Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

59 posts categorized "Farm Bill"

Overwhelming Support for Congressman’s Vote Against SNAP Cuts

(USDA photo)

By Zach Schmidt

Only 15 Republicans voted against H.R. 3102, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, with strong pressure from party leadership to support the bill. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) of Lincoln, Nebraska, was one of the few who went against his party and opposed the nearly $40 billion cut to SNAP (food stamps), which could result in nearly 4 million people—including 10,000 Nebraskans—losing benefits.

Rep. Fortenberry’s “no” vote was the result of years of advocacy from Bread for the World members and coalition partners in Lincoln, capped by an eleventh-hour surge spearheaded by local Bread leaders and allies. Local directors Scott Young at the Food Bank of Lincoln and Beatty Brasch at the Center for People in Need, and their respective staffs, reached out and urged Fortenberry to oppose the bill. They provided local stories and data on hunger in Lincoln and explained how the bill would harm vulnerable people who were already struggling to get by. Lincoln Bread leader Kristin Ostrom rallied faith leaders across the state to weigh in as well. It was clearly a team effort, and a successful one!

In response to a statewide news article in the Omaha World Herald about how Rep. Fortenberry split with his party to vote against the bill, Ostrom led an effort to generate public comments thanking Fortenberry for his “no” vote. That effort led to 160 people—including faith, education, and nutrition leaders—publically supporting  Rep. Fortenberry’s “no” vote on H.R. 3102. He received more than 130 ”likes” on Facebook and more than 30 positive comments on the Omaha World Herald piece. Commenters thanked Rep. Fortenberry not only for his vote, but for his compassion, his courage, and for “standing with the least of these.” One commenter said he was “grateful that Mr. Fortenberry stood with the hungry of Nebraska.”

We wanted to make it clear that Rep. Fortenberry has strong and vocal support for his decision to protect poor and hungry people.

Great, great work to Kristin Ostrom and Bread members and coalition partners in Lincoln and across Nebraska! This is what effective advocacy looks like.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Voting on SNAP: Let Them Know You Were Watching

Bread for the World members on Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2013. (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World)

By David Beckmann

We were so close! Thank you for your advocacy last week.  You and other anti-hunger advocates sent more than 3,000 emails and made hundreds of phone calls opposing a House proposal to cut SNAP  (formerly food stamps) by nearly $40 billion.

Despite our best efforts, this nutrition bill passed by a vote of 217 to 210 on the House floor. The seven-vote margin reflects the pressure you exerted on your representatives.

Now it is critical that you hold your representative accountable—let him or her know you were watching! Find out how House members voted and then call your representative. Either thank your representative for voting “no” or express your outrage over a “yes” vote.

This bill not only includes nearly $40 billion in cuts to SNAP, it would kick almost 4 million Americans off of the program next year. Churches and charities would have to nearly double their food assistance to make up the difference.

Our advocacy on the farm bill is far from over. As Congress moves to finalize a farm bill, we press on, reminding our legislators that any farm bill must protect hungry and poor people.

We will call on you again in the coming months. Last week’s vote was close, and we must win the next one. We will continue to advocate with and for the most vulnerable in our country and around the world.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

A $40 Billion SNAP Cut Picks on the Poorest People

David press In just hours, the House of Representatives will vote on a proposal to cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion. If the bill passes, the House will be sending a dangerous message: it’s OK to pick on poor people. We must urge members of the House to vote "no" on H.R. 3102.

On Wednesday, Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann carried a different message from faithful advocates to the nation’s capital—that deep cuts kicking as many as 4 million poor, childless adults off of the SNAP program is morally wrong.

The nearly $40 billion cut would come on top of the Nov. 1 expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act, which will lead to a reduction in SNAP benefits for millions.

Earlier in the week, leaders from the Circle of Protection, a coalition of more than 65 heads of denominations and religious agencies, plus more than 5,000 church pastors, wrote letters to Congress urging a "no" vote on a bill that would cut SNAP. Christians know that God has a special concern for the poor and hungry and so the faithful are speaking out against cuts to the nation’s foremost tool against hunger and hardship.Currently, 47 million Americans benefit from SNAP, but that number is expected to be drop once the economy recovers.

“These proposed cuts are a clear indication that some in Congress underestimate the hunger that is present in millions of American homes," Beckmann wrote in his letter to Congress. "The amendment picks on the poorest people in the country. This is morally and economically unacceptable especially as some areas continue to experience high unemployment. Congress needs to focus on creating more jobs and not cut programs that stave off hunger for millions of people.”

