Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

42 posts from February 2014

Establishing a Moral Government

06_Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Lyndon_JohnsonBy Paul Turner

When Martin Luther King Jr. came out against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s, his justification was that it was draining resources needed to implement the Great Society social programs and hampering the government’s ability to finally deliver on a promissory note guaranteeing that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. King was drawn to the antiwar movement because his faith compelled him to work toward systemic change.

His opposition to the war broke down the silos of seemingly disparate movements and fused them together in one overarching desire for open, honest, and responsive government—a moral government.

Today, that desire involves pushing our government’s leaders to play a significant role in stemming hunger, poverty, and disease at home and abroad. However, just as King had the Vietnam War in his time, we too face enormous competition for government resources to help those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”  We too are outraged by government waste, fraud, and abuse; but we are just as outraged by the government’s misplaced priorities and devolution from social responsibility. Even getting the attention of congressional leaders is a competition. The wealthy and powerful are able to steer government policy through campaign contributions and special-interest lobbying firms.  How do the voices of those who can’t afford to “pay to play” get heard?

Bread for the World is unlike the special-interest firms that crowd the Capitol, bestowing gifts and favors on members of Congress who support their motives. The organization instead serves as a proxy for those who lack the income and wealth to gain access to these corridors of power.

Bread uses its influence to call for policies that are characteristic of a moral government. It speaks with authority on behalf of the church, God’s primary agent for transformation in the world, and supplies the vigilance needed to ensure the government plays an active role in addressing poverty and hunger.

In the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 5, Jesus encounters a lame man who is lying by the pool of Bethesda because no one would help him enter its healing waters. His blessing was being deferred by the selfish motives of others, who were out to get their own blessings. That’s how it often is in Washington—powerful interests rush in, seeking to receive from the government trough.

When Jesus healed the lame man by telling him to “take up your bed and walk,” he demonstrated the power the church has in advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable.

In the Master of Arts in Transformational Urban Leadership program (MATUL) at Azusa Pacific University, our students are engaged in social entrepreneurship and community transformation in the poorest communities around the world. They are working outside traditional structures to empower the poorest of the poor. Bread similarly engages in social entrepreneurship by embracing civic engagement and advocacy to bring the faith community together to pray, act, and think about new ways to establish a moral government. 

Paul Turner is director of Mission Implementation at West Angeles Community Development Corporation, adjunct professor of the MATUL program at Azusa Pacific University, and elder at Abundant Life Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Los Angeles, Calif.

Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meet at the White House, 1966. (Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office)

Ronan Farrow’s “The World Unseen” Looks at U.S. Food-Aid Reform

MSNBC host Ronan Farrow looks at U.S. food-aid policies, and the need to reform them, in the latest installment of his "The World Unseen" series. Farrow pays particular attention to shipped food aid—current policies mandate most U.S. food aid is in this form. Commodities, which are subsidized in the United States with taxpayer dollars, saturate the markets of developing countries, and undercut the very people the aid is meant to assist. “Tax payer dollars sent to help often do the opposite” Farrow reports.

Irene, a farmer in Kenya who struggles to feed her children, tells Farrow that the greatest difficulty farmers face is competing with U.S. food—a problem that originates with policy set in Washington, D.C. Agriculture, Farrow says, is the key to Kenya’s economic independence. "Buy local," a term often used in America to support stimulating local economies, also makes a lot of sense in the context of development. Buying food near the source of a crises supports economic independence and strengthens regional agricultural systems. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters campaign urges Congress to improve the efficiency of our food aid with more dollars available to purchase local food so we can reach millions more people

Highlighted in the MSNBC report are two of the congressional champions behind food-aid reform in the farm bill: Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.-39) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16). As we previously reported, the farm bill authorized and made permanent a provision to use some food aid funding to buy locally—a good first step. But for those provisions to be realized, Congress must also appropriate the funding.

Bread for the World will be examining the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget, expected to be released early next week, for proposals to increase funding for flexible approaches, like local and regional purchase and cash vouchers. We also want to see this flexibility reflected in appropriations bills, which the House and Senate will release later this year. Quality also matters, and supporting policy that increases nutrition will save more lives. The first step, however, will be encouraging our members of Congress to fund the authorized reforms in the farm bill. The farm bill was a start, but much more work needs to be done.

Building the political will to modernize U.S. food aid has human stakes. Irene deserves the opportunity to take care of her family, and if U.S. policies hinder that, we have a responsibility to act. It is, as Farrow says in his segment, about giving the underdog a fighting chance.

