Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Food Stamp Hearings Begin in House Agriculture Committee

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By Robin Stephenson

When U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas, 11) was appointed to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Agriculture last November, he announced he was forming a new subcommittee that would conduct a full-scale review of SNAP (formerly food stamps). The hearings began Wednesday and are expected to continue with no end in sight.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.36.30 AM“Today’s hearing marks the beginning of a top-to-bottom review of the program,” began Conaway’s opening statement. “We will conduct this review without preconceived notions and with a commitment to strengthening the program so it can serve as a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder.“

Policy change that fosters economic mobility is good news. However, many anti-hunger advocates worry the hearings are a veiled attempt to dismantle SNAP, potentially leading to harmful programmatic changes, such as block granting or cutting benefits.

Bread for the World’s policy expert on nutrition, Christine Melendez Ashley, said she is happy to hear Congress is talking about hunger. “Faithful advocates who care about ending hunger need to be paying attention to these hearings,” she said. “The result of such talks must be to help end hunger and not exacerbate it.”

But there is reason to worry given the proposals that were part of last year’s farm bill negotiations. That bill was finally passed last February after three years of bitter debate. To the disappointment of Bread members, it included a devastating $8.6 billion cut to the SNAP program. Thanks to your letters, phone calls, and meetings with members of Congress, the proposed $40 billion in cuts and harmful programmatic changes were not enacted.

Those 2014 farm bill cuts came on the heels of another benefit reduction months earlier. Congress passed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with provisions that increased funding for school lunch programs and improved child nutrition programs – but they paid for the improvements by cutting SNAP benefits. In essence, funding for food at the dinner table was siphoned to fund the food at the lunch table. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The child nutrition bill is up for reauthorization again this year and the focus of Bread’s 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children.

During yesterday’s inaugural hearing, the connection between child hunger and SNAP came up in several comments. U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga., 13)  noted that 45.3 percent of all of those who are on SNAP are children – 1 in out 5 live in households that are food insecure.

SNAP, which provides a modest $1.40 per person per meal for those who qualify, is a critical part of our nation’s safety net. During the Great Recession, millions of families who experienced hardship depended on the program. As the economy recovers, SNAP caseloads are dropping – participation rates have dropped by 1.5 million over the last 18 months.

Hearings like these matter because they help us understand what Congress is prioritizing and give the public an opportunity to react before policy changes are made. SNAP and the child nutrition programs are both vital pieces of the safety net that feed our children. Faithful advocates need to make sure Congress is paying attention to both the dinner and lunch table - especially when it comes to our nation’s children.

Act Today: Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress. Tell Congress to prioritize children at risk of hunger and invest in strong child nutrition programs.

Read Bread for the World’s latest resource:  Get the Facts About SNAP.

Photo: screenshot of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway convening nutrition hearings, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.  Hearings dates and times are posted on the committee’s website.

 

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:35-38

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Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.

Jesus said to the apostles, “When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?” “No, nothing,” they replied. He said to them, “But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked;’ and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment.” Then they said, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.” But he replied, “It is enough!” (Luke 22:35-38)

Earlier, when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples, he spoke of “a money bag, sack, and sandals.” Now he speaks of “a money bag, sack, and sword.” He is speaking symbolically, referring to a new time of persecution.

The disciples miss the point, take him literally, and produce two swords. His response amounts to: “Enough of that.”

We’re sometimes taught to be quick with the sword, and we’ve all got our own “swords” – glaring daggers at someone, making cutting remarks.

Throughout this Lent, I’ll watch Jesus face some “swords:” Mockery, manhandling, torture. The early Christians applied a passage from Isaiah to him:

                     He was led like a sheep to the slaughter and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

How did he do that? How could I do that? Ask him.

Let's Keep the Momentum on Food-Aid Reform Going This Year

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Indian women and children bundle grain stalks after the harvest. Margaret W. Nea/Bread for the World.

By David Gist, Jon Gromek, and Zach Schmidt

The purpose of U.S. international food aid is to provide food to people who need it, so let’s do it well.

