Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

38 posts from April 2012

Congress Wants Your Church to Spend $50,000?

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Shelves of food at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, DC. Photo by Crista Friedli.

Are the food lines at your local food pantry long? They could be getting a lot longer.

The House of Representatives just proposed to cut more than $169 billion from SNAP, formerly the food stamps program. Some representatives argued that feeding hungry people is really the work of the churches.

These representatives are essentially saying that every church across America — big, small, and tiny — needs to come up with an extra $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years — to make up for these cuts. The Hartford Institute for Religion and Research estimates there are 335,000 religious congregations in the United States. If the proposals by the House of Representatives to cut SNAP by $133.5 billion and $36 billion are enacted, each congregation will have to spend approximately $50,000 to feed those who would see a reduction or loss of benefits.

I am furious!

Join me in telling Congress that this is outrageous. Sign our petition to say feeding hungry people is not the sole responsibility of churches.

Our challenge is to get 1,000 pastors and religious leaders to say "No" to the presumption by Congress that hunger is really the sole responsibility of the churches.

Churches are already responding to unprecedented need. But this burden is more than we can bear, and it's our poorest and most vulnerable people who will be harmed.

Let your members of Congress know that you and your faith community won’t stand for this injustice

More than 46 million Americans depend on SNAP to help put food on their tables every day. SNAP has prevented our nation’s economic crisis from turning into a hunger crisis. Congress must not turn its back on our nation's commitment to protect vulnerable people from hunger.  

Sign the petition now to let Congress know you and your faith community won’t stand for the long lines of hungry people this proposal will create.  

Gary-cookRev. Gary Cook is director of government relations at Bread for the World.

 

 

Fighting Global Hunger Through International Food Aid

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120423-sudanmilletFor more than 50 years, the United States has played an important role in alleviating global malnutrition and hunger, especially during emergencies.

This is done through a handful of international food aid programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Despite the tremendous need around the world — including the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa — Congress is considering deep cuts to these programs. We are particularly concerned about:

The Food for Peace Program or P.L. 480 represents the majority of food aid the U.S. provides to meet emergency and humanitarian needs in response to malnutrition, famine, natural disaster, civil strife, and other emergencies.

  • In fiscal year 2010, the United States spent about $1.5 billion on emergency food aid that benefitted about 46.5 million people in poor countries.
  • The World Bank estimates that an additional 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since mid-2010 as a result of the recent rise in food pricess
  • In the world’s poorest countries, families spend between 60 and 80 percent of their income on food, which means that continued increases in prices hit the world’s poorest people the hardest.

The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program provides U.S. agricultural commodities and financial and technical assistance to carry out school feeding programs. The program also supports maternal, infant, and child nutrition programs.

  • With funding of about $200 million in 2010, McGovern-Dole served approximately 5 million beneficiaries in 28 countries.
  • For most schoolchildren, the one meal they get through this program is often the only meal they get all day.
  • Where school meal programs are offered, children stay in school longer and their academic performance improves. Children who are hungry have a difficult time concentrating in school.
  • In-school feeding and take-home rations improve school enrollment for girls. Educating girls in developing countries is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty.

What's Our Message?

Create a circle of protection around funding for international food aid programs that serve as the greatest — and often only—line of defense between millions of families and hunger.

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

 

 

Photo caption: Kaltoum Adam Imam with one of her five children collects millet in a land rented by a community leader in Saluma Area, near El Fasher (North Darfur). UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran.

+Learn more about our mini-campaign on international food aid programs!

Bread for the World Congratulates Ellen Buelow, Catholic Charities National Volunteer of the Year

Ellen2Bread for the World members in Albuquerque, NM, are extremely proud because one of our own, Ellen Buelow, was recognized by Catholic Charities USA as 2012 National Volunteer of the Year this week. 

She earned this award because of her dedication to improve the lives of refugees, a ministry that she began in 2007 as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor for Mexican immigrants for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, NM. 

She deepened her involvement with refugees through Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement and Support program.  In 2011, she help found the Conversation Partners program, which provides an additional, informal learning environment for refugees enrolled in ESL classes; participants are able to practice conversational English in small group settings.

"Ellen is an outstanding volunteer and a fine example of the difference that people can make in the lives of their neighbors," said Jim Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. "Without volunteers like Ellen, we could not meet the needs of the thousands who call on us."

Buelow is extremely proud of how her work has made a profound difference in the lives of many refugees. "Being in direct service to refugees is what keeps me volunteering. I love teaching, and I love being around them. Hands on direct service within Catholic Charities  is an act of charity," she said.

