Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

36 posts from August 2013

Prayer: God’s Banquet is for All

During a worship service at the 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C., Bread for the World members offer letters to member of Congress calling for all to have a place at the table  (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

God of all creations, we give you thanks for the seeds that you sow in our lives, the seeds of faith, hope and love. Help us to nurture those seeds in all your people, that together we may produce a bountiful harvest and in unity enjoy the feast we are all given in your grace. In the name of him who showed us that the banquet is for all, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Learn more about lifting up concern for hungry and poor people through A Place at the Table: Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters. With your voice, and the voices of those of in your church, campus, or community group, we will convince our nation’s leaders to ensure a place at the table for everyone.  

Bread offers a variety of worship materials to raise up God's call to end hunger. For more prayers and resources, go here

None of Us Lives Very Far From Food Insecurity

Justin Fast
Justin Fast walks through the halls of Congress to meet with his senators and representative during Bread’s Lobby Day, Monday, June 10 (Eric Bond).

By Justin Fast

Michigan is a gorgeous state and one of the most diverse agricultural states in the country—thanks in large part to the migrant workers who toil to make that possible.

Yet it's also a state where nearly as many children go to bed hungry as go to church on Sunday morning. During the recession, when Michigan had been struggling for some time, I was privileged to work with Michigan food banks connecting families with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). I also managed state and federal advocacy on behalf of these nutrition programs.

Proposed cuts to programs like SNAP or foreign aid that go unchallenged go unnoticed. And as is so often the case, those who can least afford to speak up or speak out, those without a place at the table, are the ones whose voices are silent in the history books. Their stories go untold.

So in the spirit of breaking the silence, I’d like to tell you Germaine’s story.

Germaine was born in Coesse, Ind. She grew up as a Methodist Episcopal preacher’s kid in northern Michigan during the Great Depression. Hunger was a frequent reality, and Germaine told me that truck drivers used to toss fruit from their overflowing trailers to her and her brothers.

As a grown woman, Germaine married, tended house, and ran a successful home business with her husband in rural Michigan. They raised three happy, healthy children who went on to greater things. In short, her life was fruitful.

I have no doubt that both of these experiences—growing up poor and running a home business—had a profound effect on Germaine. To call her frugal or resourceful would be an understatement. She always had a quarter cup of yogurt or a half glass of water in the fridge to keep it from going to waste. The ends of a loaf of bread were better than the silent dread of an empty cupboard.

When I knew her, Germaine wasn't a girl chasing fruit trucks or a businesswoman anymore. Well into her 80s, Germaine's struggle wasn’t putting food on her family’s table, it was putting food on her own. And at that time, when Germaine needed it most, she applied for SNAP benefits to help make ends meet. It was there for her.

Germaine is my Grandma.

I marvel that having worked for the food bank network and in SNAP outreach, federal advocacy, and SNAP education, I never knew that my own Grandma participated in SNAP.

Maybe you, like me, come from a part of the country or a part of your state where it's shameful to talk about SNAP—where people are ashamed to tell their stories, because people speak shamefully about them. But there’s no room for shame in a community characterized by grace.

The vast majority of those impacted by the largest proposed cuts in the history of SNAP are people just like my grandma: senior citizens, the disabled, or families with children. And when half of all Americans will participate in SNAP at some point in their lives, their stories can’t be that much different from yours.

None of us lives very far from food insecurity.

Nutrition programs are not the sole solution to a hungry and hurting world—nor are they the Bread of Life. But with them, the world looks a whole lot more Christlike. Thanks to SNAP, children no longer starve in the United States. And last year alone, the program helped raise nearly 4 million people out of poverty.

As you work to make our society closer to what Jesus intended through your advocacy, I challenge you to take the following actions:

  • Continue getting to know people facing hunger, people eligible for or participating in SNAP. Learn their stories.
  • Try living on the average SNAP benefit. And then imagine living on less, as do many of our brothers and sisters in developing countries—you’ll have a much better appreciation for foreign aid.
  • Help someone apply for the programs you are preserving.
  • Pray for your legislators and follow up to let them know you are doing so—even if your legislators are already supportive of these programs.

As Christians, we know God in the breaking of bread. And we know that in communion with one another we can declare God’s promise that those who hunger will be satisfied. In my tradition when the congregation has taken communion, the pastor asks “Have all been served?”

The answer is always “no.” There are more to serve.

Justin Fast is a Hunger Justice Leader and a social initiatives specialist with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This is a shortened version of the speech that he gave at Bread for the World’s 2013 Lobby Day on Monday, June 10.

New Study: Poverty Doesn’t Have a Political Affiliation

LA Press Conference
Christian leaders from multiple denominations unite around advocating to end hunger and poverty at a press conference in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2011 (Joanne Nazarian/Bread for the World).

Poverty is complex— it can touch anyone, no matter their age, gender, or race. And although every decrease in the poverty rate requires the force of political will, poverty is not affiliated with any one political party. A new report from Brookings Institution on the increase in suburban poverty examines variations between congressional districts.

