366 posts categorized "Hunger and the U.S. Budget"
Here in Washington, D.C., safely secured in a Smithsonian museum, is the supposedly cursed — but still famous — Hope Diamond, valued as high as $350 million. But today there is a newer gem in the capital city, worth even more. This gem is buried in the thousands of pages and in the trillions of dollars that comprise the fiscal year 2014 federal budget and is a victory for Bread for the World and its members.
Despite gradual cuts to the overall international affairs budget in the last three years, poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) accounts grew in FY 2014 by more than $800 million. In fact, PFDA funding has steadily increased over the past few years. This year, Congress appropriated more than $24.1 billion for PFDA programs, adding $800 million since last year.
The increases come at a time when Congress has been trying to cut the federal budget. We would not have been able to keep a circle of protection – much less increase it – were it not for the persistent advocacy of Bread members and partners.
In general, the dollar amounts for PFDA funding have more than tripled since FY 2000. Despite these increases, the overall PFDA funding by the United States still stands at less than one cent for every dollar the government spends.
Bread measures poverty-focused development assistance by examining the International Affairs Budget of the U.S. government (called the 150 Account). In addition, we include appropriations for the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture Departments. They include funding for such programs as the Millennium Challenge Account, the Global HIV/AIDS Initiative, Enterprise for the Americas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food for Peace Program, and the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program.
Photo: Khato Rana plays with her daughter Rita, 2, at the Nutrition Rehabilitation Home in Dhangadhi, Nepal. The facility, run by Nepali NGO Rural Women's Development Unity Center (RUWDUC), restores malnourished children back to health. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
By Sandra Joireman
I live in the affluent Western suburbs of Chicago with my family. My husband and I are both employed. Because I have two teenagers at home, I usually shop at less expensive grocery stores, as our food bills are fairly high. Just recently, I made a trip to the store to get some food for my son to take on a four-day youth group trip. Much of what I was buying was not healthy food: chips, some trail mix, fruit snacks, chocolate-covered pretzels, and other items for him to eat while he was on the bus. The sum total of what I was buying was a bit less than $20.
In the checkout line, I was just behind a young man who was about the same age as my son. As his groceries were running through, he pulled out an EBT card, used to purchase food with SNAP benefits (food stamps). He told the cashier he had only $30 left on it. She said, "You have more than $30 worth of stuff. Pick what you don’t want." Chicken, soup, pasta, cheese, and — the only extravagance in any of his purchases — two bottles of sports drink were all moved to the back of the conveyor belt.
On the conveyor belt, my purchases were separated, by the plastic bar, from what he could not buy. The inequality of life was captured for me in that image. On my side, all sorts of frivolous food items being purchased by a mother for her child, who is going on an adventure; on his side, the bare necessities of life, purchased by a young man with a lot of responsibilities at home. I turned to him and said, "I would be honored if you would allow me to buy the rest of these items for you." He agreed. I paid the $10.19 that made up the remainder of his bill not covered by the EBT card. He thanked me, took his groceries, and left the store.
I am deeply unsettled by what happened. I don’t know the name of that young man, but I know that he is a child of God. I think about the differences between his life and the life of my son, the same age, living in the same community. Food is a necessity of life. There are people around us, even in affluent communities, who are struggling to meet their basic needs with SNAP. It is an important program that provides a very basic level of nutrition and little else. Even in these times of fiscal contraction, it is important for Christians to support a circle of protection around those programs that provide for the needs of people in our communities—people who are just like our mothers, aunts, grandfathers, and children.
It’s been pretty easy to hate on Congress lately. Its approval ratings are at lows that haven’t been seen since, well, forever. It seems every other story out of Washington, D.C., is about dysfunction and gridlock over legislation. But I’m not here to bash members of Congress today, but to celebrate something they have done right. Congress is continuing a long, and life-saving, history of bipartisan support for international food aid programs, and, in the process, helping make that aid more efficient and capable of helping even more vulnerable people around the world.
I was taught to thank someone when they deserve it. So here goes. I want to send a very sincere "thank you" to House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairs Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Ranking Members Sen. Richard Shelby(R-Ala.), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Why are these members of Congress so deserving of thanks? Because they included a reform to international food aid in the fiscal year 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act that will help increase the number of people the United States can reach with the Food for Peace program. Food for Peace means exactly what its title suggests: the United States helping families and communities feed themselves and become empowered for peace.
As Norman Borlaug said, “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise there will be no peace.” International food aid programs have typically enjoyed robust bipartisan support as a way to promote peace around the globe, and I’m ecstatic to see that tradition continued. It is in our economic self-interest as a country, not to mention the morally right thing to do.
