Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

373 posts categorized "Hunger and the U.S. Budget"

Return from Recess

Capitol 2
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

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:

Food-Aid Reform

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.

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

Capitol
(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.

Labor Day: More Than a Three-Day Weekend

Ofelio
Ofelio, owner of a tamale business in Washington, D.C., is featured in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

Barbeques, the end of summer, and a three-day weekend are what Labor Day means for most Americans. For me, the welcome work break was a chance to catch up on neglected household chores. Celebrating the contributions of workers to the strength of our nation or thinking about today’s labor market never entered my mind.

That is, until last night.

My neighbor stopped by and mentioned another neighbor who has been out of work for more than a year and still hasn’t found employment. “She is at her wit’s end,” says my friend with exasperation. “She has a college education, is smart and hardworking, and still gets no offers.”

My unemployed neighbor is not alone. There are 3.2 million long-term unemployed, people out of work for more than 27 weeks. Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to more than a million job seekers. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.

My neighbor’s misfortune affects all of us. Lost productivity to the labor market decreases pressures on wages, which is why many Americans have not seen raises in the last few years. High unemployment means lost productivity and lost tax revenue, causing additional spending by the federal government to fill in the gaps.

There are signs that things are getting better. However, we are not out of the woods yet. The jobless rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, has still not reached pre-2008 levels. Today the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, although some economists call the number deceptively low. Full employment is a job rate below 5 percent and indicates that anyone who wants to work can find a job.

Infographic_FullEmploymentThe federal government has a role to play in strengthening the labor market and getting the long-term unemployed back to work. The best solution to ending hunger is a job that pays. The number of low-income households could be cut by more than half if a full-time job were available for everyone who wanted one.  

The 2014 Hunger Report proposes bold steps to end hunger in the United States by 2030. Returning the economy closer to the full employment level of 2000, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017.

A first step to full employment includes policies that stimulate the economy as part of a budget strategy instead of the job-killing cuts, such as the automatic spending caps called sequestration. Congress should also raise the minimum wage. If wages had kept up with productivity growth over the years, the minimum wage today would be $18.67.

Perhaps it is time that Labor Day becomes more than a three-day weekend. Labor Day should be a time of reflection and action—a time to ask how we can get people in America, including my neighbor, back to work and into jobs that pay a living wage.

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

Feeding America Report: Reliance on Emergency Food Increasing

By Robin Stephenson

Electricity, rent, or food on the table to feed your kids? This choice is a game of poverty roulette that families like Jim and Christina Dreier grapple with each month and it isn’t fun.

The Dreiers and their three children live in Mitchel County, Iowa. Like many families, they use a patchwork of assistance – WIC, SNAP (food stamps), and the food bank – to make it through the month. Jim Dreier works two jobs, but that is not enough.

“It’s rough every day.  Where’s my next meal going to come from?” asks Christina.

Reading the Dreier’s story in a National Geographic article, “The New Face of Hunger,” one gets the impression that this is a family that lives on the edge of catastrophe.  It’s a life of fear and worry as they are always one step behind.  

“Moneywise,” says Christina, “coming in is a lot less than what has to go out every month.”

The Dreiers are food insecure – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. And they are not an anomaly. The shocking truth is food insecurity is epidemic in America. A job is no longer insulation from poverty and hunger.

According to a report released this week by Feeding America, one of Bread for the World’s partner organizations, one in seven people - 46.5 million Americans a year- rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. Over half of the households included at least one person who was employed.

In the past, a trip to the food bank was an emergency situation that followed a job loss or financial crisis. Today, food insecurity is a chronic condition for too many Americans. But instead of helping low-income families, policy proposals in Congress appear to be working against them.

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States, including cutting food stamps by $125 billion. Just last month, the House voted to reduce the child tax credit to the most vulnerable families, which would push an estimated 12 million people into deeper poverty.

A job that pays a living wage, not an emergency food box, is the only real buffer against hunger. Yet wages have not kept pace with economic productivity since 1950. Today, 28 percent of Americans make poverty level wages. A vote to raise the minimum wage failed earlier this year in the Senate.

It is time for Congress and the administration to set a plan to end hunger in the United States. Churches and charities can only provide a fraction of what is needed and cannot adequately address the root causes of poverty. The status quo is not ending hunger in America; policy targeted at ending hunger needs an overhaul.

We will never food bank our way out of hunger, so let’s stop trying. We also need the government to do its part.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

 

The Perfect Food: Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week

Pisano program
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

Breastfeeding was not something I expected to be a key point in a sermon on hunger, until I heard Rev. Dr. James Forbes.

“In God’s world, food is not negotiable,” said the renowned preacher to those gathered for a homiletics course in Portland, Oregon, last year. He paused to let the statement sink in. “God made the arrangement that every child has food to eat.”