During the recession, one of the fastest growing pockets of poverty in America has been in metropolitan suburbs, but the distress has been largely hidden. During the 2000s, Brookings reports, poverty grew in 388 of 435 districts — and most of those districts are in the suburbs of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. The trend does not, it appears, discriminate by party affiliation,  but is distributed nearly equally between districts, regardless of whether they are represented by a Democrat or a Republican.

In the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., poverty has jumped an incredible 663 percent between 2007 and 2011.  During the same period, District 17 in central Texas has seen suburban poverty increase by 407 percent. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC-12) and Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) have a “shared challenge” – the approach recommended in the report. (See more comparisons by downloading the report).

Each party has a stake in alleviating poverty. Instead of discussing poverty in partisan terms or placing blame, our nation's leaders should address the root causes driving these trends.

But instead of unifying around one of the biggest challenges facing our nation, Congress is caught in political gridlock.  Take sequestration, the automatic cuts that are now law, for example. The legislation was created as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act as a way to force lawmakers into bipartisan deficit-reduction negotiations. Because the parties could not find common ground, the automatic cuts now work as budgeting on autopilot – indiscriminately cutting programs, including those critical to staving off hunger and poverty. 

The House farm bill is another example—it has been caught in a  political standoff that has left the SNAP program, our nation’s best defense against hunger, in a state of uncertainty. 

Bread for the World is made up of members from all walks of life, united around one goal: alleviating hunger and poverty as part of the Christian call. “The good news of Jesus Christ is neither liberal or conservative,” says Bread's director of organizing, LaVida Davis.

In Georgia’s District 4, represented by Democrat Henry Johnson, there are grandmas struggling on fixed incomes, just as there are children in Michigan's District 2, represented by Republican Bill Huizenga, whose mothers are earning minimum wage and struggling to put food on their tables.  Poverty is a shared problem that should unite this nation, not divide it—and the same holds true for Congress. 


Check out Bread for the World's new August recess webpage, which includes information on how faithful advocates can get in front of members of Congress and work to help hungry and poor people.

SNAP Is Under Unprecedented Attack

More than 5 million older Americans struggle to put food on the table, and another 3.5 million live in poverty. Sequestration has resulted in one million fewer meals being delivered to elderly Americans through programs like Meals on Wheels (Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels).

The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a proposal to essentially gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).

In early July, leadership in the House of Representatives released a farm bill (H.R. 2642) that did not include the nutrition title—the section that authorizes SNAP. The House voted 216 to 208 to pass the farm-only farm bill on July 11. Policy analysts with Bread for the World were troubled by this approach to the farm bill, which has historically connected food issues—from farms to tables.

“As the economy slowly rebounds, more than 47 million Americans still depend on SNAP to put food on their tables,” responded Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “Passing a farm bill that only contains farm programs would lead to a nutrition bill with SNAP cuts that far exceed the $20 billion proposed in an earlier House version of the farm bill.” That worst case scenario surfaced right before Congress adjourned for August recess. On Aug. 1, the House doubled the proposed cut to $40 billion.

The previous proposal of cutting $20 billion from SNAP is equivalent to eliminating half of all the charitable food distribution by churches and food banks over a 10-year period. The legislation that is currently under discussion would double that, substantially increasing the suffering of 47 million Americans who depend on SNAP to keep hunger at bay.

When the House SNAP bill comes to a vote in September we will be telling Congress to reject this legislation. During the August recess, Bread members should contact the representatives in the House and tell them that both proposals are cruel and unacceptable.

Continue reading "SNAP Is Under Unprecedented Attack" »

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study

Girl eating cropped
A young girl eats lunch at a soup kitchen in a scene from the documentary A Place at the Table. (Film still courtesy of Participant Media).

The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.

The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.

However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.

In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.

More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.

Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.

Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.

What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.

Immigration Reform Goes Home

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A photo of Jose, who came to the United States when he was 17 and is living in this country without legal authorization. During August's congressional recesss, legislators will return to their home districts to hear from their constituents on the next steps for immigration reform (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

By Andrew Wainer

The locus of the immigration debate moves from the Capitol to town halls across the country this week as legislators go home to hear from their constituents on the next steps for reform.

On the Republican side, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) sent House Republicans into the August recess with a detailed memo advising them how to talk about immigration reform with voters back home.

The “Immigration Resource Kit” provides talking points for lawmakers, among other August recess tools. Representatives enter the recess with no clear path forward on immigration, although Republican leaders are indicating that some legislative remedy for undocumented immigrants is being formulated.

Influential GOP Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is also emerging as a leading proponent for a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrants. Ryan has indicated that he supports some path to legalization for immigrants.

Proponents of a less restrictive path to legalization for immigrants, akin to the bill passed in the Senate this summer, will also be working “in-district” this August.  Organizing for Action (OFA) will include immigration reform as part of its major advocacy push in August  (another focus will be generating support for the president’s health-care law).

