Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

39 posts from May 2014

It's Up to You: Bread for the World's Virtual Lobby Day

 
(Left to right): Kay DeBlance, Rebecca Walker, Aaron Marez and David Ramos of Texas walk through the Russell Senate Office Building on their way to a meeting during Bread for the World's 2012 Lobby Day. If you can't join us in person for this year's Lobby Day, please support our efforts by pledging to call your members of Congress: www.bread.org/call. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

 

By Eric Mitchell

Right now, we're at a turning point in the fight to end hunger.

There are two issues — food-aid reform and immigration reform — that are making their way through Congress right now, and decisions made by legislators in the coming weeks could impact our work to end hunger for years to come. Millions of people could be affected. During this critical time, hundreds of Bread members will be gathering in Washington, D.C., for our annual Lobby Day, and urging Congress to do the right thing. But in order to make the most of this opportunity, we need your voice.

Pledge to make a difference during Bread's Lobby Day by calling your members of Congress on June 9 — one day before we head to their offices.

We have a real opportunity to advance food-aid reform and immigration reform—two issues that are central to our goal of ending hunger. Here are the messages we’re taking to Congress on Lobby Day:

  • Pass immigration reform without delay! Immigration reform will reduce hunger by ensuring immigrants receive fairer wages and work in better conditions. Our Christian faith calls on us to welcome the stranger, and with Congress’ attention already turning to the November elections, the window for a vote on major legislation is closing quickly. Congress must act now to provide a path to legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
  • Reject changes to food aid that hurt the hungry! An obscure provision before Congress would change the transportation requirements for U.S. food aid in a way that would make the process of getting food to people in need slower and more expensive. Two million people would go without lifesaving food aid just to pad the bottom lines of a few powerful shipping companies, and that’s not right. Congress must reject any action that increases transportation costs for food aid and support common sense food-aid reforms.

With hundreds of Bread members coming to Washington just as these issues are being debated in Congress, we have a huge opportunity to effect change. But we need our entire Bread community — including you — to really have an impact. We need to make sure Congress hears a loud chorus of Christian voices.

Help end hunger by raising your voice. You are an important part of Bread for the World and we need your help — your at-home advocacy on June 9 will strengthen our in-person advocacy efforts on June 10.

So what do you say? Will you stand with us at this critical time? This kind of opportunity doesn't come around often. I hope to have you with us.

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

Helping Neighbors in Need Is an Act of God


Producing High Quality Seeds (USAID).

We often use the phrase “an act of God” to describe natural catastrophes. Would it not be more appropriate, however, to refer to the work we do to mitigate hunger before and after disaster hits as an act of God? In the United States, we have a set of programs categorized as poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) that is doing just that. When we help our neighbors build resilience against future crises in poor countries, we are acting out God’s compassion for humanity.

Recent reports on climate change indicate we are facing an increase in global food-insecurity, which makes programs that build resilience even more critical. Currently, both chambers of Congress are writing spending bills that determine  fiscal year 2015 funding for foreign assistance. The Senate plan could cut funding by 7 percent from current base funding levels.Such cuts would hinder our ability to continue making progress against worldwide hunger.

In “Morality of preparation,” a piece published in The Hill this week, Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, and Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, urge Congress to fund programs at levels comparable to, or higher than, those enacted in the previous year.  They also call funding foreign assistance a moral imperative.

“We don’t believe there is a choice here," they write. "How can we stomach the desperate looks on children’s faces and refuse to help when we know we are able?” McCullough and Beckmann stress that advocates must reach out to Congress and show their support for foreign assistance. “Each of us, citizens and elected representatives, reflect the priorities of this great nation and among the most important is hope and compassion for all God’s children.”

U.S. programs addressing long-term solutions to poverty have been instrumental in making progress against global hunger over the last decade. The reduction in child mortality rates are evidence that smart nutrition investments work. Increases in global literacy rates are a result of injecting aid into primary-school education.

These small investments have huge returns. Increases in a country's literacy rate correlate with increases in its economic productivity. Sixty years ago, South Korea, now an example of the power of effective aid, was one of the world’s poorest countries. U.S. foreign assistance helped South Korea become Asia’s fourth-largest economy, as well as a major consumer of U.S. goods.

In May 2009, a cyclone devastated Bangladesh. In the village of Sutarkhali, Mohammad Mofizul Islam Gazi saw his livelihood disappear when the small plot on which he grew rice to support his family was ruined. “Cyclone Aila nailed the last pin in the coffin,” he tells USAID Frontlines. “There was nothing left.” In 2012, as the village was struggling with malnutrition, a U.S. funded program supplied Gazi and other farmers with a special rice seed that could withstand future cyclones. Today, the community produces 50 percent more rice than before the disaster. 

