596 posts categorized "Advocacy"
Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, told radio host Tavis Smiley that he feels hopeful.
Encouraged by a recent trend with both political parties addressing poverty in public speeches and decreasing poverty rates, Beckman says a post-recession America is the perfect time to make ending hunger a top priority for lawmakers.
Poverty decreased slightly—by 0.5 percent—last year, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the first time a decrease has been seen since 2006. The bureau announced that 14.5 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2013. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
“It’s just a start, but it is a change in the right direction,” said Beckmann.
Beckmann made these remarks in an interview on Public Radio International’s “The Tavis Smiley Show” last week.
Beckmann said reduced poverty rates are a result of more Americans returning to the labor market. Food security continues to remain high in the United States – a reality Beckmann sees as unnecessary. He said there are two critical factors in reducing poverty: Economic growth and focused efforts. The United States is lacking a focused effort.
“The last president who made poverty one of his top priorities was Lyndon Johnson,” says Beckmann. The Johnson administration and Congress worked together to cut poverty nearly in half from the mid-1960s through the 1970s.
To build a sustained political commitment that will reduce poverty in the United States, Beckmann emphasizes the importance of making hunger an election issue. Voters must pressure leaders to move from speeches to passing legislation that will end hunger. The elections provide an opportunity to reach out directly to lawmakers.
“We’ve got to elect people to Congress who are going to agree to work together and focus on opportunity for everybody,” said Beckmann.
Smiley is already looking ahead to the next set of elections - the 2016 presidential elections. He said that he recently called for a debate exclusively on income inequality and poverty – something he has never seen in his lifetime.
“I second the motion,” said Beckmann. “Usually in the presidential debates they never ask a question about the bottom 40-50 percent of the country.”
Listen to Beckmann’s interview on the “The Tavis Smiley Show” podcast here.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media at Bread for the World and a senior regional organizer.
As summer draws to a close, members of Congress return to Washington for a short work period before entering the final campaign stretch before the midterm elections. Here are hunger-related items before Congress this fall:
Over the August recess, Bread has been urging senators to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). This food-aid reform legislation will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people. Read more about the legislation at www.bread.org/indistrict. While this legislation may not become law this year, more co-sponsors will significantly help push the issue forward in the new Congress.
The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to mark up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill (S. 2444), but that mark-up was postponed before the August recess due to unrelated issues. There is no word on when the legislation will come back up in committee, but Bread will continue to encourage senators to omit the harmful cargo-preference provision that the House had. This harmful provision increases the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged carriers, costing the government an additional $75 million and would leave 2 million hungry people around the world without access to lifesaving food aid.
Immigration and Unaccompanied Children
In the weeks before the August recess, Congress was debating and crafting legislation to address the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Read Bread’s bill analysis on the pieces of legislation that Congress considered before its recess at www.bread.org/indistrict.
Until recently, the debate has lacked much attention to the root causes of the crisis: poverty, hunger, and violence. However, during July, Bread activists sent over 10,000 emails to their senators and representatives, urging them to include these root causes as part of any legislation addressing the child refugee crisis. In meetings with congressional offices over the past few weeks, Bread staff have noticed that members of Congress are starting to incorporate root causes into their thinking about the issue.
When Congress returns, there will be two opportunities for legislators to address the child refugee crisis. Congress could pass a separate emergency supplemental spending bill as both the House and Senate were attempting to do before the recess. Alternatively, Congress could include provisions to address the crisis in the regular spending, or appropriations, bill, which is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to keep the government open. Congress will pass a short-term measure in September to get through the mid-term elections and will then revisit these appropriations decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year in December. Both periods offer an opportunity for Congress to add language addressing the surge of refugee children in the U.S.
Budget and Appropriations
In September, Congress will have to pass some sort of budget as the government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month. Congress may pass a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The easiest route is to pass a clean CR that just extends current funding levels. However, both parties will push for certain spending add-ons, such as funding for the border or wildfires. Some Republicans could also press for additional spending cuts. Any CR is likely to last until mid-December to push any concerns over a shutdown beyond the mid-term elections.
This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.
Bread for the World is extremely proud to announce Eric Mitchell, director of government relations, was listed in The Root 100, an annual list honoring the 100 most influential African-Americans.
Mitchell is listed with notable influencers such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J), basketball star Kevin Durant, and Beyoncé. The Root is a black news website and compiles a list of the top African-American influencers who are 45 years old and younger.
