Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

43 posts from January 2014

Farm Bill Passes House: Thank You for Your Advocacy

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

 By David Beckmann

I want to thank you for your faithful advocacy to protect SNAP (formerly food stamps) and to improve U.S. food aid in the farm bill.

Nearly three years after starting our work on this bill, Congress is on the verge of passing The Agricultural Act of 2014 — a final, five-year authorization of food and farm programs. While the bill includes important reforms to food aid, it also cuts the SNAP program by more than $8 billion.

These cuts are extremely disappointing, but your advocacy was critical in ensuring that millions of people were not kicked off the program. The House passed the compromise bill on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to pass it on Monday.

The bill is far from perfect, but your faithfulness in sending more than 39,000 emails and making 5,900 calls to Congress last year alone made a big difference. Here’s a brief summary of what is important in the bill:

-      U.S. food aid. There are positive reforms to food-aid programs that make them more efficient, enabling the greatest impact possible while improving food-aid quality and nutrition. This includes increased cash flexibility for development programs and establishing a permanent local and regional procurement (LRP) program with funding up to $80 million a year.

-      SNAP. The bill includes an $8.6 billion benefit cut. Though less than the $40 billion in cuts proposed in 2013, this cut comes a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet. It will not kick current beneficiaries from the program, but it will cut benefits for approximately 850,000 households in 15 states—California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia, just months after every SNAP household in the country saw its monthly allotments reduced.

 As important as what was included in the bill is what was not included. Harmful SNAP policy changes that would have kicked millions off the program, banned convicted felons for life, punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant were virtually eliminated. There are also no cuts to food aid or food-aid quality programs.

While the lack of these harmful changes and the food-aid reforms are a huge victory for people who are hungry, the SNAP cuts will be a significant blow to the 850,000 households that will lose about $90 a month in benefits at a time when hunger in America remains at an all-time high. Any cut to SNAP is harmful.

Congress must not forget that many families are still struggling — unemployment remains high, and programs that support hungry and poor people are at risk of greater cuts. Your voice and your advocacy continue to be critical in protecting hungry people from cuts.

Without your advocacy, the farm bill would not have included key first steps for food-aid reforms and would have cut SNAP much deeper. I am confident your voices and your continued faith will continue to have an impact in the coming debates.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World

Test Your Knowledge with Our Earned Income Tax Credit Quiz

Today is EITC Awareness Day! The EITC, which is short for the Earned Income Tax Credit, lifts more children out of poverty than any other government program.

Bread for the World has advocated for the current benefit levels for this refundable tax credit to be made a permanent part of the tax code—the current benefit levels expire in 2017. We will continue push for this in 2014. 

How much do you know about this vital program?  Take this quiz and test your EITC knowledge. And if you think that you or someone you know might qualify for the tax credit, watch the above video from the IRS—it includes information on how to file for free.

 

Pray for Immigration Reform with a Psalm about the Marginalized

Pray for reform
A group of advocates gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, on June 27, 2013, to pray for compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

This week, House Republicans are talking about immigration during a retreat, and decisions they make will be critical in determining whether or not reform will be on their 2014 agenda.  Immigration is a hunger issue, and we at Bread for the World, along with our partners, pray that these congressional leaders consider principles that include ending hunger in proposed legislation.

Bread for the World is urging members of Congress to act on legislation that respects the dignity of immigrants in the United States, while addressing poverty and hunger overseas. Since 2010, Bread for the World Institute has researched immigration’s connections to hunger and poverty.We recognize that poor conditions in home countries are a major cause of unauthorized immigration to the United States, and we have identified five principles (PDF) that are crucial to craft policy that addresses hunger as a root cause of immigration.

Join us as we, and others, pray for reform and for the leaders who have the power to help end hunger both here and abroad. 

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
     the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
 The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

Quote of the Day: Armand P.

Unemployment line"If Congress doesn't act, I will be living in my car—which I cant afford to put gas in."

—Armand P., who has been unemployed for 13 months and recently lost his unemployment benefits, to the Washington Post  

More than 1.6 million unemployed workers have now been cut off from emergency unemployment insurance. For many of them, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work.

Every day that Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, it becomes harder to reinstate necessary assistance. We cannot give up on the unemployed, and neither should Congress.

Call (800-826-3688) or email your members of Congress today! Tell them to reinstate unemployment insurance without delay!

Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).

 

 

Renew Unemployment: This is Getting Desperate

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Each week Congress does not act, 72,000 people lose the emergency unemployment benefits that help support their families as they search for work (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World).

