Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

43 posts from July 2013

Who Has Sequestration Harmed?

Head_start_classroomLast month, a Washington Post piece on sequestration maintained that most of the devastating consequences of those across-the-board budget cuts have failed to materialize. In "They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong," the authors wondered what exactly had happened to all of the ill effects Americans were supposed to feel? In some cases, they noted, Congress intervened, but in other instances, as a feature in yesterday's Post found, the cuts were heaped on the backs of people whose woes don't often make front-page news: the poor.

"Not everyone is sharing proportionally in the pain of these budget cuts," said Elizabeth Crocker, who directs a Head Start program in Oakland, Calif., in the piece. While, as the article points out, some federal agencies have figured out ways around the worst cuts, many programs were hit hard, and people who depend on this nation's safety net have felt this the most.

The story examines the ways in which Hispanic families who depend on social programs, Head Start in particular, have been stung by the sequester. Maireny Cammacho, 33, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, wonders what she will do now that the Head Start center in her Yonkers, N.Y., neighborhood has closed. The early childhood education program not only prepared her sons for kindergarten, it fed them and gave them a safe place to stay while she and her husband were at work, relieving them of the burden of an enormous day care bill.

It's a rare media report on the impact of the cuts. Although some outlets have done fine work on sequestration's impact on hungry and poor people (see the Atlantic's "The Sequester's Devastating Impact on America's Poor" and National Journal's "How the Sequester Hurts Poor People"), it's a narrative that has been largely absent from newspapers, magazines, and television news programs. As the Atlantic piece pointed out, it's “fashionable in political circles to say the mandatory budgets cuts haven't been the predicted disaster"—even if cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people prove otherwise.

Last week, during Bread's monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, policy analyst Amelia Kegan pointed out that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, and stressed how important it is that Bread members continue to push their members of Congress to replace these cuts with a balanced approach. “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem,” she said. 

The bottom line is, if Congress doesn't hear about it, Congress won't fix it. And when an important issue isn't in the news, it becomes even more important for advocates to speak up and bring that issue to their senators and representative. A short-term sequester fix is still possible, but it's up to advocates to push for it, and make this nation doesn't solve its budgetary woes in a way that unfairly burdens hungry and poor people. 

Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tucson, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch (Jeffrey Austin).

A Preacher’s Type of Gathering

Rev. Dr. James Forbes speaking at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, June 9 (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

By Minju Zukowski

When I look back on my experience as a volunteer for Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering, I am invigorated. I feel optimistic and hopeful that we, as a society, are moving toward ending hunger.

Hearing the different preachers at the Gathering speak with power and conviction about ending hunger was truly an inspirational experience. Listening to the wisdom of these individuals helped broaden my perspective of what I can do in this fight.

Rev. Dr. James Forbes taught me that when I say grace before eating, I should not only let God know that I am thankful for the food, but also express concern for those individuals who are hungry. Taking the time to think about those who do not have enough to eat as I am about to receive food is a powerful motivator. It reminds me to keep those who are less fortunate in my heart, and also instills in me a sense of urgency. That urgency compels me to go the extra mile in the fight to end hunger.

The one thing Rev. John McCullough said that really struck me was that “the government is not our enemy, our silence is.” It is easy to place blame on our government for all of our country's problems, but if we don’t use our voices to stand up for what we believe in, we’re just as much at fault. 

I was also moved by the powerful speech given by Rev. Luis Cortes Jr. during the Gathering. Rev. Cortes talked about the importance of using the word hunger, and the power that it holds. While terms such as "food insecurity," are important in our work, we must always remember that those words connect to hunger, which is a very real, painful feeling for millions of people around the world.

I challenge everyone to join me in acting on these lessons. Give thanks to God for what you have, and also remember to acknowledge those who are hungry every time you eat. Get the word out about hunger by bringing up this issue with your pastors, co-workers, friends, and family members. If anything is ever going to change, more people need to be informed. 

And, finally, raise your voice to your lawmakers—they are the people who, with the stroke of a pen, can determine the fate of hungry people in this country and around the world. Don’t ever let your voice be silent and keep hunger on your mind, in your thoughts, and in your prayers.

Minju Zukowski, a senior marketing major at Towson University in Maryland, is Bread for the World’s media relations intern.

Quote of the Day: David Beckmann

Letters delivered to members of Congress during Bread for the World's annual Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., June 2013 (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

"Awareness of God's forgiveness allows us to reflect God's goodness in our own halting ways, and God uses even the modest acts of faith and compassion to make big changes in the world. "

— Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, from Exodus from Hunger (2010).

Writing a letter, sending a personal email, or making a phone call to your member of Congress may seem like a small thing but when combined with other modest acts of faith, these actions help build the political will to end hunger.