“This is humbling to be recognized for the great work that we do to end hunger both in the United States and around the world,” Mitchell says.
When he goes to Capitol Hill, Mitchell knows he carries with him the influence of Bread for the World members who call and write their members of Congress about hunger. “This is just a reflection of the strength of our activists around the country who care about issues related to hunger and poverty.”
Mitchell leads Bread for the World’s anti-hunger policy agenda on Capitol Hill. His leadership has been instrumental in protecting domestic nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC from devastating cuts. Just this summer, Mitchell led Bread’s efforts to protect $80 million in danger of being cut from the 2014 farm bill.
This is not the first time Mitchell has been honored for his work as an anti-hunger lobbyist. For two years running, he has been named in The Hill newspaper as a top grassroots lobbyist.
Around Bread for the World’s offices, Mitchell’s cheerful demeanor is a joy and his passion for ending hunger a source of inspiration.
Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, says, “Eric Mitchell is a super nice guy but dead serious about winning change for hungry people.”
Please join us in congratulating Eric!
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) meets with Margaret Edmondson (center) and Bread for the World President David Beckmann during Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Rick Reinhard)
By Mike McCurry
One ritual these days in Washington, D.C., is to bemoan the lack of civility in our national discourse and the breakdown in regular order when doing the nation's business. Ask any elected official or congressional staff member why things seem so broken, and you'll get some version of the same answer: No one trusts each other anymore.
When I worked in the White House in the 1990s under President Clinton, we certainly had sharp disagreements with the Republican leaders of Congress. I probably said some things about Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that went over the top, but when I used vocabulary that was too pointed, either Leon Panetta (our chief of staff) or the president himself took me aside for a scolding and told me to dull the sword. At the end of the day, we – Republicans and Democrats and members of the administration and Congress – had to sit down and come to terms with each other.
I'm not sure there is anyone in official Washington these days telling their hot-shot press secretaries to tone it down. The language gets even more bitter and personal, and the atmosphere for problem-solving and serious legislation gets more poisonous.
I thought of this recently as Democrats responded to a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to fundamentally change our national programs that help the poor. There are ample reasons to worry about Ryan's concept. Turning many of the federal programs critical for those at the economic margin – SNAP (formerly food stamps), housing benefits, temporary assistance for the needy – to the states in one giant block grant might put at risk people who live in states that take a dim view of helping those less fortunate. And given enormous budget pressures at the federal level, some in Congress might be tempted to gut funding for these programs altogether, although Ryan made clear his proposals were not being put forward to reduce deficits.
Whatever the substantive merits of his ideas, Ryan immediately came under criticism about his motives, his ambitions, his authenticity as someone who "claimed" to care about the poor. The attacks were political and personal, not directed at policy.
I kept thinking: Here is a true conservative who has spent time learning these programs, who has spent hours and hours visiting with those in need to hear their stories, and who is the first Republican leader in a long time to proclaim that government has an important role in dealing with shortcomings in our society that markets and individual effort cannot solve. Instead of "Hurray, let's talk," it was "let's demonize and ignore."
We are making such progress in fighting hunger, both here in the United States and around the world. We now have strategies for ending childhood hunger as states use school-based food programs combined with the private efforts of the faith community and other local organizations to make sure kids are surrounded by better nutrition and information about healthy eating. Groups like Share Our Strength (which I serve as a board member) are helping enlist governors and other state officials in campaigns called "No Kid Hungry."
Meanwhile, we are seeing serious progress in combating malnutrition and famine globally with strong leadership from Bread for the World. We won't quite meet the ambitious targets set out in the original Millennium Development Goals, but as work begins on the next round of targets for global development, hunger and malnutrition seem to be at the top of the list for world leaders.
Those are things to celebrate. When there are moments when the political right and left come together on an agenda, the church should be there to say, "Amen!" And people of faith can help build trusting relationships that will allow leaders work through their differences on the way to real progress and solutions. That's what public theology can bring to a dispirited national government.
Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton, is a distinguished professor of public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary and a supporter of Bread for the World.
This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.
By Robin Stephenson
An expiring budget, food aid reform, and a humanitarian crisis at the border await Congress. After hearing from the voters, will Congress return from a five-week recess on September 8 ready to act on these connected issues?
