Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

59 posts categorized "Farm Bill"

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

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(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


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.

Conversations on Food Aid: Farm Bill Wrap-Up

LWS_food_aidAfter two years of bitter negotiations, the farm bill— a nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation that will govern U.S. food and farm policy for the next five years— is law. Faithful advocates made calls, met with members of Congress, and wrote thousands of letters and emails in support of reforming food aid in the farm bill. We asked Ryan Quinn, Bread for the World’s senior policy analyst, who tracks food aid, how we did.

“Even though other areas of the farm bill [i.e., harmful cuts to SNAP] were unacceptable, the food-aid provisions were a win,” says Quinn. “We ended up with something better than what was originally in the Senate version.”

Those provisions include an $80 million boost to local and regional purchases , or LRP, which allows the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to buy food close to the source of need rather than shipping life-saving resources, which can take weeks or months. “That was huge,” says Quinn. “LRP is permanent now. There was a pilot program for a modest amount in the last farm bill. Once tested, it was obvious that LRP doesn’t hurt the U.S. agriculture industry, helps more people, and most importantly, it is part of the 'hand up' we want to see with our programs.” By supporting farmers and local markets in distressed regions, LRP is consistent with Bread for the World’s mission to end hunger and poverty.

Asked if reforms included in the farm bill mean we are done reforming policy around U.S. food aid, Quinn emphasized that this was only a first step. “We are doing more with greater efficiency, but more changes are necessary, which is why we have made food-aid reform the focus of our 2014 Offering of Letters.“  (Order your 2014 Offering of Letters toolkit)

Other reforms include phasing out monetization, a practice in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work, but can undercut local farmers in the process. “We have new ways to do development that weren’t there a few years ago,” says Quinn. Food for Peace will have the flexibility to broaden its scope and will receive a larger share of funding, decreasing the need for monetization. “Flexibility to meet the needs of each circumstance has really been the core of our modernizing efforts,” says Quinn.

Other improvements include increased program transparency and the expansion of the practice of prepositioning food aid in areas where disasters are likely—something that was critical in getting life-saving food aid to the Philippines. But the provision Quinn finds especially encouraging improves the nutritional quality of food. “We are talking about babies here,” he says. "It makes me feel happy that our work helps provide the nutrition they need in the first 1,000 days of life.” Providing proper nutrition to mothers and children during this period establishes a foundation for a better life as children grow.

Asked whether calls and letters from advocates made a difference, Quinn answers with an emphatic "yes."

“I met with Sen. Stabenow's (D-Mich.) staff on food aid, and they made it clear that they heard from Bread members and it made a difference,” he says. Congress may have the power to change polices that address hunger with the stroke of a pen, but “it’s constituent voices that can make them pick up the pen in the first place,” Quinn says.

Next week, learn what is next for food aid as we continue the conversation on the Bread Blog.

Photo: Lutheran Development Service distributes food to people affected by drought in Swaziland in 2004. Many distributions of U.S. food-aid items, which originate with USAID, are carried out by private relief and development organizations, many of them supported by U.S. churches. (Stephen H. Padre)

Farm Bill Passes House: Thank You for Your Advocacy

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

 By David Beckmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World

Farm Bill Update: David Beckmann on Farm Bill Compromise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farm Bill Report Coming Soon


Rep. McGovern has been giving a series of #EndHungerNow speeches over the past year.

“It is a scandal that in the richest country in the history of world we have a hunger problem . . . There are some things worth fighting for, ending hunger, making sure our fellow citizens have enough to eat is absolutely worth fighting for.”

- Rep. Jim McGovern (D,Mass-2) speaking on the House floor Jan. 8, 2014, in remembrance of the War on Poverty and the farm bill. 

On Nov. 1, 2013, all SNAP (formerly food stamps) households experienced a cut in benefits, which took food off the tables of families who do not have enough to eat. More Americans are depending on already strapped food banks and charities to fill the gap. Federal nutrition programs deliver more than 23 times the amount of food assistance as do private charities; charities alone can not feed everyone who is hungry.

The farm bill conference committee is expected to release a report soon. The compromise bill will then go back to the House and Senate for a final vote. As we follow progress of the bill, anti-hunger advocates will need to be vigilant and persistent to ensure harmful amendments are not included in a final bill and common sense U.S. food aid reforms are included.  Even if you have already called or written your member of Congress in 2013, make sure they hear from you again in 2014.

Staying Afloat in a Recovery

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For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.

Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.

Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November.  “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”

While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.

The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.

Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.

Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.

During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.

Quote of the Day: Joel Berg

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At Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering in Washington, D.C., participants wrote letters to Congress, urging members to  to protect programs that alleviate hunger (Joe Molieri/Bread for the World).

