Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

33 posts from September 2013

Hunger Lives Here. So Does Hope

Nia T. Photo
"Hope" is one of the photos featured in a Camden, N.J. Witnesses to Hunger exhibit held at a local gallery on Sept. 19, 2013. Of the work, photographer and Witnesses advocate, Nia T writes, "'Hunger lives here and so does hope.' I like that saying. That’s something. That’s deep. It means that they’re helping. They’re helping the environment. They’re helping the community." (Photo by Nia T/Witnesses to Hunger)

By Larry Hollar

It’s never easy to get bad news like yesterday's House vote to cut nearly $40 billion from SNAP. But there’s no place I would rather have been when that news broke than with the women of the Witnesses to Hunger project in Camden, N.J.

At an art gallery in downtown Camden that night, 10 mothers and grandmothers came together to tell their stories through photographs they took of their experiences with hunger, homelessness, lost jobs, and flawed approaches to public assistance. The signs of poverty are everywhere in Camden—in boarded-up houses, empty shells of businesses, depleted neighborhoods, and violence in the streets. But the stories these women told were ones of hope—that by having more capacity to speak out and witness to their realities, they believed they could influence our leaders to make better decisions that would help the children and families in Camden and throughout the nation.

Witnesses to Hunger is a participatory advocacy project of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. Started in 2008 in Philadelphia, it has fostered projects in Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa., Boston, Baltimore, and other East Coast cities. The Center partners with the real experts on hunger—the parents and caregivers of young children who have first-hand experience with hunger and poverty. The people of Witnesses to Hunger share their expertise and create change through their roles as photographers, educators and advocates, and advisers. The Camden project has been generously supported by the Campbell Soup Company.

I spoke in Camden to witnesses Christie and Kathy, who told me of their difficulties in making ends meet, even with a nearly full-time job, and what it’s like to live in a shelter with your children after a fire destroys your home. I was struck by how many of the women, both from Camden and those present from other cities, felt a deep and empowering kinship with the other women who experience the complex struggle to overcome poverty.

One of the photographs on the wall, taken by Nia of the Camden Witnesses, was of a truck from the Food Bank of South Jersey with these words on its side: “Hunger Lives Here. So Does Hope.” The vote Congress took yesterday to slash SNAP by $40 billion made it even more certain that hunger will continue to live in Camden. But as I spent that same moment with the women of Camden who are witnesses to what change can look like, it’s clear to me that hope wins.

Action: View the photographs of the Camden and other Witnesses to Hunger projects at www.witnessestohunger.org. Tell your members of Congress that deep cuts to SNAP are unacceptable, and urge them to protect programs that support low-income people in our nation and world during upcoming budget debates.

Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer in Bread for the World's eastern hub.

Impact Hunger a Dozen Times

Alice Benson's Photo cropBy Alice Benson

I  have supported Bread for the World with a monthly gift since the ‘90s. The Baker’s Dozen monthly giving program is a convenient, easy way to give and it allows me to give a little bit more, since my gift is spread throughout the year. I don’t have to worry about keeping track of my gifts, since the donation is automatic, and I like knowing that I’m doing something good every month.

Most charities receive a huge influx of funds in times of crisis or at the end of the year, but it’s important that they receive support year-round. Monthly gifts help them continue their good work even during the times of slow giving. I give a monthly gift to Bread for the World, an organization near and dear to my heart, to ensure that they always have a reliable foundation of support for their work. I know my monthly gift helps Bread to operate effectively and plan efficiently for the future.

Many of you already make a difference in the world through your prayers, social ministries, direct service work, or by writing to your members of Congress — a monthly gift to Bread for the World is yet another way to help hungry people.

I hope you will join me in giving a monthly gift. It’s easy to do! Together we can have an even greater impact on hunger. Thanks for considering this opportunity to help hungry people.

Alice Benson is a Bread for the World and Baker's Dozen member.

A $40 Billion SNAP Cut Picks on the Poorest People

David press In just hours, the House of Representatives will vote on a proposal to cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion. If the bill passes, the House will be sending a dangerous message: it’s OK to pick on poor people. We must urge members of the House to vote "no" on H.R. 3102.

On Wednesday, Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann carried a different message from faithful advocates to the nation’s capital—that deep cuts kicking as many as 4 million poor, childless adults off of the SNAP program is morally wrong.

The nearly $40 billion cut would come on top of the Nov. 1 expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act, which will lead to a reduction in SNAP benefits for millions.