Now it is time for every faithful advocate to join our religious leaders and make a statement with phone calls—ending hunger should be a priority in our nation. New U.S. Census data shows that although poverty continues to be at an all-time high, the safety net is working. In a floor speech this morning, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR1) said that H.R. 3102, and kicking hungry people off of SNAP, is not the right focus. Ending hunger requires addressing at the root causes of hunger. “Let’s cut poverty,” said Rep. Bonamici, “not nutrition assistance.”

The vote is expected to take place approximately 4:30 p.m. ET, so there is still time. Call 800-326-4941 to be connected to the Capitol switchboard and tell your representative to vote against H.R. 3102. Bread for the World will be following the vote with our Twitter feed, @bread4theworld.  

Photo: David Beckmann urges members of Congress to create a circle of protection around SNAP during a press conference on Capitol Hill, Sept. 17, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Can Our Churches and Food Pantries Feed Four Million More?


By Christine Meléndez Ashley

Late yesterday afternoon, House leadership released the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102), which includes nearly $40 billion in SNAP cuts. The House could vote on the bill as early as Thursday, Sept. 19.

If enacted, we estimate almost 4 million people would be taken off SNAP through changes to the program's eligibility rules and work requirements. HR 3102 is the nutrition title of the House version of the farm bill.

Kicking this many people off SNAP will place a greater burden on churches and charities that are already struggling to provide food assistance. They would have to nearly double their current food assistance over the next ten years in order to handle the influx. In 2011, private churches and charities provided approximately $4 billion in food assistance—federal nutrition programs provided 23 times as much.

As in the original House farm bill, about 2 million people would be taken off SNAP under HR 3102, since the bill will make every state use the same income and asset tests, regardless of variations in cost of living or the economies of each state. About 210,000 kids will lose access to free school meals and 850,000 households will have their benefits reduced.

Newer provisions in the House bill take away the ability of states to allow adults without dependents to continue receiving benefits when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. States can currently waive these requirements when unemployment rates are at least 10 percent or there is a demonstrated lack of sufficient jobs.

Regardless of what happens with this proposal, or any farm bill, every SNAP household will see its monthly SNAP allotment reduced on Nov. 1. Benefits are expected to drop to about $1.40 per meal—a family of 4 can expect to lose about $35 a month.

Email or call your representative today and urge him or her to vote against deep and harmful cuts to SNAP. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard or click here to send an email.

Christine Meléndez Ashley is a policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Hunger by the Numbers

Soup kitchen
Roughly 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (Film still from A Place at The Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

One thing is for certain—the Great Recession and its aftermath have provided us with a lot of numbers, few of them encouraging. 
  • 63.2 percent of people in the U.S. have a job or are actively seeking work — the lowest labor force percentage since 1978.
  • 10 percent was the peak unemployment rate in October 2009, and dropped to 7.6 percent as of May 2013.  Today there are three unemployed people for every job opening.
  • 47 million Americans have depended on SNAP to put food on the table as of February 2013, compared to just over 26 million in December of 2006 before the recession began (Dec. 2007).
  • 15 percent of the population was living below the poverty line in 2011 and 34.4 percent were considered poor or near poor (living below 200 percent of the poverty line).  Pre-recession the poverty rate was 13 percent (2007).
  • $14,500 is what a person working full-time at the minimum wage earns per year. The official poverty line for a family of three—one parent with two children—is $17,568 and most families need to make twice that to afford basic needs.

But surrounding those numbers is a silver lining: the safety net works. Recent numbers released by USDA show that although too many, 14.5 percent, in the United States continue to struggle with hunger, the system has not failed. While jobs vanished and the poverty rate is the highest in decades, the prevalence of food insecurity – meaning a lack of money or resources to provide for the next meal – remained essentially unchanged since 2008. 

  • 42 percent of food-insecure households were aided by the SNAP program in 2012.
  • 15.9 million children lived in food insecure households in 2012, compared to 16.7 in 2011.

Still, 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from in a country filled with abundance. We must do better and we cannot weaken the safety net without seeing those numbers rise. But some in Congress propose to do just that. Here are some disturbing numbers and consequences. 

  • $40 billion is the amount of SNAP cuts in a House of Representatives proposal that expected to be voted on in the next couple of weeks.
  • 6 million people may lose or receive reduced benefits if the cuts are enacted.
  • $167.5 billion is the estimated cost to the country, directly and indirectly, for hunger in 2011, taking into account its effects on health, education, and economic productivity.
  • $96.9 billion is the amount spent on food benefits in federal nutrition programs in 2011, compared to $4.1 billion in food distributed by private charities during the same period.  Churches and charities cannot fill in the gap if the government were to drastically reduce spending on anti-hunger programs.