But Buelow also  believes in the big picture, particularly on the connections between  direct service and legislative advocacy.  Her work with refugees has put her in close contact with some of the most vulnerable members of society.  Many of these refugees have fled violence, conflict and extreme poverty. 

This direct contact has given her a unique perspective on the value of the federal foreign-assistance programs, which are facing severe funding cuts in Congress. "Through direct hands-on experience, I can share why we need to stop these cuts," said Buelow, who has been one of the principal organizers of the Offering of Letters at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish.  The letter-writing weekends, she said, help parishioners understand how they can make a difference in addressing domestic and global poverty.  "Advocacy through Bread for the World reaches out to a  broader group of parishioners," she said.  

This year, Buelow and the social justice committee at her parish recruited the JustFaith class to help staff the letter-writing tables.

But her passion goes beyond pen and paper.  At a local meeting at a grocery store, she has urged Rep. Martin Heinrich to support foreign aid reform, and she has attended local meetings with the staffs of Rep. Heinrich, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and Sen. Tom Udall. 

Additionally, she was part of a group of local Bread members who met with five people who had declared their candidacy for the soon-to-be-open seat in the First Congressional District.  

At a meeting with one of the candidates, State Sen. Eric Griego, she stressed the importance of protecting tax credits for the poor. "When we worked for the Earned Income Tax Credit, that really impacted a lot of families at Holy Rosary (Catholic Parish)," she said in a meeting with state Sen. Eric Griego, a candidate for the open seat in the First Congressional District. 

Ellen is also very humble about receiving the Catholic Charities award. She was very impressed by the other four finalists, all of which would have been worthy of recognition for their work.  "God has his reasons, so I have to believe there's a reason for this award. As we say in Bread for the World, "Be a voice for those who have no voice!"

Photo caption: Ellen Buelow (right) speaks with Adolphe Pierre-Louis (left), a native of Haiti who was a speaker at a New Mexico Offering of Letters workshop in 2011.

 Carlos Navarro is an activist with Bread for the World.

2012 Offering of Letters Strategy: Set the Facts Straight

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Hunger is a no-brainer. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of Americans believe no child should go to bed hungry. So then why is it the case that nearly one-in-four children go hungry in the United States?

I’m convinced that the reason so many members of Congress are currently proposing to cut programs like SNAP by more than $33 billion is because Americans and their Representatives don’t know enough about these life-saving programs. Instead, they’ve bought into the myths. We’ve all heard the myths: “SNAP is full of fraud," or, “Funding for foreign assistance contributed to our national deficit.” These false statements are spreading like wildfire at a time when Congress is desperate to find places to cut in the budget.  So, one really effective tool for expanding the circle of protection? Set people’s facts straight.

As activists it’s our job to dispel the myths and spread the truth about programs for poor and hungry people. As you engage your local churches, campuses, and communities on speaking up to protect these programs, one of the most effective approaches you can take is to spread awareness that these programs are doing a lot to end hunger.

Take the Tax Credit Mini Campaign, for example. These tax credits lift millions of people out of poverty each year. Yet some people hear “tax credits” and automatically think the worst.

Myth #1: “Tax credits have nothing to do with ending hunger.”

Ending hunger depends on increasing income for families who struggle to cover their household expenses. The tax system can help do just that. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an efficient, proven, well-targeted way to add resources for low-income working families.

Myth #2: “Taxes are too partisan a topic to be talking about. Tax credit programs will just create more partisan division in Congress.” 

The EITC and CTC have a long history of bipartisan support. The EITC was enacted under President Ford and expanded under Presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Conservatives like the EITC and CTC because they provide a clear incentive for people to work. Liberals like it because it is less bureaucratic than other anti-poverty programs, and it restores some fairness to the tax code. In an era of heightened partisanship, these tax credits are something everyone can support.

Myth #3: “Low-income people don’t pay taxes”

I heard this one straight from Senator Scott Brown’s mouth back in 2010 while on a visit to his office to talk about hunger and poverty. First, all Americans pay taxes. While some individuals do not pay income taxes, they still pay plenty in federal payroll taxes, sales tax, and other federal, state, and local taxes. The one-fifth of taxpayers with the lowest incomes pay 12.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, which is significantly more than the rate that the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay, which is 8.4 percent. The EITC and CTC help offset this burden for many low-income working families.