Praying for Our Indifference: Pope Francis

Martha praying at gathering - Rick Reinhart
An attendee of Bread for the World's Lobby Day, a part of our National Gathering, in Washington D.C., on June 11, 2013  (Rick Reinhard/Bread for the World).

"Lord, in this liturgy, a penitential liturgy, we beg forgiveness for our indifference to so many of our brothers and sisters. Father, we ask your pardon for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts; we beg your forgiveness for those who by their decisions on the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies. Forgive us, Lord!"

The excerpt above is from homily delivered by Pope Francis on July 8, 2013 in Lampedusa, Italy. It references Genesis 4, in which God asks, "Where is your brother, Abel?"

Lampedusa is a Mediterranean island and the primary entry point for migrants, mainly from Africa, into Europe. Pope Francis laments the loss of life that can be the result of the dangerous journey many migrants embark on as they flee dire poverty in Africa and elsewhere. His powerful homily also addresses a lack of compassion that is too often shown in regard to the suffering of immigrants.

"In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference," Pope Francis preaches on the lack of solidarity with the vulnerable. "We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t concern me, it’s none of my business!"

As the House of Representatives decides how to move forward on an immigration reform bill, Bread for the World urges legislators to include provisions that address the poverty and hunger that drive migration. By creating a path to citizenship, hunger and poverty in the Unites States will be reduced as 11 million undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows. 

Poor migrants from North Africa are willing to risk crossing from Tunisia to Lampedusa in small boats that are often overcrowded and unsafe. While visiting the island, the pontiff laid a wreath in the water for those who have perished on the journey—a story similar to that of those who risk border crossing in the southern United States to escape hunger in their home countries. Pope Francis wonders if we have become a society void of compassion. "Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it?" he asks. "Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters?"

As Christians, the suffering of others is our business. God's question echoes today: "Where is your brother?" How will you respond?

You can learn more about the root causes of migration and Bread for the World's position on immigration reform here. Take action here and join us and other organizations as we #Pray4reform next Wednesday, July 24, in Washington D.C.

From Comprehensive to Incremental Immigration Reform

Pray4reformJune27By Andrew Wainer

After moving fast through the Senate, immigration reform now looks to be facing a slower, incremental policymaking process in the House of Representatives.

The House Republican Caucus confirmed at a meeting July 10 that it will not take up the comprehensive Senate bill. Instead, it will break the provisions into different bills. The process of considering and voting on the bills is likely to take the rest of the year and perhaps beyond. The House is unlikely to address immigration until the fall, when it will likely vote on several bills that have already been reported out of the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees.

Thus far, House Republicans have focused on bills that cover border and internal security and agricultural and high-skill workers, while rejecting the comprehensive approach taken by the Senate.

Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) are also working on a Republican version of the DREAM Act called the KIDS Act, which would provide a path to legalization for young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

“It is time to provide an opportunity for legal residence and citizenship for those who were brought to this country as children and who know no other home,” Cantor said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in February.

But Democrats and immigration advocates are unlikely to support reform that provides legalization only for young immigrants. Right now, there is significant space between where reform advocates want to go with legislation and what Republican House members are willing to do.

The next several months will determine whether this chasm can be crossed.

Andrew Wainer is Bread for the World Institute's immigration policy analyst.

Photo: Bread for the World and other organizations participated in a Pray4Reform prayer vigil for just immigration reform in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 2013. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Quote of the Day: Rev. David Beckmann

"Despite the months that have gone by since sequestration took effect, the stakes remain high for the millions of hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world who depend on the programs on the chopping block. I hope that Congress and the administration can prioritize the least among us and approve a budget that does not further devastate people who are already struggling to get by.”

— Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World


Today, more than 5,000 Christian leaders issued a reminder that lawmakers must make hungry and poor people a priority as they consider our nation’s fiscal challenges. In a pastoral letter initiated by the Circle of Protection, these leaders asks elected officials working to reduce our national debt to maintain a circle of protection around programs that effectively alleviate hunger and poverty and urged them not to balance the budget on the backs of hungry and poor people. Read the letter, in its entirety, here.

Photo: Adia Akter, 17 months, stands on the threshold of her family's home on the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Recap: July Grassroots Conference Call and Webinar

Montana lobby visit
Pastor Charlotte Schmiedeskamp of Thompson Falls, Mont., talks about proposed SNAP cuts and sequestration during a visit with her member of Congress during Bread for the World's June 2013 Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. (Robin Stephenson)

July and August offer plenty of opportunities to talk about hunger and poverty with your members of Congress.  

Yesterday, during Bread for the World’s monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, members of our policy and organizing staff emphasized that it is important to act now. Director of government relations Eric Mitchell encouraged advocates to take advantage of in-district meetings and town halls during the August recess, a time when members of Congress return to their home districts. “This is the time they need to hear from constituents," Mitchell said. "After August, things will move fast.”