Asked if it is possible, Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World’s deputy director of government relations, answers emphatically. “Absolutely. If they have the political will and make ending hunger a priority, they will work together.”
“These issues are too important for Congress to sit on any longer.”
The 2014 budget expires October 1. Congress has only 11 working days to pass a temporary extension before going on another break or face a government shutdown.
In addition to simply extending the budget, Congress should protect funding for WIC and maintain a strong safety net as the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession. As the economy slowly improves, further cuts could sink more Americans into deeper poverty.
Looming famine in South Sudan, drought in Latin America, and Ebola in West Africa are wreaking havoc with global food security – not to mention the millions of conflict-displaced families needing help in the Middle East. Efforts to address global hunger today mitigate food prices and global security concerns in the future.
Boosting poverty-focused development assistance is an investment that will decrease hunger in future food emergencies. Programs like Feed the Future, which take a long-term approach to building food security, are saving lives and building resilience in countries like Tanzania.
There is an opportunity to make our U.S. food aid—programs that respond to global disasters—do more with reform. Senators can build momentum for even more flexible and efficient food aid by cosponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) and holding a hearing during this session.
Funding smaller reforms passed in the farm bill will free up the funds needed to help more people now and expand programs that are already working. For example, Guatemala has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the countries children are fleeing for the U.S. southern border. Catherine Pascal Jiménez, who is featured in the 2014 Offering of Letters, can keep her children at home thanks to a U.S.-funded food-aid program.
Ignoring the humanitarian crisis at the border or criminalizing children who flee poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America will not stop the flow of migrants. Funding global anti-hunger programs that can address economic stability in the sending countries is a first step in stemming the tide of hungry people seeking refuge. Congress must act quickly with emergency funding on its return to Washington.
Swift action may be a tall order, and there is certainly a reason to be pessimistic with this unproductive Congress. However, this is a democracy, and as Kegan points out, “Members who don’t listen to voters don’t stay in Washington.”
Kegan says faithful advocates need to make a lot of noise as Congress returns to the nation’s capitol next week. “If enough people demand action, they will act.”
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
By Donna Pususta Neste
Justice work is hard. Those who desire their government to work for all its citizens are up against some mighty forces that seek to maintain the status quo. There are those who benefit from others’ poverty, vulnerability, and voicelessness. These people are few in number in a society, but their power runs deep and wide, because they have the funds and know-how to spread misinformation and buy influence. There is a general attitude of indifference among many who are comfortable and refuse to see the root causes of the suffering of people who are poor.
Justice workers are also up against fear. People are often afraid to use their power. They are afraid of retribution by those who want everything to remain the same, a fear not always unfounded. They are also up against a certain kind of powerlessness that comes with poverty.
Their most natural allies—people who struggle to support themselves and their families—have little time for the actions necessary to alleviate the state of their existence: to go to city hall to protest a law that infringes on their rights, to visit their representatives in Washington to advocate for a law that would benefit them, or to study policies that hold them back. Most of their time is used on actions necessary to survive. To walk their children to day care before hopping a bus to a job that barely sustains them. To spend most of their free time visiting clothes closets, food pantries, and community meals in order to make ends meet and feed their children. To keep seemingly endless appointments with government bureaucrats in order to turn in applications, proofs, and justifications of their needs.
Poverty is stressful. When a person is losing sleep over how to come up with the rent, there is little to no extra energy left over to organize around the issue of a living wage. That’s why I do my best to raise my voice with our nation’s leaders, to make the lives of people who struggle a little bit easier.
Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member and former coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries in Minneapolis.
By Robin Stephenson
We can end hunger by 2030 if we build the political will to make hunger a national priority by 2017. Electing legislators who prioritize ending hunger is key, says Stephen Hill, senior organizer for elections issues at Bread for the World.
Being politically engaged is also part of living out our faith.
“Just as Jesus regularly went to the public square to minister, advocate, and proclaim the good news,” Hill says, “we too must maintain an active presence in today’s public square in order to preserve justice and order in society and government.”
Hill is elevating hunger and poverty as campaign topics in the tenth congressional district of Virginia. Barbara Comstock, the Republican candidate, will face Democrat John Foust for the empty House seat in the general election on November 4.