Rev. Forbes was talking about breastfeeding. Women are designed to produce not just food, but the perfect food.

Earlier in the year, I visited a local WIC clinic – a domestic nutrition program designed to help women, infants, and children at nutritional risk. Walking in the door, I was greeted by a poster on the wall. One side of the sheet was a short list of the ingredients in formula with a lot of hard-to-pronounce words. The other side included the long list of what comprises breast milk – ingredients that change over time with the baby’s nutritional needs. Wow, I thought, God is an amazing creator!

It is World Breastfeeding Week, a yearly campaign to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. The perfect food is a key resource in combatting hunger and malnutrition.

Globally, malnutrition leads to about 3 million deaths of children under five each year – deaths that could be prevented. There is a critical1,000-day “window of opportunity” between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday where nutrition is vitally important. Investments in nutrition interventions can prevent stunting and other harmful consequences of malnutrition. Nutrients received through breastfeeding provide important protections to fight infection and disease. Malnutrition, especially in children under age 2, can affect brain development, cognitive performance, and even earning potential later in life. Yet, only 37 percent of the world’s babies are breastfed for the recommended six months.

World leaders are starting to see nutrition as an ingredient of economic growth. In this week’s U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, D.C., Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina said, “We invest so much in infrastructure, in bridges and roads. But most important is grey matter. We really need to invest in that.” It was reported from the Summit that poorly fed children rob Africa of up to 16 percent of its potential growth. Exclusive breastfeeding and early childhood nutrition is one of the best investments Africa can make – one of the best investments every country should make in their children.

Lawmakers in the United States have a role to play. The United States has a global nutrition strategy through USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), but Congress has proposed budget cuts to international programs that promote nutrition. Domestic nutrition programs like WIC, which help American mothers learn about breastfeeding, have seen their funding shrink over the last few years.

Adequate funding for programs that invest in nutrition both here and abroad is a smart investment. After all, in God’s world, food is not negotiable.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

Summer Vacation Means—for Some—Meals Missed

Summer-Food-Program-Infographic

By Kimberly Burge

Kids out of school.  Unstructured days. For many people, summer vacation elicits memories and a picture of freedom and carefree times. For children who depend on food assistance at lunch during the school year, summer vacation can also bring hunger.

Of the 20.6 million schoolchildren receiving food assistance at lunch, 18 million do not receive summer meals. While there are 99,000 schools operating the National School Lunch Program, only 35,500 Summer Food Service Program sites operate nationwide. That leaves a critical gap for too many months of the year. To read more about summer hunger from the PBS Newshour, see “Why summer is the hungriest season for some U.S. kids.”

Children also continue to struggle in poverty. Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of Kids Count, an annual report that features the latest data on child well-being for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. The report found that 22 percent of U.S. children currently live in poverty. That number has grown in recent years, due to the economic recession and the weak labor market, especially for those without a college or high school degree.

From 1990 to 2000, the official child poverty rate had declined from 21 percent to 16 percent. The robust economy contributed to that drop. But, Kids Count finds, so did an expansion of policies designed to “make work pay”—things like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food stamps (SNAP), important programs for which Bread members advocate, along with child care subsidies and health insurance for children.  According to the report, “[These] policies supplemented low wages and reduced work expenses, contributing to the decline in child poverty. However, these gains began to unravel in the early 2000s because of a lackluster economy.”

You can read the findings from Kids Count and see where your state falls in child poverty rates here.

Kimberly Burge is the interim associate online editor for Bread for the World.

House Votes to Push Millions Into Deeper Poverty

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The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Anne E. Casey Foundation shows that child poverty in the United States is on the rise. (Rick Reinhard)

In a disturbing trend that prioritizes the wealthy over the most vulnerable Americans, the House today passed H.R. 4935 by a vote of 237 to 171.  Bread has dubbed it the “reverse Robin Hood” bill, which takes from the poor to give to the rich. The bill could push 12 million people—including 6 million kids--into poverty or deeper poverty while giving a tax break to households making $150,000 to $205,000.  

In a media statement today, Bread for the World president, Rev. David Beckmann said,  “It is unacceptable that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries. Our policies should help lower-income working families climb out of poverty - not push them deeper into it.”

We do not expect the Senate to take up the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act of 2014.  Instead, the bill, which does not extend critical improvements to the child tax credit for millions of low-income working families, could be considered as part of a tax extenders bill after the November mid-term elections.  Tax credits, like the child tax credit (CTC) and the earned income tax credit (EITC), keep more people – including children – out of poverty each year than any other federal anti-hunger program.