As debate continues on the farm bill, I think it’s vital that we remember that decades of bipartisan support for hunger and poverty-fighting programs have helped lift economies that were formerly mired in poverty into some of our largest trading partners today. There is still so much we can do to modernize food aid, make it a more efficient and cost-effective use of tax payer money, and still help so many in desperate need around the globe. The solutions exist, and what we need are members of Congress who are wise enough to act on them.
When I told my husband I was going to write a blog post today about the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, his eyes glazed over immediately. I think that is perhaps the normal reaction. But I wish it wasn’t so. We need, as a country, to be more fully engaged with our elected officials. We need to thank them when we think they’ve done the right thing. We need to gently prod them, call their offices, and write letters to the editors of our newspapers so that they'll know when we think they are looking at an issue or policy the wrong way. We need to stop rolling our eyes at their antics, and instead hold them accountable for their actions. We need to work together again and get stuff done.
We need to, in short, thank them today for what they’ve done right—and work hard to make sure we have a reason to thank them tomorrow. The farm bill and decisions about SNAP funding levels await. I, for one, am ready to make my calls. Are you?
Photo: Lutheran Development Service distributes food-aid items to people affected by drought in Swaziland. Recently, U.S. lawmakers approved a Senate provision that would earmark budget funds for greater food aid flexibility (Stephen H. Padre).
Behind every hunger statistic is a story of how people have been affected by the ongoing cuts to the federal budget. Telling those stories is the goal of the new Circle of Protection project "Faces and Facts." The Circle of Protection--a coalition of faith leaders, of which Bread for the World is a member--has long maintained that Congress should not balance the budget on the backs of working poor people and struggling families. The stories of those featured as part of "Faces and Facts" help illustrate the human cost associated with budget cuts.
More than 81 percent of eligible infants are enrolled in WIC--Amanda Bornfree's daughter was once one of them. The Chicago resident recounts her experience with WIC--the program gave her vital information about breastfeeding and allowed her to provide her baby with nutritious food even after her husband lost his job. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table, and Dawn Phipps (pictured above) once headed one such household. On the "Faces and Facts" site, the Idaho nurse and SNAP advocate talks about how food stamps (SNAP) helped her put food on her table after she lost her job, and how she now works to ensure that other families receive the same lifeline.
Read these stories of people who've been affected by federal budget cuts, and also take a moment to share how federal net safety programs--or cuts to those programs--have affected you, your friends, your family, or members of your faith community. To learn more about what you can do to protect vital programs that help struggling families, visit Bread for the World's action center.
Yesterday, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion broad spending bill that replaces the sequester for two years while maintaining a circle of protection around many international and domestic programs that help people living in poverty and experiencing hunger. (Read Bread for the World's press release on the measure: "FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Sets Tone for Future Bipartisan Negotiations" for more information.)
Legislators did the right thing by acting to both restore some of the cuts sequestration imposed on anti-hunger programs, and increase funding for important anti-poverty programs, such as Head Start. Still, members of Congress haven't yet extended unemployment insurance—and every additional week that they fail to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers will continue to lose their assistance .
“This bill does a great deal to help hungry people in this country, but we are disappointed Congress didn't use this opportunity to help millions of job seekers,” Bread for the World President David Beckmann said today. “If we are truly committed to making progress against hunger, lawmakers will extend unemployment insurance as soon as possible.”
Although the U.S. economy is improving, there are still 1.3 million fewer jobs today than at the beginning of the Great Recession nearly 6 years ago, and many Americans are struggling to find work. “It’s very nerve-wracking and I’m very anxious,” Clarissa Garcia Jewett, a nurse in Miramar, Fla., told CBS News last week. She lost her job in May and recently lost her extended unemployment benefit as well. “I really don’t know where to go, because what little income we had coming in is gone. I don’t know what we’re going to do. You go from it being bad to being dire. What do I do?"
The spending bill passed yesterday is an important move—one that signals that members of Congress are able to put aside partisan politics and work together—but our legislators must also restore help for the long-term unemployed. For people who are looking for work, receiving an unemployment check means they're able to continue to put food on the table and keep their homes during a difficult and stressful time.
Call (800-326-4941) or email your members of Congress today, and tell them to extend unemployment assistance without delay.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
Lutheran Development Service distributes food to people affected by drought in Swaziland in 2004. Many distributions of U.S.food-aid items are carried out by private relief and development organizations. Yearly funding levels for U.S. food aid is set through the appropriations process (Stephen H. Padre/Bread for the World).