Outgoing Congressman Frank Wolf (R) was honored in June by Bread for the World for his work to address hunger in the United States and abroad. He is retiring after more than 30 years in Congress. Hill says that although we may lose Wolf to retirement, we do not need to lose his commitment to ending hunger if the person elected knows his or her voters will not tolerate a legislator who is lukewarm on issues of food insecurity.
Using the influence of voters in the district, Hill wants to get the candidates talking about hunger.
“Our goal will be to educate, inspire, and influence the electorate. From the ballot box to the pulpit, we want to make sure that these issues factor into the conscience of the voters and the political agendas of the candidates.”
Before joining Bread’s staff, Hill was deputy district director for Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio-1). Hill knows first-hand how constituents influence their members of Congress. Politically engaged voters make an impact by building relationships with staff and attending town halls, becoming what he calls more than a voice on the phone.
Hill is looking for interested individuals to join his team in district 10 as he builds a coalition of the willing. Volunteers can assist by distributing literature at events, attending precinct meetings, recruiting others, and helping with polling as well as other election activities.
“This is a very busy district and we need maximum participation to touch as many voters as possible with our message.”
Election work that aims to build the political will to end hunger can also build a renewed sense of purpose for a post-election Congress. Instead of focusing on conflict and apathy, Hill believes faith can build a sense of community.
“Christ, as both the lion and the lamb, reconciles all conflicts and differences,” says Hill. “In him we are conquerors, and through him we have victory, purpose, and a true sense of community.”
Virginians interested in getting involved are encouraged to contact Stephen Hill for more information. In addition to volunteers, he is also looking for a catchy campaign slogan that will inspire. Contact him at 202-270-8180 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Elsewhere in the United States, you can help make hunger a part of the elections with Elections Matter resources.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior organizer at Bread for the World.
By Stephen Padre
In mid-June, Bread for the World held its National Gathering and Lobby Day. More than 300 anti-hunger activists from across the country came to Washington, D.C., for education, inspiration, and to speak directly to their lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The gathering was an occasion to celebrate Bread’s 40th anniversary and to recognize many of the founders and early staff members who got the organization off the ground. This celebration was possible because so many Bread for the World members have, decade after decade, supported the organization and engaged in advocacy.
Among those attending the gathering were Rev. Roger and Marilyn Timm, a couple from Emmaus, Pa. Roger Timm has been a Bread member since its founding, yet remarkably, he had never attended one of its National Gatherings until this year. “I’ve been a member for 40 years, so I thought I should come celebrate,” he said at the gathering.
Roger had spent his career as a Lutheran pastor. In 1974 he was working at a small church in Bronxville, N.Y., when he heard of Rev. Art Simon. Simon was a fellow Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, not far from Roger’s church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (Roger later joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Simon had founded a new organization called Bread for the World, and Roger became a member.
The final congregation Roger served before he retired in 2011 was in the Chicago suburbs, where he and Marilyn had lived for many years. Besides providing financial support over the years, Roger was involved in other ways with Bread in the congregations and campus ministries he served. He often conducted an Offering of Letters and organized a performance of Bread’s musical, Lazarus.
“Now that I’m retired, I’ve got more time,” Roger said. “One of the things I can do is be more active in advocacy.” This has included the trip to Washington, D.C., to visit his members of Congress as he and Marilyn did on Lobby Day following the gathering in June.
As a pastor, addressing hunger has always been a fundamental biblical tenet for Roger. “Providing food is one thing, but it’s important to go beyond that and advocate for hungry people,” he said. He added that he resonates with Bread’s belief that the government can provide more than churches can.
Marilyn shares Roger’s passion for social justice and global issues. Before she retired in 2007, Marilyn worked for 11 years in the global mission department of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) at its church-wide offices in Chicago. Her positions in different parts of the department gave her a broad view of the denomination’s work around the world through missionaries and with relief and development projects. Both Marilyn and Roger give thanks that Bread is a ministry of the ELCA and is a vital partner in the denomination’s anti-hunger work domestically and internationally.
Roger and Marilyn Timm embody the generous financial support and steadfast involvement in advocacy that have sustained Bread for 40 years. To the Timms and many others who have been with Bread over the decades, we say a hearty thank you.
Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
Photo: Roger and Marilyn Timm at Bread for the World's National Gathering in June in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Padre/Bread for the World)
This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's August online newsletter.
By Zach Schmidt
What do your faith and experience say about global hunger and how has that compelled you to act?
