Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

56 posts categorized "2014 Offering of Letters"

Thank You For a Successful Year of Advocacy

Breadstaffthankyou copy

By David Beckmann

From all of us at Bread for the World, thank you! Despite a year defined by gridlock and partisanship in Congress, your advocacy accomplished a lot. We saw some tremendous victories this year!

During 2014, you sent hundreds of thousands of letters and personal emails and made thousands of calls to your members of Congress on such issues as food-aid reform, protecting SNAP in the farm bill, tax credits for working families, addressing the root causes of hunger, poverty, and violence that are driving refugee children to flee Central America, and Feed the Future. Although Congress did not pass many major bills, we did get important provisions included in bills that did pass, and we blocked some bad policies that were pushed by powerful corporate lobbyists.

Our legislative wins are so numerous that we cannot fit them in this email. Starting next week, we will be blogging and promoting them via Facebook and Twitter. You’ll also be able to see the whole, long list in our January 2015 newsletter.

Our victories during a very difficult congressional year prove you can make a real difference. These victories affirm that God is truly moving to end hunger in our time.

As we prepare for Christmas, I want you to know how much we value you and your work for and on behalf of people who are hungry. Merry Christmas!

David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.

Coffee and Conversation with US Sen. Jeff Merkley

Merkely and me
Sen. Jeff Merkley and Robin Stephenson. Photo: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office.

By Robin Stephenson

On any given Thursday when Congress is in session, the smell of Oregon’s finest coffee wafts through  U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Washington, D.C., office. Oregonians gather in a bright blue conference room exchanging greetings and stories as they wait to meet the senator for a quick conversation.

As an anti-hunger advocate, I am always trying to get a message to my members of Congress, but I rarely meet with them personally. I usually pass my message through a staff member. Because legislative assistants advise members of Congress, it is important to communicate with them. However, face time with elected officials themselves can leave a lasting impression.

While in Washington, D.C., last week, I dropped by Merkley’s office for coffee and spent several minutes talking to him about an issue I am really worried about: schools eliminating free and reduced-price lunch programs in rural Oregon, where child food-insecurity rates are as high as 30 percent. I also talked to him about a food-aid reform bill I want him to cosponsor. He asked me some questions before we took a photo together. Afterward, he sincerely thanked me and told me that my advocacy work was very important.

It is no secret that I am a fan of the senator. I learned about the power of advocacy by working on a payday loan campaign in Oregon that he spearheaded. It might be easy to think he doesn't need to hear from me, but my showing up reminds him that he has constituents at home who count on him to continue being a champion for vulnerable people.

Many senators host weekly meet-and-greets for their constituents who are visiting the nation’s capital. Some offices have traditions that go back decades. These events are one way lawmakers can connect with constituents from home.

Using coffee chats as an opportunity to talk about poverty is nothing new to Bread for the World members. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office does coffee with a distinctly New Mexican flair; they serve biscochitos (butter-based cookies flavored with anise and cinnamon) and green chile pistachios, says longtime Bread activist and current board member Carlos Navarro.

In addition to one-on-one time with Udall, Navarro says he enjoys meeting other New Mexicans working on anti-hunger issues in his state. He met AARP state director Gene Varela at a 2013 coffee meet-and-greet in Udall’s office. “The contact turned out to be very important, since I was able to connect with him later about the Hunger Summit in New Mexico in the summer of 2014, which AARP was cosponsoring,” he says.

And there is something about meeting over coffee that makes talking to a U.S. senator less intimidating. Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus has written about how coffee eased her nerves when speaking with Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso. I can totally relate. Part of why I like “constituent coffee” is because it brings a little bit of home to our nation’s capital, and I’m just one Oregonian talking to another.

If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., for any reason, call your senator’s office ahead of time and find out if they host a constituent coffee.

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

 

 

You Did It: More Food, Less Shipping

14731995009_ec22ec26b9_kBy Robin Stephenson

This week, faithful advocacy won out over special interests in a modern-day David and Goliath story. Using messages of faith as virtual slingshots aimed at Congress, Bread members across the country told lawmakers to prioritize food for hungry people over profit for shipping conglomerates - and they listened.

This week, in the final days of the 113th Congress, lawmakers passed a bill funding the Coast Guard for 2015 that rolled back proposals to increase subsidies to the world’s largest shipping companies to ship U.S. food aid.

Last spring, a provision was quietly slipped into a Coast Guard bill that the House passed, which called for an increase in the amount of food aid required to be shipped on U.S. vessels.

Bread advocates with the help of Bread organizers responded quickly by targeting key members on the Senate Commerce Committee, the committee that considered the legislation next.

