Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

52 posts categorized "2014 Offering of Letters"

Congress Returns for Lame-Duck Session

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Feed the Future programs help families like the Aktars in Barisal, Bangladesh become food secure. There is an opportunity to authorize the program during the 2014 lame-duck session if Congress acts. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)


On Wednesday, the 113th Congress returns for its final session before the holiday break. Members are expected to work through December 11.

The short, upcoming session, commonly referred to as a lame-duck session (or a lame-duck Congress), is the work period after an election but before newly elected members replace outgoing members – those who are retiring, moving chambers, or have lost their seats during the election. For outgoing members of Congress, it is an opportunity to leave a legacy – passing important legislation that can help end hunger.

As our thoughts turn to holiday preparations of feasting and family gatherings, we should not forget those who face the season hungry. There are opportunities during the lame-duck session to address global food security, increase our ability to deliver food aid, and address the hunger causing the child refugee crisis on our southern border.

  • Appropriations: Congress cannot leave town without making some provision for government funding, which expires December 11, or it faces a government shutdown. Legislators could pass a short funding extension or start the new year off with the government fully funded.  A bill that would fund the remainder of fiscal year 2015 could come in the form of an omnibus – combining several small funding bills into a large bill requiring a single vote – or Congress could pass a straight-up extension of all programs at current funding levels, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), or a combination of the two. Congress should include funding that would address the violence, hunger, and poverty that have forced more than 68,000 children to flee their homes in Central America. 
  • The Global Food Security Act – Since 2010, Feed the Future programs have helped millions of farmers increase crop production and food security around the world. It is time to codify the program into law.  With enough pressure from constituents, bills introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 5656/S. 2909) could be voted on and passed during the lame-duck session.
  • Food for Peace Reform Act: With multiple food crises dominating the news, there is an opportunity to build the political will to pass food-aid reform in the new year by increasing cosponsors to S.2421, The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014.

January 2015 will usher in the 114th Congress, which will include those members who won seats in last week’s elections. If you are in a district or state with a newly elected member of Congress, now is a good time to introduce them to Bread for the World and talk to them about making ending hunger a legislative priority. Contact your regional organizer for more information on how you can set up an in-district meeting.

Congress acts when there is a tipping point of pressure from back home. By taking the time to reach out to our members of Congress now, we can help ensure a better and more prosperous 2015 for everyone. 

 

Bread Challenges the Newly Elected Congress

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Bread for the World members in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. (Bread for the World)


By David Beckmann

On Tuesday, while the Senate shifted to Republican control, 18,000 children around the world died unnecessarily. Nearly half those deaths were caused by hunger. And in the United States, 16 million children still live in families that struggle to put food on the table.

Bread for the World’s members work for justice for hungry people in the United States and around the world regardless of how power shifts between our nation’s political parties. We pray that all our nation’s leaders will work to end hunger.  

The number of people in extreme poverty in the world has been cut in half since 1990, and there has been progress in all kinds of countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil to Great Britain. If Congress and the president make opportunity for everybody a priority, we can end hunger in the United States and support continued progress toward ending hunger worldwide.

Bread for the World’s top priority for the 114th Congress will be the scheduled reauthorization of the nation’s child nutrition programs. Republicans and Democrats should work together to strengthen school and summer nutrition programs.  But House Republicans have been pushing for deep cuts in SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Churches and food banks across the country have been unable to make up for the groceries that Congress took away from hungry families last year.

Bread for the World also notes with optimism bipartisan interest in other issues important to people in poverty:

  • When Congress returns later this month, the leaders of both houses seem inclined to steer away from another budget crisis and finalize appropriations for the current fiscal year.

  • The parties should be able to work together on continued progress against world poverty–the fight against Ebola and bills to reform food aid, strengthen agriculture and nutrition in poor countries, and promote trade with Africa.

  • Leaders in both parties are calling for reforms to correct injustices in the criminal justice system that have crowded U.S. prisons and deepened the poverty of many communities.

  • Tax credits for low-wage workers reduce poverty while encouraging work.

God has made it possible in our time to virtually end hunger in our country and around the world, so Bread for the World is pushing with urgency to make hunger, poverty, and opportunity for everybody a priority for our political leaders. We will push for change over the next two years and in the next round of elections for president and Congress.