The numbers add up to a simple conclusion: protecting and reinforcing the safety net, especially during tough economic times, means fewer people go hungry. The sum is greater than its parts.  Tell your member of Congress to vote NO on SNAP cuts in the House farm bill.

Quote of the Day: Tara Marks

Tara Marks lobby"This was not a question of availability of food, but a question of affording it. I did not live in a food desert; I lived in a food mirage. I had many grocery stores around me, but I could not afford to go in and shop."

— Bread for the World advocate Tara Marks telling the Senate Budget Committee what it was like to live under the poverty line as a single mother during her Feb. 13, 2013 testimony.

Thanks to federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC, a dependable safety-net helped Tara overcome poverty and hunger. Tara is now a law student in Pittsburgh, Pa. Within the next couple of weeks, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a proposal that would cut SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years. In Pennsylvania, 1,784,566 people participated in SNAP in May of 2013.  If the House proposal is enacted, many Pennsylvanians would have their benefits reduced or lose them altogether. Roughly 63 percent of households would need to reapply for benefits. Tell your member of Congress to vote NO to cuts to the SNAP program.

Photo: Tara Marks, a Bread member from Pittsburgh, Pa., lobbies in the office of Sen. Robert Casey on hunger and poverty issues. Bread for the World members headed to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

Voices of Hunger: Hunger Increasing for Seniors

In 2011, nearly one in six seniors faced food insecurity. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

The lights have dimmed on the golden years for 8.8 million U.S. seniors who are facing hunger.  The State of Senior Hunger in America 2011: An Annual Report, which was published in August, shows a disturbing trend—increasing rates of food insecurity for elderly citizens. From 2007 to 2011, the height of the Great Recession, the number of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger increased by 42 percent.

One of those seniors is Gloria, a Washington resident in her early 70s. In 2009, she was laid off from her job at a local hotel. After she went through her modest savings and was still unable to find work, getting enough food became a struggle. With the help of an emergency food box program and family support, she made it through—not to the idyllic life of leisure that is the promise of old age in this country, but to a more secure financial state.

“It’s almost impossible when you are older to get a job," Gloria says. "It’s a constant worry if you are going to make it through or you have to go bother one of your kids and live with them.  I know a lot of seniors who feel that way.  I’ve heard my friends say they don’t think the government cares about us.”

Gloria’s story is all too common; she is grateful to have recently found a part-time minimum wage job in the rural Washington community where she has lived most of her life. Social security provides her with a meager $800 per month—barely enough to keep food on the table and cover her bills.

The bulk of her working life was spent in the fruit industry—the sort of blue-collar employment that is a mainstay of rural economies.  “The packing shed didn’t have a 401K,” she notes. “For most women in rural areas, there are not jobs that provide them with a retirement plan.

“You pay into the system when you work, but a dollar doesn’t go as far now," Gloria continues. "At this point in time, with the cost of living, the price of gas, I can’t see that I can retire.”

The report prepared for the National Council to End Senior Hunger concludes with a warning that mounting food insecurity in an aging population will lead to additional public health costs. To stem growing health care expenditures requires reducing food insecurity for older Americans.

For the elderly, health care and medicine are often their largest out-of-pocket expenses. Working helps Gloria afford supplemental insurance to augment her Medicare—for now. 

As members of Congress return from recess, decisions that they will make could have dire consequences for the nearly one in six food insecure seniors. Unless sequestration is replaced with a balanced approach, it will continue to cut senior nutrition programs, like Meals on Wheels. Proposed cuts to the SNAP program would cast a pall on the golden years of even more senior citizens.

How we treat our elders, most of whom have spent a lifetime contributing to our economy, matters. Seniors will choose to experience their retirement differently, but a Christian response must include setting a context where those years can be spent in fullness and dignity—not in hunger.

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

How Much is Enough? The Price of Partisanship in the Farm Bill

A $20 billion cut to SNAP, the amount proposed in a House farm bill that failed earlier this year, is equivalent to eliminating half of all the charitable food distribution by churches and food banks over a 10-year period. The legislation that is currently being drafted doubles those cuts (Rick Reinhard/Bread for the World).

Last year it was $16 billion, but that wasn’t enough. Earlier this year, the number was $20.5 billion, but even that wasn’t enough. Now, the House of the Representatives has proposed $40 billion in cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) over 10 years – a horrifying amount that would substantially increase the suffering of the 47 million Americans who depend on SNAP to keep hunger at bay.