Bread for the World members wrote letters, made phone calls and met with their members of Congress last year as part of the annual Offering of Letters. They urged senators and representatives across the country to reform U.S. food aid so we could help more hungry people overseas and better utilize U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Our efforts paid off. Modest reforms were included in the 2014 farm bill, and as a result of our persistent advocacy, we won important victories that ensure more food aid will reach the people who need it. That’s good news! But more work remains to be done, and as people of faith, we continue to call on Congress to reform U.S. food aid to help our brothers and sisters around the world.

It’s a message that’s worth repeating. Greater flexibility in food-aid policies would allow more food to be purchased closer to where it’s needed, helping millions more people receive life-saving food aid up to two months faster. Not only that, but purchasing food locally means our government helps farmers and their communities around the world become self-sufficient and, therefore, less likely to need U.S. aid in the future.

So, more food to more hungry people at no extra cost. Faster delivery. Food that’s more nutritious and culturally appropriate. And local farmers and local economies getting stronger. In the fight against hunger, food-aid reform is a no-brainer. We just need a few more members of Congress to join the movement.

So where are we in 2015? Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading supporter of food-aid reform, recently introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2015. This bill would make the kinds of reforms Bread has been advocating for possible and is a positive sign that Congress wants to address food-aid reform this year. We will likely see other approaches to food-aid reform in the coming weeks and months, and Bread policy analysts stand ready to follow these developments closely.

Stay tuned! Your voice is needed as we continue to pray and advocate for food-aid reform and for a world in which everybody has enough to eat.

David Gist, Jon Gromek, and Zach Schmidt are regional organizers at Bread for the World.

 

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:31-34

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Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.

Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But he replied, “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Jesus looks ahead to the imminent failure of the disciples – they will abandon him. Peter will do worse. After abandoning Jesus along with the rest, he’ll deny him – not once, but three times.

So, looking ahead to this, what does Jesus say to Peter? He says that he has prayed for him – that Peter may not ultimately fail as a disciple.

Imagine that. Jesus prayed for Peter, was on Peter’s side. Imagine. Jesus praying for me. Jesus on my side.

No need to “imagine” it. In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus says, “I pray not only for them but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

That’s me.

Do I ever really think of Jesus praying for me, not only back then, but now?

If Jesus were to pray for me right now, what would he especially pray for?

Black History Month: I Am Reminded

PP7By Brittany Gray

 

I am not into celebrating the lives of my ancestors for just one month out of the year. Rather, I take a moment each and every day to reflect on the lives of my ancestors, on the lives of greatness. Black History Month is not all that exciting for me, but it does serve as a reminder, nevertheless.

During the month of February, I am reminded, especially by others who celebrate the lives of black people, of how educated, beautiful, radiant, talented, driven, brilliant, intelligent, innovative, and legendary my people are. I am reminded that no matter how we are perceived today, that we were once kings, queens, inventors, innovators, educators, leaders, architects, and rulers of great nations, to name a few. I am reminded of how resilient and strong that we have always been and must continue to be.

Having grown up in the rural Mississippi Delta, I am reminded of my sharecropping grandparents who spent many years on a plantation in Leflore County. Many years in which they worked to provide housing and basic necessities for their eldest children. Many years in which they were short-changed daily by their “landlord” and barely made ends meet. It’s similar to the plight of so many residents in the Mississippi Delta, who struggle to provide for their families in 2015. I am reminded of the systemic issue of hunger and poverty that has always been pervasive in the Mississippi Delta due to blacks having little to no access to land or resources. I am reminded of the local, statewide, and federal policies that have allowed these systemic issues to remain commonplace.

I am reminded of great leaders who organized in an effort so that others and I would one day have better lives, opportunities, and a chance to live in a more just society void of systemic issues that plague black communities. I am reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer. I am reminded of June Johnson. I am reminded of Euvester Simpson. I am reminded of Victoria Gray Adams. I am reminded of Annie Devine. I am reminded of Unita Blackwell. I am reminded of Sam Block. I am reminded of Willie B. Peacock. I am reminded of Jesse Harris. I am reminded of Silas McGhee. I am reminded of Hollis Watkins.