“We know exactly what works in fighting hunger, and America has been doing precisely the reverse. We know that creating living-wage jobs and ensuring an adequate safety net will end hunger in America, as it has in much of the rest of the Western developed industrialized world. And yet we are killing all programs to create new jobs and we are cutting back on the food stamps — the SNAP program — even though it reduces hunger and aids the economy.”

— Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, on the Nov.7, edition of The Takeaway radio show. Listen to the full story, “Annual Feast Is A Reminder of America’s Hungry," below.

As we join together with families and friends today, many of our neighbors will be facing a leaner Thanksgiving because of cuts to the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) that took effect Nov. 1.  Remember people who are hungry around the world by praying this prayer:God, empower us and inspire our leaders to fill the hungry with good things.”

Although Congress is not in session today, you can still email your representative and senators over the holiday. Take a moment to tell your members of Congress to fill the hungry with good things as they continue to negotiate funding levels for the SNAP program as part of the farm bill. With a proposal to cut the program by nearly $40 billion being debated, faithful advocates must speak up to ensure that everyone has a place at the table.

Food Aid and Haiyan: Offering Emergency and Long-Term Help

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USAID photo of beneficiaries of U.S. food aid in Tacloban City in the Philippines (photo courtesy of USAID: IOM/J. Lowry).

It took only a moment for Typhoon Haiyan to destroy any semblance of normal life when it pummeled the Philippines on Nov. 8, leaving hunger and loss in its wake. Those who survived the storm now face an uncertain future.

American generosity and compassion shine in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, but what happens when the cameras are aimed elsewhere? What happens when the global shock wears off, but hunger remains? Do U.S. food aid policies address long-term solutions to rebuild lives and address hunger? Passing needed reforms in the farm bill would allow U.S. food aid to better assist those in need for extended periods of time.

Being yesterday's news is something displaced Filipino families worry about. "What will happen to us when this kindness ends?" Maribel Villajos, a woman who fled a ravaged Tacloban City in the wake of the typhoon, asked one reporter. Villajos, a mother of three, made her way to Manila, and found temporary shelter and food aid there, but she worries about the future.

As infrastructure in the Philippines is rebuilt, the Villajos family, and other survivors of Haiyan, will need continued assistance.

Since the 1950s, when the United States began the international food aid program, billions of lives have been saved, but policies that dictate how aid is delivered are inefficient and outdated. Using aid dollars to buy food locally is one way to rebuild economies and help farmers rebound by marketing their produce. But since the U.S. Agency for International Development(USAID) has exhausted the bulk of its allotment for such local and regional purchase (LRP), most additional food sent to the Philippines will be shipped from the United States.

Increasing the option to buy food locally, and address both hunger and nutrition, could be an important part of the post-disaster reconstruction in the Philippines—especially with 1.5 million children at risk of acute malnutrition. In a New York Times report, Eric Munoz, a policy analyst with Oxfam International, cautions that without reforms, food aid can destabilize local economies, undercut farmers, and make recovery that much more difficult. Common sense fixes would give USAID experts the flexibility to match resources to the best local solutions.

And while the United States acts quickly to respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the world, reforms could make our government's response time even faster, and decrease the cost of emergency food aid.

Some U.S.-donated rice has already reached the Philippines, because of prepositioned emergency aid, which was put in place in Sri Lanka before the disaster. Additionally, an LRP pilot program (included in the 2008 farm bill) that has allowed for a small amount of food aid to be purchased locally has been essential in helping hungry survivors. But, by law, most U.S. food aid consists of commoditized crops that are shipped from this country on U.S.-owned vessels. A “rush” shipment of rice to the Philippines from the United States would not arrive until late January or early February. In the face of debilitating hunger, that is too long to wait.

The profound loss in the wake of a disaster like Haiyan is heartbreaking, but our collective willingness to help in the face of tragedy speaks volumes about human compassion. Asking our senators and representatives to ensure that U.S. food aid is used as effectively as possible must be  part of our compassionate response. As Congress negotiates a new farm bill, they need to hear from you that food aid must be reformed.

Hunger won’t wait, and neither should help.

Food Banks Say They Can't Fill the Hunger Gap

Food Bank RickMany local newspapers have recently published op-eds written by food bank representatives, all of them with a clear message to Congress: if legislators cut nutrition assistance, charity cannot fill the hunger gap.

Many Christians and others are generous in supporting food banks, but with the needs of struggling families they are anticipating, the food banks simply cannot ramp up their assistance quickly enough and will never have the capacity to fill the gap that Congress has created.

Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks, talks about a potential $40 billion cut to SNAP (food stamps) in his op-ed "Food Banks can't make up for food stamp benefit cuts," published Nov. 17, 2013, in SF Gate. "[W]e can raise our voice in protest now, or prepare to watch our neighbors go without enough to eat," he writes.