We are called to widen our circle of concern to serve our neighbors across the street and across the globe. This was the consensus among faith leaders in Chicago’s North Shore communities during recent discussions on faith and hunger. As part of a broader campaign to reform U.S. food aid, we have been hosting a series of conversations with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders in the Chicago area over the summer. Participants have been challenged and enriched by hearing from those of different faiths and practices. While the language and supporting scriptures differ, the leaders have found common ground in the fight against hunger.
Bread for the World’s campaign calls on members of Congress to reform U.S. international food aid, so it can better respond to humanitarian emergencies and strengthen vulnerable communities against future catastrophes. The campaign also includes statewide faith leaders sign-on letters, and the Illinois letter alone has garnered more than 170 faith leaders’ signatures and counting. We continue to urge U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk to lead on this issue.
Some of the leaders and their congregations, like Rabbi Wendi Geffen and North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois, are already well-acquainted with advocating for reform. Rabbi Geffen’s congregation wrote letters last year in support of food aid reform in partnership with American Jewish World Service, an ally with Bread for the World on this issue. Others leaders are deeply committed to global development projects but have not yet engaged in advocacy. But once the issue is presented and the case is made that we can help millions more hungry people, more quickly, while building long-term resilience, and more efficiently utilize our taxpayer dollars, the response becomes, “Well, what are we waiting for?”
Over the past few months, there have been a handful of votes in Congress that affect food aid. Faith leaders have been briefed and have weighed in on these votes. But we can help even more people through reforms embodied in the bipartisan Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421). This bill would make our food aid more flexible and efficient, freeing up as much as $440 million per year to feed up to 9 million more people faster. The bill makes common sense reforms, including ending the constraints that require our food aid to be grown in the United States and shipped on designated (and more costly) vessels. This adds substantial time and cost to the delivery of food aid, a matter of life-and-death when we are responding to hunger and humanitarian disasters in places like Haiti, Syria and South Sudan.
Faith leaders in the Chicago area—and across the country—are saying the status quo is unacceptable and indefensible, and it’s time for change. Urge your senator to co-sponsor S. 2421 and help build momentum to pass the bill.
Zach Schmidt is regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
By Robin Stephenson
Members of Congress will leave behind a lot of unfinished business when they head to their home states and districts for August recess at the end of the week. Anti-hunger advocates should send them back to Washington, D.C., in November with clear orders to get to work on ending hunger.
This is an election year and all 435 members of the House and 33 senators are running for reelection. There will be many public events where anti-hunger advocates can talk to their elected or soon-to-be elected officials about hunger and poverty. Bread for the World has created a set of resources to help advocates start a conversation. These include a guide to speaking up about hunger at Town Halls and updated voting records so you know how your members of Congress have voted on issues of hunger and poverty.
If outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss earlier this year taught elected officials anything, it’s that they can’t ignore district concerns. Bread wants to help end hunger by 2030. To do that, we need to help build the political will to make hunger a national priority by 2017. “All politics are local,” said Bread for the World’s director of government relations Eric Mitchell during last month’s national webinar and conference call. “There won't be pressure to change anything unless they hear from local constituents.” And there is plenty to talk about.
The United States is poised to make huge strides in improving food aid that does more than just feed people in a crisis but helps build resilience so they can weather the next storm. Urging lawmakers to cosponsor The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) will help build the political will to reform U.S. food aid. Furthermore, Congress should be reminded that faithful advocates oppose provisions that would decrease food aid by increasing transportation costs by shipping more food from the United States.
At public events, we must get members of Congress talking about how they will address the root causes that are driving millions of children to flee Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Lawmakers are focused on the border between the United States and Mexico and not on the source of the problem. Congress should allocate funds in the 2015 budget for programs that can help alleviate hunger and poverty in Central America. However, appropriators are proposing to cut poverty-focused development assistance.
Recent data reports the job market is finally improving, yet more than 3 million long-term unemployed are left without emergency unemployment benefits. The end of the recession has not reached all Americans. Safety net programs to alleviate hunger for low-income families are still the first items on the chopping block. Prioritizing a jobs agenda will make ending hunger in America possible.
“We are not advocating electing one party or another,” said director of organizing LaVida Davis. “As people of faith, our task is to change the conversation and make ending hunger a priority for our elected officials.”
Hunger affects all of us. Making hunger an election issue is how we can build the political will to end it.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.
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