In 2015, as we fight to prove that “black lives matter,” I am reminded of why I have chosen what I dare not call a career, but a way of life. I am reminded that the battles that my ancestors fought have not been won yet. The torch has been passed on. The fight must continue.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” –Assata Shakur, an African-American activist (b. 1947)

Brittany Gray is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Photo: Brittany Gray at a Moral Movement Rally in Jackson, Miss. Brittany Gray/Bread for the World.

 

 

 

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:28-30

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Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.

It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30)

Each Gospel is the author’s “portrait” of Jesus. Each is true, but each looks from a different angle (as portraits do) and the emphasis is different . . . just as portraits of the same person vary from artist to artist.

Consider today’s text. In Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this conversation, Jesus chides his disciples that they will soon abandon him. But Luke has Jesus affirm them: “You have stood by me in my trials.” (Well, they have, but in a few hours they will scatter.)

Ever notice how some people do that so well – try to see the good side of everyone (like grandparents with their grandchildren)? That’s a side of Jesus that Luke wants me to know: Always affirming other people.

People will pass through my life today. I could go out of my way to give them affirmation . . . sort of a form of giving alms. Not a bad idea for Lent. Not too hard either.

But before I do that, I can take some minutes right now to picture Jesus affirming me. I have my good points too.

The Oscars and Mass Incarceration: 'Selma is Now'

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Screenshot via The Washington Post.

By Robin Stephenson

It is convenient to think that when the film credits roll on a historical movie like "Selma," the story is complete. Singer John Legend used his Oscar-winning moment last night to remind the world that the reality is not so tidy. African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of the white population; that statistic should ring alarm bells that something is just not right.

After an emotionally gripping performance of their Oscar-winning song “Glory,” singers Legend and Common accepted the award for best original song and used the moment to address an injustice we must confront today.

“We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago,” Legend said.  “But we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.”

According to a new analysis released by Bread for the World last week, African-Americans suffer a disproportionately high rate of hunger and poverty, and mass incarceration continues to worsen the situation. African-Americans comprise roughly 13.6 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for nearly half of the 2.3 million individuals incarcerated.

“We live in the most incarcerated country in the world,” said Legend, in his acceptance speech. “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Returning citizens – individuals who have completed their sentences and return to their communities – are more likely to experience hunger and poverty.

“Incarcerated individuals experience loss of income while they are in prison, and on top of that, when they leave prison, they have more trouble finding employment and and receive lower wages,” said Amelia Kegan, Bread's deputy director of government relations. Many are denied access to key anti-hunger programs, such as SNAP  (formerly food stamps) and TANF (temporary financial assistance to qualifying parents).

Two bills currently in Congress could go a long way to address reentry issues and the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. U.S. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently introduced the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Elimination Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (Corrections) Act. The bill would offer incentives and programs to help the incarcerated not offend again once they leave prison.

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced another bill this month to address the disproportionately high rates of incarceration as a result of mandatory minimum sentencing polices enacted during the war on drugs. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 would give judges more flexibility in sentencing non-violent drug offenders.

Celebrities like Legend and Common can bring attention to issues of injustice, but only a change in government policy can rectify the problem of mass incarceration that leaves hunger in its wake. Bread urges faithful advocates to let their members of Congress know that it is time to enact smarter sentencing laws that will fix a broken criminal justice system.

Bread plans to continue its work around the issue of mass incarceration – highlighting whenever possible its impact on hunger and poverty. Keep following the Bread Blog for updates.

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

Hunger in the News: Malcolm X, Child Poverty, World Food Program, and Prisons

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

Malcolm X’s challenge to mass incarceration,” by Dan Berger, Al Jazeera America. “Fifty years ago today, assassins killed black power activist Malcolm X during a speech to the Organization for Afro-American Unity at New York City’s Audubon Ballroom. Although they ended the life of one of the 20th century’s most dynamic leaders, they did not kill his impact. His insights into racism and freedom are as necessary today as when he first spoke them. A half-century after his murder, Malcolm X may still be one of our best guides for making sense of American racism, the evil that once again roils the country in unrest.”