Jon Gromek, a Bread regional organizer whose territory includes West Virginia, supported advocates as they engaged with Sen. Jay Rockefeller. He chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. Committee chairs are important advocacy targets because they are also the gatekeepers that can either allow or prevent bills from moving forward. West Virginia advocates made it clear to Sen. Rockefeller that feeding people was a moral issue.

“Nuns called Senator Rockefeller, echoing the call of faith leaders across the state who wrote to him on food aid reform,” Gromek said.

In Indiana, another member of the Commerce Committee heard from anti-hunger advocates. “Bread activists spent two hours on a Thursday morning before a critical committee vote to ensure Senator Dan Coats voted by proxy,” Gromek said. “His vote was a critical swing ‘yea’ to positively advance food-aid reform.”

Advocates also spoke up on the other side of the country. David Gist, who organizes in California, said persistence and teamwork was key to their efforts.

“The Bay Area Bread team lobbied Sen. Barbara Boxer to the point that Senate staffers became as adept as Bread members at articulating our talking points,” Gist said. Sen. Boxer is also a member of the Commerce Committee.

“A number of churches, unable to confirm local lobby meetings, chose to hand deliver their Offerings of Letters and used these drop-by visits,” Gist added.  “In short, California advocates were relentless!”

From his base in Bread for the World’s Chicago office, organizer Zach Schmidt helped faith leaders in Illinois and Missouri get a message out. Schmidt organized sign-on letters that garnered hundreds of signatures by faith leaders.

In St. Louis, two more committee members were targeted through local media. “A diverse trio of leaders wrote an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in May, urging Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill to reject a provision that would have harmed hungry people,” Schmidt said.  

Meeting congressional staffers locally is another tactic Schmidt encouraged advocates to use.

“And most recently,” Schmidt said, “a group of leaders, led by Rev. Dr. Doyle Sager, met with staff from the senators’ offices to discuss this issue.” Sager is senior pastor at First Baptist Church, Jefferson, Mo.

All of this advocacy happened as part of Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid. Next year’s Offering of Letters will focus on a different topic.

Bread will continue to work on food-aid reform and urge Congress to pass the Food for Peace Reform Act next year. For now, as this campaign and year draw to a close, let’s take a moment and celebrate the power of the faithful voice and the victories advocacy has won for people who are hungry.

“This is the fruit of faithful, persistent advocacy,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a statement to the press yesterday.

Learn more: U.S. Food Aid Reform

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

Photo: (Bread for the World)

What We Are Thankful For

14221138950_575752f53c_h
(Bread for the World)

By Rev. David Beckmann

We have a lot to be thankful for this year at Bread for the World, and you're at the top of the list. I thank God for you.

Here are just a few examples of the incredible work you have helped accomplish this year:

We won reforms that have allowed U.S. food assistance to reach 1.5 million more hungry people. Humanitarian crises in South Sudan and Syria along with the terrifying spread of Ebola in West Africa have dramatically increased the need for food aid, so our successful campaign to increase the reach of U.S. food aid could not have come at a more critical time.

As unaccompanied children crossed the U.S. border, fleeing violence at home and often deplorable treatment in detention centers, you opened your heart. You sent more than 10,000 personalized emails to your members of Congress urging them to protect these vulnerable children while addressing the root causes of their plight in the long term. A bill has been introduced into the House (H.R. 5368) to address these concerns.

On Monday, Bread for the World Institute launched its 2015 Hunger Report: When Women Flourish ... We Can End Hunger. Because of their leading role in farming, caregiving, and child nutrition, women are the primary agents the world relies on to fight hunger.  Your support makes this research and analysis possible.

And in June, we celebrated 40 years of your faithful advocacy and victories from earlier decades. We also launched Bread Rising: A Campaign to End Hunger, the most ambitious campaign in Bread's history. More to come on this campaign in the new year.

Through your dedication and through God's amazing work, we have accomplished so much. But our work isn't finished yet. As you gather around your Thanksgiving table, I ask you to pray for people who are hungry. And to pray harder for our nation and our leaders — that we might realize the political will to end hunger.

Are you asking yourself, "What more can I do?" If you have just five minutes, please help with this urgent opportunity to make a difference for people who are hungry around the world right now: email your members of Congress, and urge them to co-sponsor the Global Food Security Act (H.R. 5656 and S. 2909), which will boost agricultural development and address malnutrition. It passed out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week and will be voted upon next in the full House.

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

Congress Returns for Lame-Duck Session

FGcIc4d+.jpg
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

Grassroots lobby day
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

140919-lbr-wingard-0302-web
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

14783482498_7b2564c888_o
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

Capitol 2
(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.

Stay Connected

Bread for the World