In urging our members of Congress to fully fund PFDA, we are moving toward the sacred vision of a world where everyone has enough. Helping neighbors escape hunger and poverty – helping when we are able – is a true act of God.

Resource: The War on Poverty at 50

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Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson shakes the hand of one of the residents of Appalachia during his 1964 poverty tour. (LBJ library photo by Cecil Stoughton)
 
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty in his State of the Union address. Congress responded, and ending poverty became a priority for elected leaders. In the ensuing years, from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, the country made dramatic progress in reducing poverty. We have clear evidence of what we can accomplish when our government makes ending poverty a real priority. Still, while social safety net programs help millions of people year, it is time for our nation to renew its dedication to solving the problem of poverty. Despite many advancements made since 1964, poverty is still far too high in the United States

Bread for the World's new background paper "The War on Poverty at 50" closely examines the significant progress that has been made, and identifies reforms that will not only protect the gains this nation has made in addressing the problem of poverty, but move us toward solving it.

Read the background paper below, or in the May edition of Bread for the World's newsletter.

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Quote of the Day: Asma Lateef


Tohomina Akter and Joy in Barisal, Bangladesh, on April 19, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

"I think for the first time in human history we have the prospect of ending global hunger within a generation – by 2030."

Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute, quoted in the May 26 Voice of America article, "NGO Praises Recent Anti-Hunger efforts."

Lateef talks about how our response to worldwide hunger has changed over time, what factors have contributed to a global reduction in hunger, and where we should head in the future. Read the full interview.

Learn more about Bread for the World Institute, and its annual Hunger Report at www.hungerreport.org.

Let Your Light Shine and Change the World

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Margaret Edmondson, an Idaho constituent, talks to Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) during Bread for the World's 2012 Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. (Rick Reinhard).

By Amelia Kegan

What does it mean to live out the Lord’s Prayer and seek to build heaven on earth? How can we be the light that can transform a broken world? I believe, especially for Americans, the answer lies in using our gifts of citizenship. When we live out our faith in the public arena, the world can change.

I’m fortunate that I have a job that allows me to live out my faith. I’m a domestic policy analyst for a faith-based anti-hunger organization. My job is to understand public policy moving through Congress and analyze how it affects hunger.

I spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill urging members of Congress to vote for legislation that can end hunger and poverty. I know the impact the faith community has in the nation’s capital. When I lift up the needs of those struggling with hunger and poverty to members of Congress, I feel that I am living out my faith. When I hear from congressional staff that they received a pack of letters from a church back home in their state or district, so they already know about the issue I’m bringing up, I see God moving in our time and through our work to end hunger.

I meet many Christian leaders on Capitol Hill, and they, too, can be moved by your faith. There's a power in the Christian voice that the special interests just can't compete with. When we testify to God’s love for all in the public arena, we build a better world.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses preaches: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” The city gates! You don't get more public than that.

Talking with people of influence – our elected leaders, as well as our friends, family, and fellow church congregants – about a world without hunger is part of living out our faith. Advocating about issues of hunger opens the gates for those left on the margins of society.

Our love of God should show up in everything we do. It is tempting to act out of that love when it's easy and convenient, but God's love is a love we cannot contain — it shines. It must be present and visible in all the public spaces of our lives — including in our role as citizens.

Each June, Bread for the World members gather in Washington, D.C., for our annual Lobby Day. If you cannot join us in person in Washington, consider taking the pledge to join our virtual Lobby Day. Our whole community must come together in order to really make an impact, so we hope you’ll join us.

Amelia Kegan is deputy director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Praying and Advocating with Those Affected by Natural Disaster

Rosie
Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. Her story is told in the 2013 documentary film A Place at the Table (Movie still courtesy of Participant Media).

Natural disasters hit Americans living below the poverty line especially hard. They are less able to evacuate in the days and hours leading up to natural disaster, and they don't have the means to recover as quickly. They might not be able to splurge on a hotel room if they're displaced from their homes, or replace items lost in a flood. And they can't easily afford to restock their refrigerators if food goes bad due to a power outage.

Right now, the small town of  Collabran, Colo., a community whose struggle with hunger and poverty is documented in A Place at the Table, the 2013 documentary about hunger in America, is dealing with such a disaster. A massive mudslide on Sunday has left three people are missing, and caused  untold property damage. The mudslide in Collbran is not on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, of Typhoon Haiyan, or the Haiti Earthquake—we know the devastating effects those large-scale disasters have had. Still, smaller disasters, the ones we're unlikely to see on the news, can threaten hard-won progress made by people attempting to climb out of poverty. Bread for the World prays for all those affected by natural disaster, and works to protect programs that help people dealing with their aftermath, no matter the scope of the tragedy.