The August recess will certainly be important in terms of influencing representatives’ views on immigration, but the House is unlikely to actually take up legislation on immigration before October. In the meantime, advocates – including faith-based advocates – will be making the case for immigration reform both in and outside Washington.

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

Delivering Petitions and Preparing for August Recess

Petition deliver August 2013
Bread for the World staff members (L to R) Amelia Kegan, Gary Cook, Eric Mitchell, and LaVida Davis visited the White House and hand-delivered Bread’s presidential petition on August 7, 2013 (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

By Amelia Kegan

Yesterday, Bread for the World staff visited the White House and delivered boxes containing our presidential petition. We presented White House staff with a grand total of 30,409 signatures! This time last week, we had 25,000 signatures, but we put out a call for 5,000 more before yesterday’s important meeting—and Bread members delivered!

Dr. John Holden, a Bread member from Silver Spring, Md., rushed into our D.C. office late Tuesday afternoon to ensure that the 509 signatures he collected were included in the delivery. By adding Dr. Holden's names to our existing count, we were able to surpass our goal.

Jon Gromek, a Bread for the World regional organizer for the central hub states, worked late on Tuesday night, scanning and sending names to Bread’s D.C. office. He made sure the signatures he gathered at an anti-hunger event held Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio, made it to the White House, too.

With this delivery, we were able to emphasize the importance of presidential leadership in ending hunger in our time. We know achieving this goal is possible, but we need the political will to do it.

We brought this up during our meeting with White House staffers Paulette Aniskoff, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Paul Monteiro, public engagement advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement. We also talked about the farm bill, sequestration, the budget, and immigration. We shared with them the strength of Bread’s membership, and your advocacy work made a big impression.

Now that we’ve delivered our first batch of petitions to the West Wing, our new goal is to reach 50,000 signatures. Help us reach that number by asking your family members, neighbors, church members, and friends to sign the petition asking President Obama to work with Congress on a plan to end hunger.  

But even more immediately, we need you to get in front of your senators and representative over the next few weeks. While Congress is in recess, faithful advocates must be hard at work.  

What your members of Congress hear now will influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. August recess offers an opportunity to talk to your legislators about funding for SNAP (formerly food stamps), international food aid, poverty-focused development assistance, Head Start, and WIC, as well as immigration and the debt ceiling.

Will your senators find you at their office doors, ready to talk about making moral budget decisions that protect “the least of these?” Will your representative hear your voice at her next town hall meeting as you express outrage over the $40 billion in SNAP cuts proposed by the House? Will your members of Congress open their local papers and see letters to the editor demanding that they fix sequestration and come up with a more balanced approach that protects families struggling with hunger and poverty?

Bread for the World has a new August recess webpage that will help you make the most of this crucial time and take actions that will help hungry and poor people. If you want members of Congress to make good decisions this fall, you have to tell them so today!

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

Quote of the Day: Rev. David Beckmann

David Beckmann
Rev. David Beckmann addresses Bread for the World members in Washington, D.C., during the 2013 National Gathering (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

"As members of Congress return home for their August recess, we will be praying that God will give them wisdom. We will be urging them to put an end to brinksmanship and come to agreements on difficult issues. And we should all urge them to maintain a circle of protection around the programs that help hungry and poor people in our country and abroad."

—Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in an excerpt from "Congress: Restore the Circle of Protection and Your Reputations," printed in the Huffington Post, August 7, 2013.

Your senators and representative need to hear from you during the August recess.  Bread members are urged to set up in-district meetings with their members of Congress and to attend any town halls their members are facilitating. Contact your regional organizer to learn how your voice can make a difference in August.

Living Day to Day

“Is this what America is supposed to look like?”

The question that Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson asked Rep. Matthew Cartwright (PA-17) was in reference to a survey by AP that found that 4 out of 5 Americans struggle financially. It's a trend Henderson calls an epidemic of poverty.

In this short Washington Post “On Background” video, Henderson also interviews filmmaker Harry Gantz, who discusses his HBO documentary American Winter, which profiles families in Oregon dealing with hunger and financial stress. Diedre Melson, one of the film's subjects, is interviewed as well. When asked what Americans need to know about people who are living in poverty, Melson said “it’s not their fault.  People don’t necessarily dig a hole for themselves.”

Melson shares more of her story about living day to day in the video below.'

Families like Melson's need jobs that pay a living wage and a strong social safety-net during difficult times. When Congress returns from August recess, they will be making decisions that have real consequences for the most vulnerable Americans.  The time to speak up is now.

And the Winning Christmas Card Image Is...

Shepherd in the fieldsBy Kari Bert

The results have been tallied! The winning photo in Bread for the World's 2013 Christmas card contest, with an overwhelming 59 percent of the votes, brings to mind the shepherds who first heard the good news of Jesus’ birth.

Pre-order now to receive your cards in September. Additional card designs are also available at our online store.

Thanks for being part of Bread for the World and our work to end hunger.

Kari Bert is Bread for the World's deputy director of development and membership.







Photo by Shehab Uddin for Majority World, a global initiative that champions the cause of indigenous photographers from the developing world.

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