By Eric Mitchell

The situation is getting desperate. More than 1.6 million unemployed workers have now been cut off from emergency unemployment insurance. For many of them, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work.

Last night, President Obama made a powerful call to reinstate unemployment insurance. But there's a voice that's even more powerful to members of Congress — yours!

Call (800-826-3688) or email your members of Congress today! Tell them to reinstate unemployment insurance without delay!

Every day that Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, it becomes harder to reinstate necessary assistance. We cannot give up on the unemployed, and neither should Congress! Unemployment insurance helps people look for work, put food on the table, and keep their homes. It provides a sense of security during difficult and stressful times.

Urge your representative and your senators to press on until unemployed workers see their insurance extended.

Call or email your members of Congress today, and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

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

Hunger and Poverty in the State of the Union Address

Obama1During last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama focused on income inequality and the growing opportunity gap in America—a regular theme of his recent speeches. “Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success,” he said. “But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

While the president said the word “poverty" only three times, and made no mention of hunger, his speech still referenced several issues relevant to ending hunger and poverty—such as restoring unemployment insurance for those who’ve lost benefits since Jan. 1, and bolstering the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of our government’s most effective anti-poverty measures.

Much of the speech tracked closely with Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, and Bread for the World's work to end hunger at home and abroad..

Below are five quotes from last night's State of the Union address that touched on hunger and poverty issues, and a brief look at how those remarks connect to Bread’s 2014 legislative agenda.

Unemployment Insurance

“I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy," said Obama. "But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

Bread for the World and its advocates are pushing Congress to immediately reinstate unemployment insurance, and help Americans who rely on their unemployment checks to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads while they continue to look for work. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

Minimum wage

“[I]f you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” said the president, after promising that he would give an estimated 560,000 federal contract workers a wage increase to $10.10. He then urged Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill and raise the federal minimum wage.

Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, outlines a plan to end hunger in America by 2030, and increasing minimum wage is a critical component. The report urged the president to reform federal contracting policies as an important first step. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families, yet 28 percent of U.S. jobs pay poverty-level wages.

Earned Income Tax Credit

“There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the earned income tax credit," Obama said. "Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans, like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids.  So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.”

Bread for the World supports strengthening the EITC, a refundable tax credit that helps low-income families.  Read more about EITC, and how it helps families.

Immigration

“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year."

Bread for the World firmly believes that immigration reform will reduce poverty and hunger, and is advocating for comprehensive, compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship. Read more about Bread for the World’s immigration work, and our latest update on how Congress will address reform in 2014.

Food Aid

During the State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of work in Africa that would “help end extreme poverty,” and talked about the United States “extending a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines.” He did not, however, explicitly mention U.S. food aid or food aid reform.

Bread for the World is pushing for smart reforms to U.S. food aid, which does so much good around the world, but simple changes could ensure that the food aid does even more for people in—with no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on much-needed reform to U.S. food aid. Learn more about U.S. food aid and why reform is so critical.

Farm Bill Update: David Beckmann on Farm Bill Compromise

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Bread for the World President David Beckmann called the long-awaited compromise farm bill, released last night, a "mixed bag," in a statement.

“While there are some positive aspects, such as food-aid reform provisions, we are disappointed with the $8.6 billion cut to SNAP. Any cut to SNAP is harmful to America’s struggling families, especially at this time when hunger in the United States is at an all-time high.

“Congress must not forget that many American families are still struggling to put food on the table—especially at a time when unemployment remains high and programs that support hungry and poor people are at risk of greater cuts,” Beckmann added. “Any cut to SNAP is harmful.”

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the compromise farm bill tomorrow. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill either later this week or early next. No amendments will be considered during the vote. Passage in both chambers would send the final legislation to the president’s desk for signature. 

The farm bill, which expired in September of last year, authorizes programs—including SNAP (formerly food stamps) and international food aid—that help hungry people in the United States and abroad. The bill is reauthorized every five years. To learn more about the farm bill, and how it affects hunger, read Bread for the World’s 2012 Hunger Report, Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies. 

Read Bread for the World's full press statement on the farm bill compromise.

Escaping Poverty: Looking at U.S. Economic Mobility

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During his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is expected to talk about income inquality and economic mobility—issues that he has called “the defining challenge of our time.”

Indeed, the idea that the United States is a land of opportunity is becoming a myth, especially when this nation is compared to other rich countries. According to a new Harvard study, "the U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are 'lands of opportunity' with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty."