As seen in A Place at the Table, the community of Collbran is filled with caring people, always ready to rally around those in need—they're already collecting donations, food, and supplies for rescuers and those who've been displaced by the mudslide. Still, recovery may be difficult for many residents.

"Our most pressing concern is about the people who are missing," said Bread for the World President David Beckmann this morning. "But low-income people are often hardest hit by natural disasters, because they find affordable housing in at-risk situations, and because they don’t have resources to cope with a sudden setback."

Collbran is the home of Rosie, who spoke so eloquently in A Place at the Table about trying to focus on her schoolwork with a rumbling stomach. It's where Pastor Bob and Michaelene Wilson of Plateau Valley Assembly of God Church transport four pallets of food from a food bank twice a week to distribute to hungry people in their community; it's where teacher Leslie Nichols delivers food bags to the homes of students who come to school hungry.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them and all of the people of Collabran, Colorado—those who are living in poverty, those who are suffering from hunger, and especially the people who are missing, and their families. 

Hunger in the News: School Lunches, Worst Places to be a Worker, Affordable Housing Shortage

A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

"The worst places in the world to be a worker," by Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post. The International Trade Union Confederation debuted its Global Rights Index, ranking countries on a 1 (best) through 5 (worst) scale on the basis of how well workers' rights are protected. The report ranks the United States a dismal 4.

"Why your baggage handler may be on food stamps," by Simone Pathe, PBS NewsHour. "Joshua Vina works as a baggage handler at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — the site of Washington state’s first push for a $15 an hour minimum wage. [V]oters in Sea-Tac, the community surrounding the airport, narrowly approved a ballot initiative — known as Proposition 1 — to raise the minimum wage and provide workers with paid sick days. But nearly 5,000 workers at the airport still haven’t gotten their raises because Alaska Airlines, which represents half of the airport’s traffic, has challenged the initiative in court.

"When Did School Lunch Become a Political Issue?" by Katrina Heron, Salon. "When did feeding kids a nutritious lunch become a partisan political issue? Last week healthy-food bigwigs—First Lady Michelle Obama, writers like Mark Bittman and Marion Nestle —were forced, once again, to defend nutritious school meals, which are under threat, once again, from Capitol Hill.

"Lack Of Affordable Housing Puts The Squeeze On Poor Families," by Pam Fessler, NPR. "The U.S. is in the midst of what Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan calls the "worst rental affordability crisis" ever. Poor families are being hit the hardest: an overwhelming majority spend more than half of their incomes on rent. Others live in substandard housing, or are homeless."

"The Main ‘Vegetables’ Americans Eat Are Pizza and French Fries," by Jason Best, TakePart.com. "New USDA research finds we’re mostly fooling ourselves that we're eating our vegetables."

Building Bipartisan Momentum for Food Aid

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Before receiving assistance from the Food for Peace program, Davane Mesa Paulo was struggling with just a hectare of land and a few crops that he grew for food. "Hunger ran away from my house," he said recently. "So people started coming to ask how." (Bita Rodriguez/USAID)


Food-aid reform came out as a winner in yesterday’s Senate Appropriation Committee agriculture bill markup. The 2015 spending bill, which sets funding amounts for the U.S. programs that deliver emergency and humanitarian food assistance, will include $35 million for food-aid reform efforts. The funds would help food aid reach an estimated 200,000 more people in need.

However, the spending bill still has a long way to go before the Oct. 1 deadline – the start of the fiscal year. Once the final bill passes out of the Appropriations Committee, it will then go to the floor for a vote from the full Senate. Finally, if there is normal process, it will be conferenced with the House version of the bill.

Bread for the World and its members are urging Congress to update food-aid policy to better meet the needs of hungry people facing natural disasters, food insecurity and malnutrition, famine, civil strife, and other extraordinary circumstances. Thousands of letters from Christians have already arrived in offices on Capitol Hill, building the momentum for bipartisan efforts to reform food aid— as we saw in yesterday’s vote.

The food-aid amendment was introduced thanks to the efforts of Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Before the committee vote, Sen. Johanns said, “Literally,  people live or die by the decision we make here." The vote of 16 ayes to 14 nays was strongly bipartisan.  Last minute efforts on the part of grassroots anti-hunger advocates, who made a lot of noise in support of the bill, helped push the amendment forward.