Myth #4: “Tax credits encourage dependency”

Only people who are working can receive the EITC and CTC. They encourage work because the more money you make, the larger the credit you receive based on marital status and number of children, up to a certain point. A majority of EITC filers receive the credit for only one or two years before moving into jobs with higher earnings. They end up paying back more in federal taxes than they received in benefits over their lifetimes. The EITC is the most effective anti-poverty program in the country, lifting more people out of poverty than any other program.

Myth #5: "Low-income people will just use their tax credit on frivolous purchases."

While it’s true that we can’t control how people spend their tax benefits, the reality is that low-income families run out of money before they’re able to address all of their needs. Research shows that about half of EITC benefits are used for long-term investments such as improving housing, transportation, or paying tuition. The other half is spent on purchases to meet immediate needs such as food, clothing, or catching up on rent and utilities. Bread for the World is looking to increase options for low-income families by increasing their resources.

With so much misinformation out there, it’s no wonder people are skeptical. But as hunger advocates, we know better than to believe these myths. As you and your organization participate in this year’s Offering of Letters, spreading the facts about these anti-hunger programs will be key to getting people engaged. Whether it’s tax credits, domestic nutrition programs, foreign assistance, or international food aid, these programs work. The sooner Americans know that, the sooner we can stop worrying about these programs being cut.

Jen Fraser is a Regional Organizer at Bread for the World.

+Learn more about our mini-campaign on tax credits for low-income families.

Heather's Story: Surviving as a Single Mom

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120419-heathernaomiA small desk with a laptop, books, and a chair sits in Heather Rude-Turner’s living room in northern Virginia.

Her two young children and even her two dogs know not to touch anything on that desk, no matter how rowdy they get around the house. “That’s mommy’s desk,” says Heather’s 5-year-old daughter, Naomi.

Why the caution? Because Rude-Turner, 31, has spent the last few years working toward her bachelor’s degree. She graduated in December 2011 with a degree in child psychology, a cause for celebration for her entire family. They know the road to graduation has been longer and more difficult than most.

In 2007, Rude-Turner was living a comfortable middle-class life with her husband and two children. But her husband started drinking heavily and became extremely abusive. Rude-Turner knew this was a dangerous situation for her and her children, and so they left in January 2008. She lived with family for a few months, but eventually moved with her kids into a shelter for abused women in March 2008.

“I had those times when I was sitting on the kitchen floor just crying for an hour after I put the kids to bed because I didn’t know what else to do,” Rude-Turner recalls. “My whole world had been shattered. I spent a lot of time trying to reconnect with [God] and figure out what his plans for us were.”

She found a job driving a school bus and did everything she could to be resourceful for her and her children. By September 2008, Rude-Turner had saved enough money to move her kids into a small apartment in northern Virginia. But even then, she felt she was living on the edge of poverty. She often didn’t have enough food to feed herself and her children, so she would go hungry.

“Even though I was working, we still didn’t have enough,” Rude-Turner, a former marine, says.

But when she filed her tax return in 2009, her pastor at Ravenswood Baptist Church in Annandale, VA, told her about an important resource for working people struggling with poverty: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is a refundable tax credit for low-income workers that offsets the burden of U.S. payroll taxes. Only working families can claim the EITC, which is designed to encourage people to work. Rude-Turner immediately filed her tax return and received the tax credit.

“I got about $4,000 or $5,000 each year, and that was enough money to help me purchase my laptop for school, save money, and take care of our vehicle,” she says. “Without the benefits, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to get on our feet.”

Today, Rude-Turner lives in a house in a safe neighborhood, works full-time as a teacher at a childcare center in Annandale, VA, and is engaged to be married. She hopes that her hard-earned degree will help her get a promotion at her current job—and perhaps lead to a new career teaching at a public school. Naomi and Isaac, 3, are flourishing in their new home and new family.

Rude-Turner knows it would have been difficult to reach her goals without the help of family, friends, her church, and programs aimed at helping poor and hungry people overcome difficult circumstances. She knows what people in similar situations are going through.

“All you hear about in the news is the people who have stayed on public assistance or are leeching off the system, but it’s not about that. You need to have hope and understanding and compassion and know that people are using the programs the way they should be used,” she says. “These programs are helping families like ours.”

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.

 

 

Photo caption: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church. "God has been with me every step of the way," she said. "When I was really angry with him, he was still there." Heather credits the Earned Income Tax Credit with helping her stay out of poverty and get back on her feet after leaving her abusive husband. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.

+Learn more about our mini-campaign on tax credits for low-income families.