UN: Food Challenge At Worst Level Since World War II,” by Huffington Post via The Associated Press. “The World Food Program is confronting its worst challenge since World War II in trying to tackle five top-level humanitarian crises at the same time, the head of the U.N. agency said Friday.”

How Hunger Hurts Learning: Schools Seek to Feed Students’ Tummies and Minds,” by School News Network. “The list of ways hunger can affect a child's health is a long one. Chronic health issues like asthma, behavioral issues like anxiety and social issues like bullying are just a part of that list.”

One Thing Republicans and Democrats Are Starting to Work Together On (and It’s Not War),” by Zoe Carpenter, The Nation. “Could this be the year that lawmakers really begin to dismantle the system of mass incarceration that they have been building for decades? It seems conceivable, thanks to a surge in interest from elected officials at the state and federal level, as well as an “unlikely” coalition of left- and right-wing groups that announced its formation on Thursday. The Coalition for Public Safety, as the group is called, includes organizations like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union along with Tea Party-aligned FreedomWorks and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. It’s backed, in part, by Koch Industries.”

Mass Incarceration's Impact on Black and Latino Women and Children,” by Herron Keyon Gaston, Huffington Post. “Much of the public and scholarly discourse and activism around incarceration have focused almost entirely on Black and Latino males. Few studies have explored the devastating impact of incarceration on women. The fact of the matter is -- women, particularly Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by incarceration.”

Ending poverty and hunger: how much do you know?” by Carla Kweifio-Okai, The Guardian. “As the deadline for the millennium development goals nears, test your knowledge of the issues surrounding the first of the eight targets.”

Study: Detroit worst big city for childhood poverty,” by Karen Bouffard, The Detroit News. “Detroit continues to have more children living in extreme poverty than any of the nation's 50 largest cities, according to a national report released Thursday.”

 

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:24-27

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Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.

Then an argument broke out among the apostles about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors;’ but among you it shall not be so. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27)

Sometimes the disciples act like little kids. They hear that one of their number will betray Jesus. That’s as low as a person can get. So now, who’s at the top?

Worst of all, they talk in terms of who will be “regarded as the greatest,” i.e. in the eyes of others.

Jesus cuts in and reminds them that greatness in the eyes of others isn’t the main goal in life. He himself is among them as a waiter – “one who serves.” No matter who I am in human estimation, I am meant to serve others in a humble way. No way around it. That’s what Jesus said, and that’s what Jesus did.

How do I translate that into my life today? It could be in very simple ways: Giving a compliment or two; listening rather than speaking; just plain being nice to certain people; making the first move to contact someone I’m on the outs with.

Talk it over with the Lord. He already knows the people I’m talking about.

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:21-23

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Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord.

“And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed.” And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed. (Luke 22:21-23)

Jesus makes a startling revelation: One of those who just shared in the bread and the cup was going to betray him. The disciples’ reaction reflects the horror of Christians ever since: “Who would do such a thing?”

While they’re saying this, Judas is sitting there holding inside what he had done a few days earlier: “Judas went to the chief priests . . . to discuss a plan for handing Jesus over to them. They were pleased and agreed to pay him money.” Good Lord, how it must have felt to have that awful truth twisting inside his stomach as Judas tried to look normal.

Too bad he didn’t know he was normal. He was a sinner, as I am. But there was still time. He could confess theawful truth. Why didn’t he? Telling even an awful truth is better than living a lie.

Maybe Judas lost his nerve, or didn’t know how to say it, or to whom to say it. So he lived the lie that killed him.

Perhaps I’ve had things inside me I didn’t know how or whom to tell. The sacrament of reconciliation began as a kind provision to enable sinners to tell the truth and find peace.

That’s still what it is.

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