The funds will help replace the practice of monetization — in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work, but can undercut local farmers in the process. The more flexibility administrators have in implementing Food For Peace, the more efficient the development programs can become, allowing thousands of additional people to better feed themselves and escape hunger. Flexibility in design and implementation also helps us build resilience against future emergencies.

“This is significant and shows that there is a strong desire for reform that crosses party lines,” says Ryan Quinn, senior policy analyst at Bread for the World. “We can build on this,” he said, “but keep in mind that we are also facing cuts if the Senate Commerce Committee includes a cargo-preference provision in a bill they are starting to write.”

The House recently passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that included a provision to increase transportation costs for food aid. This would limit the amount of food aid the U.S. could provide, and program costs would come out of Food for Peace funds. We are currently reaching out to faith leaders in committee member’s states and organizing sign-on letters to stop the provision in a Senate bill.

“This was a real win for hungry people and sets us on the right path,” said Quinn.  “We should feel good and know our voices are making a difference. But, he cautions, "in a world where 842 million people go to bed hungry every day, and crises situations like Syria and South Sudan are getting worse, we have to keep this momentum going.”

Rick Steves, John Podesta at National Gathering

http://www.bread.org/event/national-gathering-2014/images/bread-rising-logo.jpg

By Dr. Alice Walker-Duff

There's still time to register for Bread for the World's 2014 National Gathering on June 9-10. You won't want to miss our exciting lineup of powerful speakers and events.

On Monday, June 9, travel series host, guidebook author, and longtime Bread member Rick Steves will welcome you. John Podesta, counselor to President Obama, will talk about ending hunger by 2030.

That evening, partner organizations, former Bread board and staff members, and longtime friends will celebrate Bread for the World’s 40th anniversary over dinner. Your support has made it possible for us to celebrate 40 years of working together to end hunger.

Our celebration will culminate with Lobby Day on Tuesday, June 10. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman will brief us before we raise our collective Christian voice in the halls of Congress. We want to reform U.S. food-aid programs and our broken immigration system. At our Lobby Day reception, we will recognize Reps. Ed Royce (Calif.-39), Eliot Engel (N.Y.-16), Spencer Bachus (Ala.-06), Frank Wolf (Va.-10), and Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) for being champions against hunger.

Please join us in God's great work of liberating people from hunger. Register today.

Dr. Alice Walker Duff is the managing director at Bread for the World.

Nutritional Guidance from...Lobbyists?

'Potatoes' photo (c) 2011, jamonation - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Let's pretend, for a moment, that you're the parent of a two-year-old, and you want to make sure you're buying your toddler the most nutritious food possible, so she will grow healthy and strong. You're looking for advice. Whom would you turn to? Maybe a doctor? A nutritionist? Or a lobbyist?

Most people would pick the doctor or nutritionist, but it seems that some members of Congress would be inclined to go with the lobbyist.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee are currently embroiled in a debate about the nutritional value of one of America's favorite foods—the white potato.

Potato growers have recently voiced outrage over the exclusion of the white potato from the approved list of food that can be bought with Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program benefits. WIC provides healthy food to pregnant women and young children, allowing families to buy certain items deemed nutritious by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Milk and fruit are on the list, as are vegetables—save for white potatoes. USDA guidelines exclude white potatoes from WIC because, according to its dietary data, no Americans, rich or poor, are eating too few white potatoes in any form—in fact, we are eating too many. Potato growers maintain, as anyone with a financial stake in selling more potatoes might do, that white spuds are a nutritional powerhouse that should be available to WIC beneficiaries. 

Today, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee sided with potato growers, voting during its agriculture appropriations committee markup process to examine the issue more closely but, in the meantime, add white potatoes to the list of approved WIC foods.

Allowing a powerful special interest to have any say in determining guidelines for federal child nutrition programs sets a dangerous precedent. The move opens the door for lobbyists and special interests to begin promoting their foods. Luckily, there is still time to fix it! You can still contact your senators and tell them that the WIC foods program must address the nutritional needs of children, not the interests of the most powerful lobbies.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has written a piece on the potato battle, and what seems to be a trend toward members of Congress throwing science out the window and considering the profits and needs of special interests, to the detriment of children. It doesn't stop with Congress caving to the demands of potato growers—a recent House bill proposed allowing schools to ignore healthy eating guidelines for school lunches if they find that ridding their cafeterias of junk means they're making less money from food sales.

This week, a large group of national, state, and local organizations penned a sign-on letter to Congress, asking them to continue to let science-based decisions govern federal nutrition programs, whether deciding what foods can be purchased with WIC benefits, or what nutritional guidelines school lunches should follow. Hopefully, members of Congress will realize that science, not special interests, should be determining what is considered the most nutritious food for growing children.

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