Rev. David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.

Flipping the Equation: More Food and Less Shipping

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USAID-donated rice distribution in West Point, Liberia. (Morgana Wingard/USAID)


By Robin Stephenson

Over $9 billion dollars was spent on transporting food aid compared to $7.4 billion on actual food during a 10-year period, according to a joint investigation by USA Today and graduate students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

With lives at stake, that ratio should shock us.

Legislation passed in the 1960s mandates food largely has to be purchased in the United States and then shipped on U.S. cargo carriers, which means 65 percent of the money is spent on transportation and business costs, rather than food. As part of Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, people of faith have called on their members of Congress to reform outdated laws that govern our food-aid policy. 

Special interests have lobbied hard to maintain the status quo. Companies like Liberty Martine have spent $1.13 million in 2013 to fight reforms according the USA Today report.

Earlier this year, a provision was slipped into the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4005) that would increase, from 50 to 75 percent, the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. The House passed the bill by voice vote. The Senate version (S. 2444) awaits mark-up in committee. We will continue to advocate for the absence of cargo preference in a final bill.

In addition to regions with chronic food insecurity, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has responded to food emergencies in Syria, South Sudan, the Philippines, and Central African Republic in 2014. Food shortages resulting from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are expected to put more pressure on already strained resources. Making matters worse, the Medill/USA Today report says that the cost of buying and delivering food from the United States has tripled in the past 12 years – all while funding has been cut.

There is a solution in the Senate right now that could change the lopsided food-aid ratio. The Food For Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) would eliminate cargo preference. The bill would free as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people annually.

Smart food aid is about more than feeding people; it helps create stability.

In Liberia, the Ebola epidemic is destroying lives and livelihoods. Markets are disrupted and food is becoming scarce. To maintain political and economic stability, people’s basic survival needs must be met. Supporting the response by the World Food Programme, USAID had provided $6.6 million worth of U.S.-grown food aid as of last month. 

In a time where needs are great and resources are stretched thin, every dollar must count. It is time to flip the equation and make ending hunger the priority.

Act Now: Email or call your senators at 800-826-3688 and ask them to cosponsor S. 2421, the Food for Peace Reform Act.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and seneior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

An Individual’s Connection to the World’s Hot Spots Today

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Relief supplies to Central African Republic. (USAID)


The news has seemed especially distressing recently, like the world is falling apart all at once. There are troubling reports of violence in Syria/Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and then there's Ebola in West Africa.

What can one person — an individual American — do to create peace and calm in far-away places and in such large, complicated situations? It's easy to feel helpless in times like these.

These crises are political, military, diplomatic, humanitarian, and health in nature—or sometimes a complex situation with a few of these aspects at play at once. They are seemingly fit for only national governments to deal with on a large scale. However, individual Americans are connected to these situations every day. Our federal government is acting on our behalf, with our tax dollars, and because of the positive influence of Bread activists in the legislative process of our Congress.

In all of these countries, desperate people are at least getting food to eat, and that is partly because of Bread for the World's work on food aid from the U.S. government this year, namely through Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid. The U.S. is the world's largest food donor, and much of the food aid from the U.S. government is given to and distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP), part of the United Nations.

WFP reported recently that it is responding to five level-3 emergencies, the highest level on its scale of severity. There were six level-3 emergencies until recently, when Cameroon was downgraded to level 2.

"This is the first time ever that the international humanitarian community has been dealing with five humanitarian crises of this scale at the same time," said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread's president. "We must continue to advocate to Congress on behalf of the millions of people experiencing hunger and poverty during this unprecedented time of suffering."

What's happening in these places

In South Sudan, the crisis ravages on as 1.8 million people have been displaced since conflict broke out between President Salva Kiir's government forces and rebels allied to his former deputy, Reik Machar. Over 10,000 people have already died. The outlook remains grim as food security may deteriorate sharply into next year. A famine is declared when at least 20 percent of households face life-threatening food shortages with an inability to handle the problem.

South Sudan has already received $1.2 billion this year from aid agencies, but an estimated $345 million more is needed to support the U.N.'s response there.