The Hill reports that the House is expected to vote on the bill in September after returning from August recess.  The proposal is the product of a working group convened by House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in an effort to attract conservative votes and pass the stand-alone nutrtion title of the farm bill on partisan lines. 

The farm bill proposed by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year "would have cut SNAP by $20 billion—which would have kicked 2 million people out of the program, reduced benefits for more than 800,000 families, and left 210,000 children without school meals,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in a statement released earlier today. In the current bill, the House doubles the number of people hurt. Beckmann calls both proposals "truly cruel and unacceptable."

During a period of continued high unemployment where there is only one job available for every three applicants, this proposal would increase work requirements, meaning that people who want to work and are looking for a job, but haven’t found one, would see their benefits cut –benefits that help feed children. Ninety-nine percent of households receiving SNAP live well below the poverty line and have no room to absorb these cuts in their household budgets. 

In the effort to cut benefits, much has been made of the increased participation in the SNAP program. SNAP participation has closely followed poverty and unemployment rates and has responded quickly and effectively to the recession. As the economy recovers, the Congressional Budget Office projects the participation rates will drop to pre-recession levels.

For Christians, feeding the most vulnerable among us is not a partisan issue – it’s a moral call. We know there is enough for everyone.  A proposal to cut $40 billion from a program that offers much-needed food to so many is distressing.

"Assuring government’s obligation to advance the common good, ensure fairness, and defend the most vulnerable is good religion and good politics," said Rev. Beckmann. "Massive cuts to SNAP are neither."

This month, members of Congress will travel home to hear from their constituents. What they do upon their return – pass a farm bill that guts food assistance or cut social programs deeper while protecting defense spending – will depend entirely on what they hear from you. If they hear nothing, expect more proposals that, like this one, will hurt hungry and poor people.

To learn more about how you can get involved and specific priorities in your state or district, contact your regional organizer.

Recap: July Grassroots Conference Call and Webinar

Montana lobby visit
Pastor Charlotte Schmiedeskamp of Thompson Falls, Mont., talks about proposed SNAP cuts and sequestration during a visit with her member of Congress during Bread for the World's June 2013 Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. (Robin Stephenson)

July and August offer plenty of opportunities to talk about hunger and poverty with your members of Congress.  

Yesterday, during Bread for the World’s monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, members of our policy and organizing staff emphasized that it is important to act now. Director of government relations Eric Mitchell encouraged advocates to take advantage of in-district meetings and town halls during the August recess, a time when members of Congress return to their home districts. “This is the time they need to hear from constituents," Mitchell said. "After August, things will move fast.”

Bread staffers reviewed the last six months and also looked ahead to what may transpire between now and the end of the year. The bottom line: your phone calls make a difference and will continue to be needed.

Noting that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, Bread policy analyst Amelia Kegan said, “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem.”  Kegan went on to point out that a long-term replacement of the sequester is unlikely at this point, but a short-term fix is still possible this fall, especially as more defense spending cuts take their toll. The question moving forward is how Congress will choose to replace the spending cuts—whether they decide to cut programs like SNAP or taking a balanced approach that includes increased revenues may depend on the pressure that anti-hunger advocates put on their lawmakers.

An examination of recent House farm bill activity showed that two wrongs don’t make a right. The first draft of the bill, which included $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP, failed in a floor vote. The version of the bill that the House passed last week does not include the title that authorizes the SNAP program. SNAP will continue to operate at existing levels under current rules and can still be included in a conference with the Senate farm bill (which cuts the program by $4.1 billion). But, as policy analyst Christine Melendez-Ashley cautioned, the way forward for the nutrition title is not yet clear, and that leaves the SNAP vulnerable to cuts in both the farm bill and the appropriations process

Staff members also provided an update on the latest threats to international food aid, which delivers emergency assistance to hungry people overseas. House proposals in the farm bill and spending bills would slash the program. The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, introduced in the House by a bi-partisan group of representatives, was also discussed.

Mitchell also stressed that Bread members must put pressure on their representatives to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill late last month, but is in unclear how the House will come up with a comprehensive bill or a piecemeal approach to reform. 

The next monthly conference call and webinar will be held on Sept. 17.

Quote of the Day: Rep. Jim McGovern

Barbie_and_Aiden"The 47 million people on SNAP are not extraneous. They are important, they are part of our community."

—Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), during last week's farm bill debate on the House floor.














Photo: Barbie Izquierdo is a Philadelphia native whose firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty have made her an anti-hunger activist and nationwide speaker on the topic. She lives in Lancaseter, Penn., with her two children, Leylanie and Aidan (pictured). Barbie has worked with Witness to Hunger in Philadelphia and appears in the documentary A Place at the Table. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

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