The Sound of (Media) Silence: USDA Study on Effectiveness of Food Stamps Missing from TV News Coverage

'Shanghai news anchor's desk' photo (c) 2007, Kenneth Lu - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

While several major newspapers covered the USDA's new study on SNAP released April 9 which found "an average decline of 4.4 percent in the prevalence of poverty due to SNAP benefits," major television news programs largely ignored the groundbreaking study. Media Matters, a nonprofit organization that monitors the media for misinformation, found that only one television news network has mentioned the USDA study -- MSNBC.

It is disappointing to know a study that shows the effectiveness of SNAP would be ignored, when so many people living in the aftermath of the recession are avoiding food insecurity through this program. Furthermore, given the political nature of the discussion around SNAP, this study could educate the public about how the program works. The truth is that more than 46 million Americans depend on SNAP to help put food on their tables every day, and many of them are hardworking parents who want to feed their children.

Hopefully, in the future, such significant national news will make it to the airwaves. For now, I encourage you to check out these excellent news articles on SNAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and continue to read the Bread Blog for some top-notch content on hunger related news.

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.

 

 

+Learn more about SNAP.

Tax Credits for Low-Income Families: Questions and Answers

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Families rely on important tax credits to pull themselves out of poverty and put food on the table. The EITC is America’s largest anti-poverty program. In 2010, the EITC lifted 5.4 million people above the poverty line, including 3 million children. In 2009, the CTC lifted 2.3 million people, including 1.3 million children, out of poverty. However, without congressional action, important improvements made to these credits over the last decade will expire at the end of 2012, and millions of low-income working families will find themselves ineligible for these credits or see their benefits fall significantly. 

Here is a valuable Q&A about tax credits that you can use as a resource to answer frequently asked questions you might hear from people.

1. What do changes in tax laws have to do with ending hunger?

While ending hunger requires stronger nutrition programs, food assistance alone is not enough. Ending hunger also depends on increasing income for families who struggle to cover their household expenses. The tax system can help do just that. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an efficient, proven, well-targeted way to add resources for low-income working families. With this credit, low-income families are better able to meet essential needs, including nutritious food and quality child care.

The poverty that causes hunger is largely due to a lack of money and resources. Food is one of the most flexible items in a low-income family’s budget. Rent, transportation, child care, utilities—these are fixed expenses. As a result, food is often one of the first things cut when low-income families have to tighten their belts. Poverty forces drastic choices, like watering down a baby’s formula to make it last longer. These tax changes would put more money in the pockets of low-income families, making it easier for them to make ends meet.

2. Why do low-income people get tax breaks like the EITC and I don’t get similar credits or deductions on my taxes?

The tax code has many incentives that encourage taxpayers to make certain fiscal choices, like saving for retirement, attending college, or owning a home. But many of those tax credits are out of reach for low-income earners who often do not have the same tools for those kinds of expenditures or for long-term financial investments. Moreover, most tax deductions and exclusions are regressive, meaning they provide a larger benefit for wealthier individuals.

By expanding the benefits low-income workers receive, including making benefits refundable, tax credits encourage work and open up more financial choices. Programs like the EITC that benefit low-income working people represent only a fraction of the amount spent through the tax code. The EITC and Child Tax Credit (CTC) accounted for a little over $111 billion, or about 10.3 percent, of the more than $1 trillion spent through the tax code for all taxpayers in 2010.

3. Many people pay no taxes at all in this country. Why is it fair for people like that to still have access to many  government programs without helping to pay for them, and get a refund check from the government on top of that?

First, all Americans pay taxes. While some individuals do not pay income taxes, they still pay plenty in federal payroll taxes, sales tax, and other federal, state, and local taxes. Most of these other taxes are regressive, taking a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than wealthier families. In fact, most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than federal income taxes. The one-fifth of taxpayers with the lowest incomes pay 12.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, which is significantly more than the rate that the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay, which is 8.4 percent. The EITC and CTC help offset this burden for many low-income working families.

The federal tax code includes provisions that reduce or eliminate tax liabilities for many individuals, at all income levels, and for corporations. But let’s get back to the real question: shouldn’t parents who work full time be able to support their families? The tax policies Bread supports help parents who work hard—who are trying to be responsible—achieve a basic standard of living and support their families. If Congress fails to continue the current CTC benefit levels, a single parent with two children working full time at minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) will lose nearly $1,500.

Keep reading our full Q&A about tax credits for low-income families on the 2012 Ofering of Letters website.