The Ebola crisis continues to deepen in West Africa as over 3,000 people have died from the infection in the region. The WFP has already reached more 180,000 people in Ebola zones with vital food assistance. Over the next 3 months, the WFP will be targeting 1.3 million people with food assistance, but it needs $107.7 million more.

Recent violence has affected nearly the entire Gaza strip. Nearly 1 in 4 people in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, but 350,000 Palestinians living in U.N. and public shelters are receiving ready-to-eat emergency rations of food on a daily basis. Food needs are increasing, and the chaos in Gaza requires U.S. aid to prevent starvation.

In Iraq, 1.2 million people are being targeted for food assistance. In August, over 190,000 people received family food parcels, which consist of food essentials, including rice, lentils, and vegetable oil.

In Syria, the conflict rages on without a solution, and humanitarian needs are increasing. Seven million Syrians are in need of food assistance. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 Syrians are fleeing every day to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The WFP needs approximately $35 million a week to assist over 7 million Syrians in urgent need of food assistance. 

In the Central African Republic, approximately 175,000 people are displaced and an estimated 416,000 have fled the country. The persistent violence has affected the entire population, and 1.7 million people are at risk of hunger. But so far this year, WFP has assisted nearly 1 million people.

These simultaneous crises have stretched not only the WFP, but also other international humanitarian agencies, to their limits.

"Remember that U.S. food assistance, including our country's support for the World Food Programme, is providing help and a bit of security for desperate people in these situations," said Beckmann.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's October online newsletter.

Watch “The Last Hunger Season” Online


The Last Hunger Season Film Series: Part 1, "Expanding Possibilities." Watch other videos in the series here.

Today’s celebration of World Food Day lifts up the role of smallholder farmers through the theme, “Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.” There are plenty of these farmers to celebrate: 500 million smallholder farmers live and work in the developing world. Most of them are women.

Last year saw the publication of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, a book by Roger Thurow, senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and longtime friend of Bread for the World. Now there is a series of short documentary videos online that bring the book to life, telling the stories of smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Here’s a description of the story:

Africa’s small farmers, who comprise two-thirds of its population, toil in a time warp, living and working essentially as they did in the 1930s. Without mechanized equipment, fertilizer, or irrigation; using primitive storage facilities, roads, and markets; lacking capital, credit, and insurance; they harvest only one-quarter the yields of Western farmers, half of which spoil before getting to market. But in 2011 one group of farmers in Kenya came together to try to change their odds for success—and their families’ futures. Roger Thurow spent a year following their progress.

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers’ lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world’s growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO’s, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Watch The Last Hunger Season online. Learn more about Bread’s efforts to enact much-needed reforms to U.S. food aid. Then take action to help more smallholder farmers, like those shown in Kenya, and hungry people around the world as well. 

Return from Recess

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(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

As summer draws to a close, members of Congress return to Washington for a short work period before entering the final campaign stretch before the midterm elections. Here are hunger-related items before Congress this fall:

Food-Aid Reform

Over the August recess, Bread has been urging senators to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). This food-aid reform legislation will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people. Read more about the legislation at www.bread.org/indistrict. While this legislation may not become law this year, more co-sponsors will significantly help push the issue forward in the new Congress.

The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to mark up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill (S. 2444), but that mark-up was postponed before the August recess due to unrelated issues. There is no word on when the legislation will come back up in committee, but Bread will continue to encourage senators to omit the harmful cargo-preference provision that the House had. This harmful provision increases the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged carriers, costing the government an additional $75 million and would leave 2 million hungry people around the world without access to lifesaving food aid.

Immigration and Unaccompanied Children

In the weeks before the August recess, Congress was debating and crafting legislation to address the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Read Bread’s bill analysis on the pieces of legislation that Congress considered before its recess at www.bread.org/indistrict.

Until recently, the debate has lacked much attention to the root causes of the crisis: poverty, hunger, and violence. However, during July, Bread activists sent over 10,000 emails to their senators and representatives, urging them to include these root causes as part of any legislation addressing the child refugee crisis. In meetings with congressional offices over the past few weeks, Bread staff have noticed that members of Congress are starting to incorporate root causes into their thinking about the issue.