Bread staffers reviewed the last six months and also looked ahead to what may transpire between now and the end of the year. The bottom line: your phone calls make a difference and will continue to be needed.

Noting that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, Bread policy analyst Amelia Kegan said, “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem.”  Kegan went on to point out that a long-term replacement of the sequester is unlikely at this point, but a short-term fix is still possible this fall, especially as more defense spending cuts take their toll. The question moving forward is how Congress will choose to replace the spending cuts—whether they decide to cut programs like SNAP or taking a balanced approach that includes increased revenues may depend on the pressure that anti-hunger advocates put on their lawmakers.

An examination of recent House farm bill activity showed that two wrongs don’t make a right. The first draft of the bill, which included $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP, failed in a floor vote. The version of the bill that the House passed last week does not include the title that authorizes the SNAP program. SNAP will continue to operate at existing levels under current rules and can still be included in a conference with the Senate farm bill (which cuts the program by $4.1 billion). But, as policy analyst Christine Melendez-Ashley cautioned, the way forward for the nutrition title is not yet clear, and that leaves the SNAP vulnerable to cuts in both the farm bill and the appropriations process

Staff members also provided an update on the latest threats to international food aid, which delivers emergency assistance to hungry people overseas. House proposals in the farm bill and spending bills would slash the program. The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the House by a bi-partisan group of representatives, was also discussed.

Mitchell also stressed that Bread members must put pressure on their representatives to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill late last month, but is in unclear how the House will come up with a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach to reform. 

The next monthly conference call and webinar will be held on Sept. 17.

Praying from the Mountaintop


Photo: Simonopetra Monastery, also Monastery of Simonos Petra, is an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the monastic state of Mount Athos in Greece. (Flikie)

By Jon Gromek

Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to one of the holiest sites in my tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, and indeed all of Christianity: Mount Athos in Greece. While there, I stayed with the monks at Simonopetra, a breathtaking monastery set atop the cliff of a mountain overlooking the ocean. Mount Athos is set apart from the world as we know it. For the past millennium, monks have lived here in simplicity, perpetual prayer, and worship.  It was amazing to observe the monks pray without ceasing and, even in silence or during their work, see their lips move in prayer. Some confided in me that after a while they even pray in their dreams and sleep.

Prayer and worship play an ever-important role in day-to-day life at Mount Athos. Indeed, their whole lives—their actions, words and deeds—serve as prayers.  Their prayers, and mine I was told, are meant to assume the burdens of those “in the world” and to provide a spiritual compass and guidance to all of us who are called to build a world as it ought to be, rather than the way it is now.  Patriarch Bartholemew I, the spiritual leader of the World’s Orthodox Christians has noted that “[m]onastacism seeks to change the world with silence and humility rather than power and imposition.  It changes the world from within, internally, and not from the outside, externally. Monastacism proposes a revolutionary worldview, especially in a world where so many people are stuck in established ways that have proved destructive.” While the monks maintain a tradition of silence, that silence, and their prayers and actions, speak volumes.

As Christians we are of course called to raise our voices, to speak out against injustice and speak for the most vulnerable. However, our silent actions and prayers to God and on behalf of all can be just as powerful. If you have been following the actions of Congress lately, you will no doubt see that there is a lot to pray for: protection from cuts to vital programs that feed hungry and poor people (including  SNAP,  international food aid, and WIC) as well as the creation of immigration policy that can end hunger and bring millions out of the shadows.

Together, let us pray in perpetuity for a world as God intended and for the hearts and minds of those who are responsible for shaping that world.

Jon Gromek is a regional organizer in the Central Hub and recently spent time at Mount Athos on a spiritual retreat.

Quote of the Day: Rep. Jim McGovern

Barbie_and_Aiden"The 47 million people on SNAP are not extraneous. They are important, they are part of our community."

—Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), during last week's farm bill debate on the House floor.














Photo: Barbie Izquierdo is a Philadelphia native whose firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty have made her an anti-hunger activist and nationwide speaker on the topic. She lives in Lancaseter, Penn., with her two children, Leylanie and Aidan (pictured). Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and appears in the documentary A Place at the Table. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Quote of the Day: David Brooks

“[C]ritics are correct that the number of people on food stamps has exploded. And so I was going to do a column, [writing] 'this is wasteful, it's probably going up the income streams to people who don't really need the food stamps.' And so, this was going to be a great column, would get my readers really mad at me, I would love it, it would be fun.But then I did some research and found out who was actually getting the food stamps. And the people who deserve to get it are getting. That was the basic conclusion I came to. So I think it has expanded. That's true. But that's because the structure of poverty has expanded in the country.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks, on the July 12, 2013 edition of PBS Newshour, talking about the recently passed House farm bill, which did not include the nutrition title that authorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Photo: DeEtte Peck uses her EBT card in Portland, Ore., to purchase food. (Brian Duss)

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