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

 

 

+Learn more about our mini-campaign on tax credits for low-income families.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Call for Circle of Protection During FY2013 Budget Debate

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On April 16, 2012 the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) sent letters to the Agriculture Committee and the Ways and Means Committee of the House urging members to create a “circle of protection” around resources to fund programs for poor and hungry people. This statement mirrors  the Christian position that Bread for the World has been using for our own 2012 Offering of Letters campaign. Here is how they conclude their letter to these Congressional committees:

At a time of great competition for agricultural resources and budgetary constraints, the needs of those who are hungry, poor and vulnerable should come before assistance to those who are relatively well off and powerful. With other Christian leaders, we urge the committee to draw a” circle of protection’ around resources that serve those in greatest need and to put their needs first even though they do not have powerful advocates or great influence. The moral measure of the agriculture appropriations process is how it serves “the least of these.”

The USCCB has offered this letter as part of their Campaign on the Federal Budget, which addresses a number of issues and concerns including SNAP and the Child Tax Credit. They also emphasize how these recent letters echo a consistent message from the Bishops in declaring that the “federal budget must form ‘circle of protection’ around ‘the least of these’”

The US Catholic Bishops also articulate for us some core Christian principles for assessing the “moral measure” of the federal budget. In it they cite three theological benchmarks.

  • Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
  • A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
  • Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Hooray for the USCCB for bringing their prophetic voice to bear in this campaign of ours and on these specific issues!

John-gonzalezJohn Gonzalez is northeast regional organizer for Bread for the World.

 

 

+Learn more about Bread's 2012 Offering of Letters campaign!

Hunger QOTD: Elie Wiesel

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Two young girls smile in Timor-Leste. On November 6, 2008, the government of Spain earmarked $4.9 million for a project aimed at improving social services for Timorese women and girls affected by gender-based violence. UN Photo/Martine Perret.

“Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”

-Elie Wiesel, Night

For Many, Tax Day Brings Joy: How Tax Credits Change Lives

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Heather Rude-Turner, 31, of northern Virginia, and her fiancé Mark Diamond, plan to marry in the spring of 2012. After they combine their incomes they will likely become ineligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which Heather credits with helping keep her out of poverty and getting her back on her feet when she left her abusive husband a few years ago. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World

For much of the American public, Tax Day brings groans and headaches. Personally, I believe those headaches come more from our tax code’s complexity than from the actual amount most of us owe.

Yet, for many in our country, Tax Day literally bring tears of joy. That is because two of our nation’s most significant anti-poverty programs are administered through the tax code: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit. For a low-income working family struggling to make ends meet, Tax Day can bring a refund of well over $1,000, which can make a world of difference. The EITC and Child Tax Credit enable low-income families to meet basic needs, respond to emergencies, pay off bills, and save. (Read this excellent New York Times article on EITC.)

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using the National Academy of Sciences definition of poverty (generally thought to be more accurate than the Census Bureau’s traditional poverty measure) these two credits lifted 9.3 million people out of poverty in 2010. The EITC and Child Tax Credit provide a boost in earnings so that full-time working parents don’t have to raise their children in poverty.

These credits encourage work, because the more you work, the larger your credit (until a certain point, whereupon the credit amount begins to decrease). Studies have shown expansions to EITC helped boost employment among single mothers. A majority of EITC beneficiaries only receive the credit for one or two years before moving onto higher income brackets. This is exactly the sort of thing our anti-poverty programs should be doing.

Improvements made to the EITC and Child Tax Credit in 2009 kept 1.6 million people out of poverty in 2010. Yet those improvements will expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts. A single parent working full time at minimum wage with two kids stands to lose over $1500 from these expiring provisions of the Child Tax Credit. If Congress fails to continue current benefit levels, families with three or more children will see their EITC benefit shrink as will married couples will be faced with a higher marriage penalty.

Congress has some major decisions to make about tax policy this year. Whether to continue current benefit levels of the EITC and Child Tax Credit should not be a difficult one.

But despite the proven effectiveness of these programs to alleviate poverty and promote economic mobility, these credits are in jeopardy. Some members of Congress are even considering cutting the Child Tax Credit. A current proposal exists to limit eligibility of the Child Tax Credit, which could affect millions of children in low-income immigrant families. The proposal is likely to increase taxes by an average of $1,800 on families typically earning a little over $21,000 a year.

Tax Day may be a headache, but the EITC and Child Tax Credit can also make it a lifeline for millions of families in this country. Today, it is worth taking a moment to remind your members of Congress about the need to protecting current EITC and Child Tax Credit benefits. Send them an email today! 

Amelia-keganAmelia Kegan is senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.

 

 

+Learn more about our mini-campaign on tax credits for low-income families.

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