Immigration Reform Update: Reform in 2014 in Limbo

Immigration rally
Demonstrators gathered at immigration reform rally in Los Angeles on Feb. 22, 2014. (Ricardo Moreno)

The prospects for immigration reform in 2014 were diminished in recent days when House Speaker John Boehner questioned whether an immigration bill could pass the House, due to Republicans’ “widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.” Rep. Boehner added, “It's going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

After raising advocates’ hopes for reform this year with the release of House Republican principles for reform, Rep. Boehner’s comments put the short-term viability of immigration reform in limbo. Still, advocates continue to push for reform, both with Congress and the administration. Boehner’s apparent call for delaying immigration reform hasn’t prevented other Republican leaders and constituencies at the local, state, and national levels to continue to push for updating the nation’s outdated immigration system.

During a meeting with the National Governors’ Association in Washington, D.C., Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said, "I'm a Republican and I'm happy to help lead the charge to say, 'Let's embrace immigration.'" Snyder described himself as being “probably among the most pro-immigration governors in the country."

In Congress, many of Boehner’s colleagues, including Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart are reportedly working on legislation that will meet a majority of Republican representatives’ doubts regarding enforcing immigration provisions. Rep. Diaz-Balart also said it would meet many Democratic congressional members’ requirements. “Can you draft legislation that has serious border and interior security, with sufficient leverage to force this or future administrations?” Rep. Diaz-Balart said. “I think we have drafted a way to actually do that.”

Major Republican constituencies have also stepped up their pressure on Congress to bring immigration reform legislation to the House floor this year. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue re-emphasized the economic need for immigration stating, “The case for immigration reform is clear. The need is undeniable. The time is now.” Donohue’s statement was followed by a multi-industry letter on immigration reform signed by 636 businesses. “Failure to act is not an option,” the letter stated.  

Faith-based groups across the political spectrum also continue to lead the push for reform. Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders united to urge Congress “to move forward and create a new immigration process.” Leaders participating in the call urging Congress to act included National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference Rev. Sam Rodriguez, and Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

Bread for the World continues to partner with the broad spectrum of faith-based groups in pushing for reform. Bread for the World Institute’s research on the economic impact of immigration is also impacting how immigration is viewed in economic terms. In February, the Detroit News published on op-ed by the Institute on the potential of immigration to help fuel the city’s revitalization.

Quote of the Day: Tom Colicchio

"One in six Americans are food insecure…if you’re on a crowded subway in New York, most likely there are people that are hungry sitting next to you; they’re in your community, you may know them."

—Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef and anti-hunger activist

Photo: A young girl eats breakfast. (Margaret W. Nea)

Hunger and Health: Making Connections on Capitol Hill

Medical check upDuring a typical hospital visit, health care professionals will check a patient for a range of health issues—hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, among others. Last year, Toledo-based healthcare system ProMedica began screening visitors to its hospitals for something new: food insecurity. Recognizing that hunger can have as much of an impact on health as any disease, they even helped some patients at risk of hunger apply for food stamps, and sent others home with emergency groceries. 

"There is nothing more fundamental to population health than food and other social determinants of health," Randy Oostra, ProMedica’s president and CEO, told USA Today earlier this month.

While the implications of hunger are often discussed, the connection between hunger and health isn't a topic that is frequently raised. But hunger impacts health—and it's time people started talking about it.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, "Ending Hunger in America," details the ways in which ProMedica has set out to recast hunger as a healthcare priority, similar to fighting heart disease or cancer. Fighting hunger is now an important part of the preventative and wellness methods that keeping people healthy and reduce healthcare costs.

Tomorrow, the Alliance to End Hunger and ProMedica will host “Come to the Table,” a summit to address hunger as a health issue, on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the event is to persuade more lawmakers and healthcare industry leaders to champion anti-hunger initiatives by making connections among reducing hunger, improving health outcomes, and lowering healthcare costs. The event will also serve as a platform to form creative, effective collaborations and encourage federal legislation to protect anti-hunger programs.

Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann will join other experts, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, to discuss how we can combat hunger in our nation, and improve our nation’s collective health. 

Photo: A doctor examines a patient at Family and Medical Counseling Service in Washington D.C., on June 11, 2009. (Rick Reinhard)

You Might Live in Public Housing, Even If You Don't Know It

Ananya Roy is professor of City and Regional Planning and distinguished chair in Global Poverty and Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. And she lives in public housing.