Earlier in the week, leaders from the Circle of Protection, a coalition of more than 65 heads of denominations and religious agencies, plus more than 5,000 church pastors, wrote letters to Congress urging a "no" vote on a bill that would cut SNAP. Christians know that God has a special concern for the poor and hungry and so the faithful are speaking out against cuts to the nation’s foremost tool against hunger and hardship.Currently, 47 million Americans benefit from SNAP, but that number is expected to be drop once the economy recovers.

“These proposed cuts are a clear indication that some in Congress underestimate the hunger that is present in millions of American homes," Beckmann wrote in his letter to Congress. "The amendment picks on the poorest people in the country. This is morally and economically unacceptable especially as some areas continue to experience high unemployment. Congress needs to focus on creating more jobs and not cut programs that stave off hunger for millions of people.”

Now it is time for every faithful advocate to join our religious leaders and make a statement with phone calls—ending hunger should be a priority in our nation. New U.S. Census data shows that although poverty continues to be at an all-time high, the safety net is working. In a floor speech this morning, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR1) said that H.R. 3102, and kicking hungry people off of SNAP, is not the right focus. Ending hunger requires addressing at the root causes of hunger. “Let’s cut poverty,” said Rep. Bonamici, “not nutrition assistance.”

The vote is expected to take place approximately 4:30 p.m. ET, so there is still time. Call 800-326-4941 to be connected to the Capitol switchboard and tell your representative to vote against H.R. 3102. Bread for the World will be following the vote with our Twitter feed, @bread4theworld.  

Photo: David Beckmann urges members of Congress to create a circle of protection around SNAP during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Act Now: House of Representatives Voting to Cut SNAP TODAY

We_accept_SNAP2By Eric Mitchell

Update: House votes 217 to 210 to Cut $40 Billion from SNAP

It’s been a busy week in Congress and I know you’ve heard a lot from us, but this is urgent. We need you to raise your voice once more.

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 3102, a bill that would cut SNAP (formerly food stamps) by nearly $40 billion.  This vote will be incredibly close, and we understand that many members are still on the fence. Your voice is urgently needed to defeat this bill!

Tell your representative to vote “no” on H.R. 3102. If enacted, this bill would mean that:

  • Nearly 4 million people would be kicked off of SNAP.
  • Churches and charities would have to nearly double their current food assistance over the next 10 years to handle the increase in need.

On Nov. 1, all SNAP households will see their monthly benefits reduced whether this proposal passes or fails. Now is not the time to cut SNAP.

Call 800-326-4941 to be connected to the Capitol switchboard and tell your representative to vote against H.R. 3102.

Thank you for using your voice to help end hunger in this country.

Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.

Sequestration Threatens Lifesaving Food Aid

Tohomina Akter attempts to feed her daughter Adia, 17 months, in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 19, 2012. Tohomina finished 7th grade and hopes she can help educate her daughter to be a doctor. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

“The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:15).

Famine is difficult for Americans to truly understand. Although poverty rates in the United States have surged with the Great Recession, programs like SNAP have helped put food on the table for those who have been hit the hardest. But famine — a perversion of God’s vision for humanity in the midst of global abundance – slowly and painfully withers life in the wake of human and natural disasters. For people who live in the world's poorest countries, the safety net is often weak or nonexistent.

Both the Old and New Testaments show a special concern for the poor; God’s people are called to change the systems that create poverty. Amos 5 tells us that we also are called to respond immediately to the groaning at the gates—an outcry exemplified by hunger. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul understood that the Christian call included responding to the need in Macedonia with a generosity that crossed borders (2 Corinthians 8-9).

Today, that humanitarian assistance often comes in the form of U.S. food aid and programs administered by USDA and USAID. For more than 50 years, U.S. generosity has saved lives. 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.

In 2011, famine in Somalia led to the death of more than 250,000 people in Southern Somalia, but many survived because of food aid and global generosity. Although rains and lowered food prices have helped, security issues still plague the region and continued vigilance on the part of the international community is vital.  IRIN reports that an estimated 870,000 will need food assistance by December of this year. 

As we have previously reported, the crisis is regional and the Horn of Africa has the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world. Programs targeting the nutritional needs of nursing mothers and infants are working. Last week, the UN reported that Ethiopia has reduced by two-thirds its child mortality rate, which is the rate of infants and children who die before age 5. 

The less than 1 percent of our budget that is invested in poverty-focused development assistance is saving lives and helping us answer our faithful call to love our neighbors, regardless of borders. The investments, however, are being diminished by sequestration, the automatic and indiscriminate budget cuts currently in place. If these cuts aren't replaced by a balanced approach, sequestration will deny nutritional interventions to 57,000 children and deny or reduce food aid to 2 million people. Congress must take action.