Although H.R. 4935 passed, 173 members of Congress still opposed the bill, thanks to the calls Bread for the World’s anti-hunger advocates made to their representatives – including hundreds of calls this morning!  Bread is calling for any final bill on the child tax credit to include the 2009 improvements, which enable more low-income working families to receive a larger credit. Your advocacy helped build momentum and educate lawmakers that this is an issue the faith community cares about.

In 2009, Congress made the CTC available to low-income working families, enabling them to begin to receive part of the credit once earnings reached $3,000. Under the recent House-passed bill, a single mother with two children who works full-time at the minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) would completely lose her CTC of $1,725.

Bread for the World has long championed refundable tax credits as a way to reduce hunger in America and will continue to do so.  We encourage advocates to bring up the importance of tax credits with their legislators during the August recess and make hunger an election issue. We will also continue to keep advocates apprised as legislation moves forward this year and use every opportunity to restore the 2009 improvements.

Today’s vote was extremely disappointing, but we should use it to energize our conviction that the direction in Washington, D.C., must change. It is time to buck the trends and make ending hunger a priority.  Child poverty is far too high in the United States - in 2012, 23 percent of U.S. children lived in poor families. Congress unleashed its own version of Robin Hood on millions of children today, but we as the faith community will continue to fight for what’s right.

See here how your representative voted, and read Bread for the World’s press release “Bread for the World Disappointed with House Child Tax Credit Bill.”

Charting a Bipartisan Path Out of Hunger

Nadine
Philadelphia, Penn. resident Nadine Blackwell lost everything after a medical emergency. She tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

An unfortunate trend in the United States is that living costs are increasing but incomes are not – and it’s increasing hunger in America. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived below the poverty line.

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat—let’s all agree that America deserves better,” said Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan unveiled a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

“We want to start a discussion,” said Ryan this morning. The discussion draft Expanding Opportunity in America is an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.

"We are pleased to see such a high-ranking member of Congress take poverty seriously and offer his own plan to address it," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "We may have disagreements with some of his proposals, but we hope others in Congress will take note and offer their own plans."

Bread for the World supports some of the proposal's recommendations.

  • Bread believes sentencing reform is necessary, starting with reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
  • Bread supports expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for adults without children.

However, Bread for the World strongly disagrees with other recommendations.

  • Turning SNAP (formerly food stamps) into a block grant would increase food insecurity when there are spikes in need.
  • Job creation and economic growth are critical to ending hunger and poverty, but work requirements are not effective if there are no jobs available.

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Read Bread for the World’s full press release, “Bread for the World Encouraged by Paul Ryan’s Plan for Poverty”.

Congress Recommends Cuts to Poverty-Focused Development Assistance Funding

FY15 Funding Recommendations No L.HHS

Recently, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed their annual funding legislation for the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other related agencies, known as the State-Foreign Operations (SFOPs) bill.  

Each year, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees meet to determine funding levels for vital programs that affect hungry people here in the United States and abroad. On the international front, Bread for the World specifically follows the parts of the budget known as poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) accounts, which includes funding for various programs related to food and nutrition security, global health, basic education, water and sanitation, maternal and child care, refugee assistance, and emergency humanitarian response, to name just a few. 

While the House and Senate decided to recommend the same overall funding level for PFDA programs ($21.9 billion), this funding is slightly lower than current levels ($22.3 billion). Both the House and Senate made recommendations to cut global health programs, which includes funding for maternal and child health, nutrition, family planning, vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, and tropical diseases, and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.

The Senate specifically approved a $100 million cut to Feed the Future. In the House, a 21 percent cut to International Organizations and Programs was also made. Funding in this account is used to support U.S contributions to international organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Program.

Thanks in large part to Bread for the World members and their advocacy efforts, we have helped prevent even more severe cuts from being recommended, but we continue to call on Congress to provide additional funding for PFDA programs before finalizing funding levels for the next fiscal year.

Additional resources will help us support humanitarian aid efforts in places in conflict like Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. Looking beyond emergency aid, we hope to not backtrack on the many investments we have made to long-term development programs over the years, such as with child survival.

These programs save lives. Due in part to American commitments, the number of deaths of children under five has dropped by half since 1990. In the past 12 years alone, 700,000 fewer children have died from pneumonia, 300,000 fewer children from malaria, and 100,000 fewer children from AIDS.

As these children grow into adults, their survival has the potential to translate into even greater stories of improved economic and social well-being, with benefits felt far beyond their households and country borders—even back on American shores. Congress must continue its vital role in ensuring this becomes a reality by increasing PFDA funding levels in the upcoming fiscal year.  

 

Helping Neighbors in Need Is an Act of God


Producing High Quality Seeds (USAID).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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