to poor and hungry people in Maryland and the United States.

Join us in asking Rep. Chris Van Hollen to protect families who rely on programs like SNAP to feed their families week by week. Call Rep. Chris Van Hollen today at 1-800-826-3688.

Official photo of Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

Turning Faith Into Action: The Justice Conference, Feb. 24 to 25


When I attended the Justice Conference last year, it felt as if I'd found my people. I often connect to the Master Creator through art and prayer. For me, prayer often takes the form of a watercolor. I have also long believed that art can be a form of advocacy that connects hearts and minds to the call of God’s justice.

So last year when I attended the Justice Conference and saw Nicholas Wolterstorff on stage giving a lecture on the theology of justice, followed by the inspiring spoken word of Micah Bournes, while in the back of the room, an artist created a beautiful original piece of art, I was hooked. I’m going back this year and I hope to see you there.

The Justice Conference is full of creative Christians using every gift from God to turn faith into action by expressing an authentic desire to live out God’s call for healing injustice in this broken world.  Micah Bournes will be back this year, as well as a host of inspiring speakers including Francis Chan, Walter Brueggeman, and Shane Claiborne.  Oh, and did I mention the music?  Prepare to be wowed.

If you can get to Portland, Oregon in February, join your thread to the thousands of others weaving their voices and gifts into a conversation about justice.

Robinstephenson_60pxRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer for Bread for the World. She will be presenting at the pre-conference on the topic of government, global poverty and God’s mission in the world.


Dispatches from Africa: Simple Solutions to Malnutrition

Mothers from the Jombo village in Southern Malawi learn the importance of good nutrition through group cooking lessons which they replicate in their individual homes.

The human and social costs of under-nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life, from conception to age 2, are staggering. In Zambia, 45 percent of children are stunted; the rates are similar in Malawi and Tanzania. Malnutrition causes disease, impaired academic performance, and lost productivity. But my experience in a village in southern Malawi gives me hope. U.S. international assistance and church action can successfully improve nutrition and bring life.

Upon our arrival, the women were dancing and singing in traditional African style, but the words were different. They chanted, “Is there nothing that WALA cannot do!” WALA is the Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement program funded by U.S. international assistance through a grant to Catholic Relief Services that is being implemented by the local Diocese of Chikwawa.

WALA’s strategies are profoundly simple and profoundly effective. Mothers are taught the importance of good nutrition, especially from the beginning of pregnancy. They are taught to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of their child's life, and then to gradually add complementary feeding as they continue to breastfeed until the child is 2 years old.

WALA also  introduced improved seed varieties that are more drought resistant, encouraged diversification of crops to enhance a nutritious diet, and provided a pump that enables people to draw water from their deep hand-dug well to irrigate their crops, especially new seedlings. The pump is operated by two men on what looks like a Stairmaster built for two.

Women come together periodically to prepare a porridge that is more nutritious than the traditional maize-only porridge. When we were there they proudly explained the benefits of adding in various flours that they had hand pulverized from dried beans and other crops. To remind themselves of the importance of a diversified diet, many of the women and men of the village wear dresses and shirts with a large logo depicting the various food groups.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, and writes about his travels to Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania as part of an ecumenical delegation of Christian leaders sponsored by Bread for the World.

Vice President Joe Biden Gives Impassioned Personal Speech on Hunger


Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech at the Global Hunger Conference yesterday to honor Howard G. Buffet and Bill Gates for their efforts in reducing global hunger. Held in the Ben Franklin Room at the U.S. Department of State, other hunger advocates and representatives from a variety of NGO’s gathered to honor Buffet and Gates.

The vice president affirmed his belief in the importance of fighting global hunger and shared a compelling story that his wife, Jill Biden, often tells people she meets.

My wife Jill tells a haunting story because it continues to haunt her—a haunting story of being in a camp and describing a meeting with a woman who made that long, long walk from Somalia’s famine zone into Kenya. She started off with two young children … but midway when she could no longer carry both of them because they were both suffering from malnutrition, she had to leave one. She had to make a literal Sofie’s choice. She had to leave a child behind, knowing that child would die.

No human being—no human being as long as any of us have the power to alter it—no human being should have to make a choice like that … . A tragedy like that is a stain on the conscience of the world.

This is the first time the vice president has given a speech on global hunger, but he made it clear to all in the room that the Obama administration was committed to preventing crises like the famine in the Horn of Africa. Biden noted that the impetus for this effort came from the president himself:

[For] Barack Obama—as my colleagues would tell you—this is a personal motivation for him. This isn’t a distant notion. This is deep. The president recognizes that it’s not enough to make sure people have enough food to make it through the day, although that is the first thing we must do. But he, like all of you, understands that we have to help take steps to prevent a crisis tomorrow. This approach benefits not only the people in those vulnerable countries, but also the security of the international system and ultimately the security of the United States.

Because we haven’t heard him speak on this topic yet, it’s encouraging to hear Vice President Biden address global hunger and food insecurity. Furthermore, as the main point-person for the White house negotiations for the federal budget, our hope is that the vice president will remember this speech as he goes to the table with members of Congress to negotiate how much poverty-focused development assistance will remain in the federal budget. Our hope is that Vice President Biden will repeat his inspiring words to his colleagues and to Congress about the importance of placing a circle of protection around the most vulnerable members of our global community:

If we do nothing, food security will loom as an even bigger threat to the future. We also know that if we act, we can make a difference. We have the science; we have the know-how; we have the capabilities. We just have to have the will.

Watch Vice President Biden’s speech below.

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