When Congress returns, there will be two opportunities for legislators to address the child refugee crisis. Congress could pass a separate emergency supplemental spending bill as both the House and Senate were attempting to do before the recess. Alternatively, Congress could include provisions to address the crisis in the regular spending, or appropriations, bill, which is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to keep the government open. Congress will pass a short-term measure in September to get through the mid-term elections and will then revisit these appropriations decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year in December. Both periods offer an opportunity for Congress to add language addressing the surge of refugee children in the U.S.

Budget and Appropriations

In September, Congress will have to pass some sort of budget as the government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month. Congress may pass a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The easiest route is to pass a clean CR that just extends current funding levels. However, both parties will push for certain spending add-ons, such as funding for the border or wildfires. Some Republicans could also press for additional spending cuts. Any CR is likely to last until mid-December to push any concerns over a shutdown beyond the mid-term elections.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.

Ebola Crisis Expected to Become a Food Crisis

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Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. (David Benafel, USAID FED)

By Robin Stephenson

Rice farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County were celebrating a rice surplus earlier this year, helped by a U.S. funded program to increase agricultural productivity. The small-holder farmers, who previously produced just enough to consume themselves, were able to sell 125 bags of rice through their cooperative.

Front Page Africa wrote, “The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers.”

It may, but not because of a banner year for rice.

2014 will go down in the history books for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. More than 1,000 Liberians have been infected and more than half have died since May. The World Health Organization expects the number to increase by 12,000 in the next six months. But Ebola is only the beginning. The collateral damage from the outbreak is hunger, without increased interventions of food assistance. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone face a similar narrative. Now Nigeria and Senegal are also reporting cases of the virus.

Liberia is still struggling to recover from years of civil conflict. Rebuilding the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy economy as well as an effective public health care system takes time. Poverty rates in the West African country remain high and chronic malnutrition stands at 36 percent.

Rice harvests in Liberia, which occur September to December and are expected to be above average this year, will help mitigate hunger in the short term, but the outlook for the next hunger season is bleak. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is predicating increased food insecurity throughout March of 2015 due to market disruptions and labor shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that the majority of Ebola victims are between the ages of 15 and 45, which will reduce household incomes for hundreds of households.

Investments in projects focused on poverty before the outbreak will lessen the need for assistance later, but it won’t be enough. The WFP is bracing for more humanitarian need throughout the region.

Food insecurity in West Africa will just add to an already over-taxed food assistance system. Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and people threatened by looming famine in the Central African Republic and neighboring South Sudan are already in need of precious food aid resources.

It sounds overwhelming but we can do more with some of the resources we already have. By creating more flexibility in the U.S. food aid program, we can reach more people. Pilot reforms, such as those that buy food near a disaster instead of shipping commodities from the United States, have helped get food to millions more people and build resilience against future disasters.

If Congress passes the Food for Peace Reform Act (S.2421), we can reach 9 million more people and, during emergencies, deliver food two months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Smarter food aid can do more than reach more people. It can build on progress already made. Liberia has worked hard to make progress on hunger, with help from foreign donors like the United States. Sending commodities will help deal with hunger today, but buying locally will help strengthen their economy tomorrow.

When the last case of Ebola goes into the history books, smart food aid means Liberia can return to making progress on ending hunger.

The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.

 

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

Capitol
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

An expiring budget, food aid reform, and a humanitarian crisis at the border await Congress. After hearing from the voters, will Congress return from a five-week recess on September 8 ready to act on these connected issues?

Asked if it is possible, Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World’s deputy director of government relations, answers emphatically. “Absolutely. If they have the political will and make ending hunger a priority, they will work together.”

“These issues are too important for Congress to sit on any longer.”

The 2014 budget expires October 1. Congress has only 11 working days to pass a temporary extension before going on another break or face a government shutdown.

In addition to simply extending the budget, Congress should protect funding for WIC and maintain a strong safety net as the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession. As the economy slowly improves, further cuts could sink more Americans into deeper poverty.

Looming famine in South Sudan, drought in Latin America, and Ebola in West Africa are wreaking havoc with global food security – not to mention the millions of conflict-displaced families needing help in the Middle East. Efforts to address global hunger today mitigate food prices and global security concerns in the future.