In the video "Who is Dependent on Welfare?" Roy explains that her work affords her a comfortable home in the California hills, with a view of Golden Gate Bridge—but she still calls it public housing. 

"The public housing I live in is not the American stereotype...but my home is public housing, because the tax deduction I enjoy on my mortgage is a more substantial handout than any money spent by the U.S. government," she says.

Roy has heard her students speak against government help for the poor and talk of so-called welfare "dependency," so she challenges them to examine the subsidies that they themselves—and many middle-class and wealthy citizens of this country—receive.

"In 1999, the U.S. government spent $24 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for the poor," Roy says in the video. "That same year, it spent $72 billion on homeownership subsidies for the middle class and the wealthy--subsidies that are never considered to be welfare, and there is no stigma attached to this dependency. In fact, it is seen as an entitlement."

"My students enjoy a host of hidden government subsidies that buttress opportunity and mobility, but they do not think that such subsidies should be available to the poor," she says.

It's just one of the compelling points in this video from the #GlobalPOV project at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at U.C. Berkeley. The goal of the project is to prompt people to examine their thinking about poverty, both in the United States and around the world.

The video also details how the global south is leading the world in addressing income equality and rewriting the social contract that governments have with those living below the poverty line by doing things such as legislating a livable minimum wage. It also digs into the myth of the "welfare queen," and shows how large corporations that pay their workers sub-standard wages are more dependent on federal aid than poor individuals could ever be. For those who don't quite buy the analysis of the video, the producers offer a list of their source materials, and encourage viewers to do their own learning and digging on the topics they present. And to learn more about how wages are essential to combatting poverty, read the 2014 Hunger Report, “Ending Hunger in America.”

Quote of the Day: Chang Park

Food distribution in Dokolo in Northern Uganda, 2008. (USAID photo/Anne Shaw)

“I remember when I was in elementary school, the teacher would ask us to bring in a bag. I didn’t have a bag, so I would fold the newspaper and glue the edges. The next day after class, the teacher would line us up outside the storage room. Inside was a huge paper drum with the USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] logo. I remember that logo with the shaking hands and shield. In that drum was powdered milk. They would shovel that powdered milk into our bags, and they asked us to take it home and boil it and drink it. That was our source of nutrition.

“Our generation—people who received all of that benefit—has a loving memory of the United States for providing that humanitarian aid.”

—Chang Park, founder of Universal Remote Control and Bread for the World member, on receiving U.S. food-aid assistance as a child growing up in South Korea.

U.S. food-aid programs provide life-saving assistance around the world, but they can work even better. Take part in Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," and urge your members of Congress to support changes to policies and practices that will enable U.S. food aid to help millions more people, at no additional cost.

SNAP: Fueling Strong Minds and Bodies

AlliWhat do WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, choreographer and MacArthur genius grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and Olympic speed skater Emily Scott have in common? These recent newsmakers are all at the top of their respective fields, and they are all former recipients of food stamps.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is one of our nation's most effective anti-hunger programs. It feeds people and also helps them escape poverty and realize their dreams. From musician Moby to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), many prominent Americans have benefitted from this vital form of assistance.

Koum made headlines last week not only for selling his company to Facebook for $19 billion, but for signing the paperwork for the deal on the door of his old social services office. The tech whiz's journey, from barely making it to becoming a billionaire through hard work and ingenuity, is the sort of feel-good narrative that everyone loves. But not everyone will acknoweldge that the federal safety net is an important part of that story—many are under the false impression that the program is growing too large, or wrongly believe that it fosters lifelong dependency. 

Not everyone who is on food stamps will become a billionaire, but SNAP and other safety net programs produce success stories every day. Barbie Izquierdo is a former SNAP receipient and anti-hunger advocate who appeared in the documentary A Place at the Table, and is using her platform to spread the word about hunger in America. Dawn Phipps is a registered nurse who once received SNAP benefits for herself and her children; not only does she spend her working hours caring for others, much of her free time is devoted to volunteering at her local food bank and advocating with Bread for the World, to make sure others continue to have access to the assistance she once relied on for help.

Both Barbie and Dawn are featured on Faces and Facts, a new website from Bread for the World and our Circle of Protection partners. The site compiles stories of people whose lives have been changed by safety net programs, as well as those who have been negatively affected by recent budget cuts to some of those same programs.

Each story reminds us that behind every fact or statistic about hunger is a person, and that it doesn't make sense for Congress to balance our nation's budget by making cuts to programs that help struggling families. Every dollar cut from a safety net program means one less dollar being used to help someone grow, thrive, or maybe even come up with the next big idea that will change our world.