"It's easy to pass off what goes on in Washington as senseless, unwise, irrational, or out of our control," Ash continues. "But it's more useful to be shouting as loud as we can – through our representatives, to the conferees who will cast the votes, and to the White House – that this is not acceptable."

Ash notes in the op-ed that the Nov. 1 SNAP cuts, combined with the $40 billion in proposed cuts in the House version of the farm bill, would mean that every food bank in the nation would have to double the amount of assistance they provide in order to meet demand. Donors, Ash notes, have shown no signs that they would be willing to double their giving, which would leave food banks unable to provide food to people in need of emergency aid. 

The next few weeks are critical as members of the farm bill conference committee negotiate a final bill. The cuts that have already taken place have made it more difficult for already-struggling families to put food on the table. As food prices increase and benefits decrease, more families will likely find themselves in need of charitable food donations earlier in the month — but cuts to nutrition assistance will leave a hunger gap that cannot be closed by churches, pantries, or food banks.  

Each time a food bank representative speaks out in local papers, which members of Congress read, faithful advocates have an opportunity to amplify that message. When you see such articles, we urge you to write a letter to the editor. Contact your regional organizer if you need assistance or talking points.

With 49 million Americans at risk of hunger, and more than 1 billion people around the world living in extreme poverty, now is the time to raise your voice in protest. SNAP and international food aid programs must be protected in the farm bill. Email or call your member of Congress at 800-826-3688 today.

Photo: A food bank in Alexandria, Va., provides emergency food assistance (Rick Reinhard).

Negotiations in Congress Will Have Long-Term Effects

Capitol_bldg_flickr_usr_smaedliAs we move toward the end of the year, members of Congress have many important decisions before them. Legislators will be dealing with the farm bill, immigration reform, sequestration and ongoing gridlock over the budget. The choices our legislators make now will affect people struggling with hunger for years to come.

Budget and Sequestration

On Oct. 16,Congress passed a bill that ended a 16-day government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling to avoid a U.S. default. The deal funds the government at current levels through Jan. 15, 2014, and raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7, 2014. The deal also created a conference committee to negotiate a budget for the remainder of the 2014 fiscal year and address the automatic cuts of sequestration. The committee, which holds its next hearings on Nov. 13, has until Dec. 13 to emerge with a deal.  

These budget talks could play out in a couple of ways. The committee could emerge with a big, multi-trillion dollar, decade-long budget deal and succeed where all previous attempts have failed. However, members of Congress have said they don’t expect a big deal to emerge.

Alternatively, the committee could come up with a smaller deal that resolves the overall funding level for FY 2014 and replaces some or all of the sequester for one, or even two, years. If this happens, there are two issues to watch: the overall funding level and the makeup of any package that replaces sequestration. The size of the budget they agree on will determine the amount of funding available for all anti-hunger discretionary programs. If the committee agrees on a plan to replace sequestration, we will be focused on whether it includes revenues and protects important anti-poverty programs.

Finally, the committee could emerge with no deal. At that point, Congress will have until Jan. 15 to prevent another shutdown and potentially address sequestration.

We must continue to urge members of Congress to pass a moral budget that adequately funds programs that combat hunger and poverty, and replace sequestration with a balanced plan that includes revenues and smart spending cuts that won’t increase poverty.

Farm Bill and Food Aid

Members of the House and Senate have begun negotiating a farm bill to renew our nation’s agriculture and nutrition policies.

Last month, the congressional conference committee on the farm bill met for the first time to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate version cuts $4 billion from SNAP over 10 years, while the House’s nutrition-only version cuts $39 billion. Any cuts to SNAP would make it more difficult for struggling families to put food on the table. Still, SNAP isn’t the only point of contention.

The farm bill conferees will also negotiate agricultural provisions, including food aid reform. The Senate passed provisions in its farm bill for more effective and efficient food aid policy that would allow U.S. food aid to reach more hungry people with better, more nutritious food. While an amendment to include similar provisions in the House version failed to pass, a bipartisan letter signed by 53 members of the House was recently sent to farm bill conferees supporting Senate-passed provisions in the bill.

In the coming months, we will ask our members with senators and representatives who sit on the conference committee to ask them to ensure that hungry people aren’t harmed in any final farm bill.

Immigration Reform

Bread for the World and its partners are working to ensure that House leadership puts a vote on immigration reform on the 2013 calendar. The Evangelical Immigration Table, of which Bread is a member, recently released a letter urging the House to continue working on immigration and take up reform that includes a pathway to legalization or citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

 Bread for the World will continue to ask members of Congress to come to agreement on these issues while also protecting programs that help people suffering from hunger.

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