This morning, an NPR Morning Edition report examined the study, which shows that social mobility—the ability to climb the economic ladder through income-earning power—hasn't changed in the United States since the 1970s.  and that the consequences of not being able to climb the social ladder—such as limited job prospects and low-wage work—are far more dire than they were 40 years ago. 

“The notion that America is a special place where any kid can grow up to be president, is very important to the American psyche," David Wessel, a journalist and Brookings Institution analyst, told NPR. "But when you look at the data, it’s harder to rise from the bottom to the middle or from the middle to the top in the U.S. than in other rich countries around the world.”

Harvard economist Nathan Hendren, a co-author of the study, told NPR that data shows that a child born into the bottom fifth of wealth in the United States has only an 8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth, compared to a 16 percent chance if you are born in Denmark. 

The Washington Post recently used the Harvard study data to create an interactive map of economic mobility in the United States. While most children of lower-income parents make more money than their parents did, their ability to do varies substantially in this country. The map above gives an overview, but the full version allows you to see, down to the county, if children in your area have opportunity to earn more, and achieve more, than their parents. 

To learn more about income inequality, economic mobility, and what the United States can do to close the gap, read Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Immigration Reform: What's Next?


A group of advocates gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, on June 27, 2013, to pray for compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Update, Feb. 3, 2014: House Republican leadership has released a set of immigration reform principles. As expected, they offer a step-by-step approach to legislation rather than a comprehensive bill, such as the one the Senate passed last June. Border security and internal enforcement are prioritized as the first steps in the principles, but the guiding document also includes a path toward legalization—although, unlike the Senate bill, it does not specify a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants. The principles do, however, include a possible path to citizenship for young people brought to the United States as children, provided they either join the military or graduate from college.

It is unclear when and if the principles will jump-start immigration reform legislation in the House this year. We will continue to follow developments, report them on the Bread blog, and urge members of Congress to craft legislation that explicity addresses poverty both here in the United States and abroad.

Read Bread for the World’s immigration principles, which include ensuring legal status and a path to the citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, as well as providing development assistance to countries with high poverty rates.

Original post: In coming days, House Republican leadership will release its principles for immigration reform, making the near-term prospects for reform clearer. The principles, likely to be issued around the time of the president's Jan. 28 State of the Union address, are expected to approve granting unauthorized immigrants provisional legal status that will give them the right to live and work in the United States. Under the principles, immigrants granted provisional status will eventually be allowed to apply for a green card.

This is the first time that House Republican leaders have endorsed legal status for many of the 11-12 million people living in the United States without legal permission. These principles, along with President Obama's State of the Union address, will provide clues to how Congress will address reform in early 2014.

The House Republican principles are expected to be broad, but will nevertheless provide the foundation for additional immigration bills that Republicans both inside and outside of the House Judiciary Committee are currently crafting. While Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office is leading the drafting of the principles, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is said to be leading the drafting of a Republican version of the DREAM Act, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is also playing a minor role.

The emerging GOP approach also presents a challenge to Democrats, who have traditionally said that anything short of citizenship is an unacceptable second-class status. Nevertheless, there have been positive reactions from Democratic congressional leaders regarding the current movement among Republicans on the issue. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) called the principles "a very important moment," adding that "part of the problem here is that the debate has been framed [as] 'Either it's citizenship for all or it's justice for no one.'"

Analysts and economic leaders also continue to present the economic case for immigration reform. This week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will meet with Republican lawmakers. It will be his first major public policy event since his term ended on Dec. 31. The meeting will include prominent Republicans and U.S. Chamber of Commerce representatives. The Baltimore Sun recently published a Bread for the World Institute op-ed on the potential of immigrants to revitalize Rust Belt cities and regions. And last week, an event on Capitol Hill that brought together immigrant integration civic leaders from the Midwest reinforced the economic argument for immigration reform.

As Congressional leaders seek bipartisan compromise, elevating the research on the economic contributions of immigrants, including low-skill immigrants, will be key to making the case for reform.

Quote of the Day: Bill Gates

"[T]he easiest way to respond to the myth that poor countries are doomed to stay poor is to point to one fact: They haven’t stayed poor. Many—though by no means all—of the countries we used to call poor now have thriving economies. And the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990.

"That still leaves more than 1 billion people in extreme poverty, so it’s not time to celebrate. But it is fair to say that the world has changed so much that the terms “developing countries” and “developed countries” have outlived their usefulness.

—Bill Gates, in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's annual letter

Photo: Two girls enjoy lunch in rural Guatemala. USAID provides funding for school meals (Food for Education) in some of the most impoverished and malnourished areas (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

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