Congress is facing some big choices this week—lives are at stake.  Ask your senators and representative to pass a responsible budget that provides robust funding for international poverty-focused development assistance programs and puts an end to sequestration. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard, or send an email.

Act Now: Tell Congress to Pass a Responsible Budget


By Eric Mitchell

This week, Congress is expected to consider a continuing resolution that would fund the government at current levels through December, avoiding a government shutdown. While this is a temporary fix, it allows the across-the board-cuts known as sequestration to stand. If left in place, sequestration will continue to drastically cut programs that help the most vulnerable, such as the nation’s international poverty-focused development assistance programs.

The effects of sequestration are just beginning to become apparent. This year alone, sequestration will have the following effects around the world:

  • More than 570,000 children in developing countries will be denied nutritional interventions during their first 1,000 days of development. These interventions save lives and help prevent the irreversible damage caused by malnutrition.
  • Roughly 2 million people around the world will experience reduced or denied access to lifesaving food aid.

Congress must put an end to the budget brinksmanship and repeated short-term extensions. Ask your senators and representative to pass a responsible budget that provides robust funding for international poverty-focused development assistance programs and puts an end to sequestration.  Send an email or call now!

We expect Congress to vote on this proposal this week. Email or call your senators and representative today and urge them to support international poverty-focused development assistance. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard, or send an email.

Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.

Can Our Churches and Food Pantries Feed Four Million More?


By Christine Meléndez Ashley

Late yesterday afternoon, House leadership released the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102), which includes nearly $40 billion in SNAP cuts. The House could vote on the bill as early as Thursday, Sept. 19.

If enacted, we estimate almost 4 million people would be taken off SNAP through changes to the program's eligibility rules and work requirements. HR 3102 is the nutrition title of the House version of the farm bill.

Kicking this many people off SNAP will place a greater burden on churches and charities that are already struggling to provide food assistance. They would have to nearly double their current food assistance over the next ten years in order to handle the influx. In 2011, private churches and charities provided approximately $4 billion in food assistance—federal nutrition programs provided 23 times as much.

As in the original House farm bill, about 2 million people would be taken off SNAP under HR 3102, since the bill will make every state use the same income and asset tests, regardless of variations in cost of living or the economies of each state. About 210,000 kids will lose access to free school meals and 850,000 households will have their benefits reduced.

Newer provisions in the House bill take away the ability of states to allow adults without dependents to continue receiving benefits when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. States can currently waive these requirements when unemployment rates are at least 10 percent or there is a demonstrated lack of sufficient jobs.

Regardless of what happens with this proposal, or any farm bill, every SNAP household will see its monthly SNAP allotment reduced on Nov. 1. Benefits are expected to drop to about $1.40 per meal—a family of 4 can expect to lose about $35 a month.

Email or call your representative today and urge him or her to vote against deep and harmful cuts to SNAP. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard or click here to send an email.

Christine Meléndez Ashley is a policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Quote of the Day: Leith Anderson

Leylanie_eating"During the Great Recession, the number of Americans needing food aid has understandably increased.  Millions of families survived very hard times thanks in part to this assistance. Children were protected from irreversible developmental damage.  Hunger-related health care costs were averted. We support efforts to reduce our annual deficits and enact structural reforms to bring our revenues and expenses back into balance. But we believe this can be done without further burdening our most vulnerable citizens, and without cutting appropriations for vital food assistance programs."

—Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, in a letter send to the House of Representatives this week, urging members to protect SNAP.

Yesterday, Christian leaders urged members of the House of Representatives to vote “no” on a proposed bill that will further cut SNAP by $40 billion over the next 10 years. In letters to their members of Congress, the Christian leaders expressed deep moral outrage over these proposed new cuts and their effects on the nation’s most vulnerable people. Copies of their letters are available online at www.circleofprotection.us.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the cuts that would impact nearly 4 million food insecure Americans later this week.  Email or call your representative today and urge him or her to vote against deep and harmful cuts to SNAP. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard or click here to send an email.

Photo: Leylanie, 7, the daughter of hunger activist Barbie Izquierdo, eats cereal at her Lancaster, Pa., home. 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. Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and talks about her time on SNAP in the documentary A Place at the Table (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

Address Misinformation with a Letter to the Editor

Flickr-3212512457Although they are often maligned as artifacts of the past and sometimes used as cupboard lining, newspapers should never be discounted. Print news is still a powerful weapon in the faithful advocate's tool box.

Talking about poverty and hunger in a public forum can engage and educate others – including legislators – about the very real prevalence of hunger in your community.  Members of Congress often subscribe to local papers as a way of keeping in touch with their home districts.  They pay special attention to the opinion pages.