Boosting poverty-focused development assistance is an investment that will decrease hunger in future food emergencies. Programs like Feed the Future, which take a long-term approach to building food security, are saving lives and building resilience in countries like Tanzania.

There is an opportunity to make our U.S. food aid—programs that respond to global disasters—do more with reform. Senators can build momentum for even more flexible and efficient food aid by cosponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) and holding a hearing during this session.

Funding smaller reforms passed in the farm bill will free up the funds needed to help more people now and expand programs that are already working. For example, Guatemala has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the countries children are fleeing for the U.S. southern border. Catherine Pascal Jiménez, who is featured in the 2014 Offering of Letters, can keep her children at home thanks to a U.S.-funded food-aid program.

Ignoring the humanitarian crisis at the border or criminalizing children who flee poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America will not stop the flow of migrants. Funding global anti-hunger programs that can address economic stability in the sending countries is a first step in stemming the tide of hungry people seeking refuge. Congress must act quickly with emergency funding on its return to Washington.

Swift action may be a tall order, and there is certainly a reason to be pessimistic with this unproductive Congress. However, this is a democracy, and as Kegan points out, “Members who don’t listen to voters don’t stay in Washington.”

Kegan says faithful advocates need to make a lot of noise as Congress returns to the nation’s capitol next week. “If enough people demand action, they will act.” 

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Flexible Food Aid Meets People Where They Are

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Reforms to make U.S. food aid more flexible will benefit farmers, like the one pictured from El Salvador, and local economies  to build resilience against future food insecurity. (Jim Stipe)

By Arnulfo Moreno

Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish? We all have that innate feeling to help someone when disaster strikes. Children should not have to go to bed hungry because a tsunami happened to hit their neighborhood or because they were living on a fault line. At the same time, aid should not destroy local economies in order to provide temporary relief. As this article highlights, the key is flexibility.

Most of the federal government's programs that deliver food aid were created in the 1950s, but many of the administrative policies haven’t changed since then. The global population in 1950 was 2.5 billion people. In 2010, the year most recent data is available, the population was more than 6.8 billion people and growing. The rigid restrictions on food aid did not take into account such growth or changes in agriculture technology and transportation, as well as cultural and political changes.

The most important thing that we can draw upon from this past half century is experience. We know that flooding a market with free food can paralyze local economies and has adverse effects on populations when the food is not common to the region. We have seen that having the flexibility to purchase food locally or to issue food vouchers benefits not only those receiving the assistance but also local farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurship.  

We can continue to invest in people and future trade partners by making food aid more potent. By allowing food to be purchased locally, we help those economies devastated by disasters, both natural and human-caused, and ensure that they become self-sufficient.

As a taxpayer, I want to make sure that my money is used to help those who need it, not to line the pockets of the shipping industry or other industries. Allowing food-aid programs the flexibility to choose the best transportation method and food-allocation method helps bring costs down and grants our government the ability to help millions more with no additional cost to taxpayers.

If we set aside money to help our brothers and sisters around the world, then we have to make sure that every penny is used as efficiently as possible. Food aid should have the flexibility to meet people where they are. Give people a fish and/or show them how to fish, depending on their circumstance—not on a rigid set of our outdated policies.   

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

Act Now: Let's Get Food Aid to 9 Million More People

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The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421) will reform U.S. food aid and feed more people at lower cost. Mothers and children, like these in South Sudan, will benefit from targeted nutrition. (USAID)

By Eric Mitchell

A future free of hunger will require good ideas. I want to share with you a really, really good idea.

Picture this: Our federal government provides life-saving food assistance to 9 million more people around the world who experience hunger every year. What’s more, during emergencies, we deliver food 2 months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s called the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421), a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

So what's the problem? In short, time. The clock is ticking on this Congress.

Nine million people can't wait for congressional inaction. Will you take a moment to email your U.S. senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill?

Bread for the World has a long history of winning reforms for food aid. Bread members helped improve the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust in 1998. That fund will help with the current famine threatening South Sudan.

And yet, we can and must do better. The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Won't you please take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill right now?

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

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