If you'd like to add your story to Faces and Facts, fill out the submission form or send an email to stories@circleofprotection.us.

Photo: Alex Morris, who is featured on the Faces and Facts site,  feeds her son, André, in their Bend, Ore., home. (Brad Horn)

The Road to Advocacy: A Conversation at The Justice Conference

Lynne Hybels listens as Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy speaks during the "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" panel discussion at the 2014 Justice Conference in Los Angeles, Calif., on Feb. 21. (Robin Stephenson)

Once you have seen injustice in the world, it cannot be unseen. You want to do something – but what? How can we work toward restorative justice in our communities, our nation, and our world?

Restoration of God’s vision of the world as it should be, as opposed to how the world is, was a theme of this year’s Justice Conference, which took place in Los Angeles last week. Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, participated in the panel "Women in Social Justice: Educating Yourself for Advocacy" with teacher and advocate Belinda Bauman, Willow Creek Community Church co-founder and Ten for Congo founder Lynne Hybels, Kilns College vice president of development Melissa McCreery, and moderator Chelsie Frank.

The road to advocacy had different on-ramps for each of the women. For Vaillancourt-Murphy it began by living and working with migrant workers in Oregon after finishing college. Frustrated with a system that prevented people from flourishing, she needed to do something. Biblical examples of advocates like Nehemiah and Ruth pointed her toward Bread for the World, and the need to address root causes of injustice. “When we connect our story and God’s story, the world transforms,” Vaillancourt-Murphy said.

McCreery used her training as an educator as her foothold in justice work. The response to injustice is often driven by emotion, but she pointed out that injustices also have political, cultural, and even economic roots that must be considered. A holistic approach is vital to avoiding burnout. “We need to educate people to be successful leaders, so they don’t spin their wheels around the emotional context,” McCreery said.

Bauman's journey to advocacy began with a sputtering engine. “The pothole I fell into,” she told the audience, “was because I was waiting for someone to give me permission.” She emphasized that once you have found something you are deeply passionate about, finding good resources and educating yourself is your responsibility. The moral of her story is that persistence pays off. “Failure is one of our greatest assets and we learn from it,” she said. Bauman encouraged new advocates to keep moving forward in their roles as citizens, and said they must push through fear to change the world. “Capitol Hill feels like Kansas, but you begin,” she said.

When Frank asked the panel how an advocate without a position in an organization could begin, Hybels turned to Vaillancourt-Murphy and said, “That is why I’m grateful for Krisanne and Bread for the World. They make it easy.” Hybels said her view of the church’s role as praying and building awareness expanded to include advocacy once she saw that transforming unjust systems required changes at the policy level. “The first thing I did was I got on the computer, found my representative and my senators, and emailed them," said Hybels. "They just need to know.”

Searching for a foothold in transformational advocacy can feel lonely for the new faithful advocate, but Bauman offered a piece of advice for them: find others who are passionate at the soul level and, “stir each other up to good works.” The most important thing, she advised, is to “fearlessly, courageously, humbly, and intelligently begin.”

Excitement is Building: 2014 Offering of Letters

2014-OL-cover_mediumBy Larry Hollar
There's a special excitement for me when a new Offering of Letters campaign gets underway.
This year's Offering of Letters kit — a great, user-friendly resource for churches to participate in advocacy — is now available in print and online.
My email and phone traffic heats up as activists contact me to strategize about their plans to hold letter-writing events. And my Offering of Letters training workshop season begins.
A year ago, at a workshop in Philadelphia, Deacon Grace Marable of Bethel Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia told me of her plans to do her first Offering of Letters, inviting not only parishioners in her church to write letters to Congress but also the recipients and volunteers at her church's food pantry.
Later, I sat in Grace's church with three generations of her family gathered around. She told me how the food-pantry recipients had been excited and empowered by writing letters and then getting replies from their members of Congress.
People at her church recognized something different about Grace, too. "You've found your voice," they told her. She had been changed as she gave others the chance to speak out about the needs of people who are hungry to their members of Congress.
Each year, decades-long veterans of organizing Offerings of Letters faithfully invite their church’s members to write letters to Congress. And each year, people like Grace step forward for the first time and make a difference in their advocacy for and with people who are hungry. My privilege is to support both.
How about you? Order your Offering of Letters kit today, learn more about the 2014 campaign to reform U.S. food aid, and get your Offering of Letters on your church's calendar.
The excitement is building. Can you feel it?
Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer for Bread for the World's Eastern Hub.

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