The co-chairs of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Bread for the World Team, used the local paper to address misinformation. After the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran an editorial critical of the SNAP program, Donna Hansen and Joyce Rothermel submitted a Letter to the Editor, or LTE, titled Food Stamps are Working.

Responding to a statement in the editorial that implied SNAP fraud and abuse is disproportionally high, the team leaders write:

SNAP fraud rates are at an all-time low despite all-time-high participation. SNAP trafficking, the illegal exchange of SNAP benefits for cash, has dropped from about 4 cents on the dollar to 1 cent. SNAP's error rate remains at a record low of 3.8 percent. According to the Government Accountability Office, the majority of SNAP errors are a result of administrative errors, not intentional fraud. In addition, SNAP already has work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents — they are limited to three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period.

The facts outlined in the common sense LTE counteract the misinformation in the editorial and provide a more accurate context for Pennsylvania Sens. Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey (D). The next farm bill, which authorizes SNAP, is yet to be conferenced between the two chambers of the House and Senate.  The House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would cut SNAP by $40 billion dollars over 10 years and the paper’s reach includes Reps. Mike Kelly (R-03), Mike Doyle (D-14), Tim Murphy (R-18), and Keith Rothfus (R-12). In Pennsylvania, 1,784,566 people participated in SNAP in May of 2013. If the House proposal were enacted, many Pennsylvanians would have their benefits reduced or lose them altogether. Roughly 63 percent of households would need to reapply for benefits.

To write a letter to the editor, you first need an issue-- the SNAP cuts being considered by the House could mean increased hunger if enacted. Advocating to end hunger means educating Congress and our communities about the importance of the program. Bread for the World’s media team has created a set of resources to help you get started.

The most powerful tool, however, is your voice in the many ways you can use it.  We expect the House to vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday. Email or call your representative today and urge him or her to vote against deep and harmful cuts to SNAP. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard or click here to send an email.

Showing 'A Place at the Table' to My Wyoming Neighbors

Barbie cooking APPT
Hunger activist Barbie Izquierdo cooks dinner with her children. (Film still from A Place at The Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

By Libby Tedder Hugus

By the time the courtroom drama of the biblical prophet Micah’s vision concludes, the Lord is calling the mountains and hills as witnesses in a complaint against Israel. During a fiery pleading found in chapter six, the case is clear: it is not proper worship or sound doctrine or great sacrifice that is required of God’s people, but doing justice, loving mercy, and journeying humbly.

Last summer when I was trained and commissioned as a Hunger Justice Leader, I had the conversion experience of digesting the documentary A Place at the Table. I knew that as many people as possible needed to see the film. I live and minister in Casper, Wyo., and while this state has not felt the recent financial recession like others have, we still have many food insecure neighbors. When the documentary was released in March, I began to research ways and means of bringing it to Casper. After partnering with Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies and recognizing that September was Hunger Action Month, we decided we would kick it off with an awareness and action event, including the film.

The fact that my Wyoming neighbors are going hungry motivates me to action because of my faith, my worldview, and my patriotism. My love of God is directly tied to my love of neighbor, as Jesus made clear in his undeniable greatest commandment. If my neighbors are going hungry but I am well fed with nutritious food, something is wrong.

Many agencies in our municipality generously help with emergency food assistance, but as the film so bluntly puts it, "we cannot food-bank our way out of this problem." It was my goal as a Hunger Justice Leader to see that screening this documentary would help raise awareness of the root causes of hunger. I also desired to help answer the question being asked in every food pantry and by every human services provider across town: how do we stem the tide of the hungry?            

When we gathered on Sept. 5, about 200 Casper citizens took a collective step toward justice. For some, this was a first journey. For others it was one stop on a long-time sojourn to see the end of hunger.

For those of us anchoring this discussion in faith, it is not our patriotism alone that makes hunger disturbing. The blaring injustice that anyone should go hungry in a world where we have more than enough resources to close the gap should wrench our gut with compassion. God pleaded the case against God’s people: your worship, doctrine, and sacrifice are worth nothing if you’re not doing what is right, loving mercy, and walking humbly.

I am humbled these days by my Casper neighbors who came out to watch an honest documentary about a very real problem. I am humbled by the journey we have ahead of us to address our local, state, and federal leaders with a courageous message: this is unacceptable. This is not justice for all. We will not turn a blind eye. Our neighbors will not go hungry when we have the power to close the gap between the hungry and the well-nourished.

Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus is a 2012 Hunger Justice Leader alum and is a minister with the Church of the Nazarene in Casper, Wyo.

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