By Amelia Kegan
In the final month of 2013, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, providing some relief from sequestration over the next two years and averting a fiscal crisis, but failing to extend emergency unemployment benefits for long-term job seekers. The budget act essentially sets the size of the spending pie, determining overall dollar amounts for broad spending categories—defense, agriculture, and others. As we ease into the first weeks of 2014, the congressional committee working on budget appropriations must divvy up that pie and set funding levels for individual programs — including programs that address hunger.
The committee has already been doing this work, but largely in private. The public will learn what they propose very soon. Bread for the World will analyze how key priority programs that fight hunger and poverty – Head Start, WIC, poverty-focused foreign assistance, and others – are funded.
Tomorrow, the continuing resolution that programs are now funded through expires. Reports indicate Congress will pass another short extension – likely three days – to keep the government open, giving the House and Senate time to vote on a final omnibus appropriations bill, a broad spending bill which is expected to include all 12 appropriations bills. Unfortunately, reports also indicate an extension of emergency employment for long-term job seekers will not be included in the package.
Thank you for continuing communications with your members of Congress to make sure programs vital to hungry and poor people are protected and funded to their fullest levels. As a policy analyst who meets with members of Congress regularly, I hear from them that your calls, emails, and letters do make an impact. My job is easier, and my message has more traction, when a member of Congress, or one of their staffers, tells me they have received messages from their constituents.
Last month, Christian leaders representing the Circle of Protection, of which Bread for the World is a member, wrote a letter to remind the budget negotiators of the “need to prioritize programs that address poverty and hunger in the U.S. and around the world.” You can read the full letter here. “The federal budget should reflect a government that provides hope, opportunity, and a place at the table for all,” they wrote to Senate and House appropriators, “especially for those struggling at the margins of society.”
We will continue to urge members of Congress to pass an emergency unemployment extension and adequately fund programs that work to end hunger. To find out more about appropriations, and how other legislation that affects hunger is progressing in Congress, join me and my colleagues, including Bread for the World President David Beckmann, for our National Grassroots Conference Call and Webinar today at 4:00 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT).
Amelia Kegan is deputy director of the government relations department at Bread for the World.
Last week, the Senate advanced a bipartisan bill to reinstate benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers, passing the first hurdle for an extension of federal emergency unemployment compensation. Although it is an important step in the right direction, those who have lost their unemployment benefits continue to struggle as Congress works to resolve the issue.
The seriousness of the situation was underscored in a pair of Huffington Post pieces this morning. In "Unemployment Cuts Leave Many With Bleak Options," those who lost their benefits in the new year spoke of their limited choices for staying afloat: retiring early, accruing crippling debt, leaning on family and friends, or hoping they can get by with help from other federal safety net programs, such as SNAP.
Stan Osnowitz, a 67-year-old Baltimore electrician who is currently unemployed, said that without his weekly $430 benefit, he no longer has enough money to put gas in his car, which has hampered his job search. At a time when there are still three applicants for every job opening in America, this is a huge blow. He is considering taking a low-wage job, or leaving the workforce altogether. "I have two choices," Osnowitz told Huffington Post. "I can take a job at McDonald's or something and give up everything I've studied and everything I've worked for and all the experience that I have. Or I can go to retirement."
In a Huffington Post op-ed piece, "Will the Real Unemployment Rate Please Stand Up?" economist Jared Bernstein says that the actual unemployment rate is higher than the 6.7 percent figure cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While he notes that the problem with the figure is secondary to problem of " joblessness for those looking for work and those who've given up for lack of opportunity," he also argues that the idea that the figure is lower than it actually is may lead some members of Congress to believe that they don't need to take action to extend unemployment insurance.
"It's as if your speedometer is off kilter such that when you're driving 40 mph it says 60 mph," he writes. "Under those conditions, you'd be likely to put on the brakes to slow down before you really wanted to."
But in reality, for those who rely on unemployment insurance to make ends meet until they are able to get back on their feet again, the matter couldn't be more urgent. And every additional week that Congress fails to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers continue to lose their benefits. “Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011,” Bread for the World President David Beckmann said in a recent statement.
While the Senate's vote to consider the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S.1845), is a victory, advocates must continue to pressure Congress to pass an unemployment insurance extension. Call or email your members of Congress today, and tell them to pass S.1845 immediately, and extend unemployment assistance without delay.
Photo: Construction workers experienced the highest percentage point increase in long-term unemployment during the recession. Read more how full employment is the first step to ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report (Rick Reinhard).
By Fito Moreno
Mention the presidency of LBJ, and people who lived during that time will probably remember one of two wars that are his legacy—the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty. Fifty years have passed since President Johnson began fighting the latter battle.
The War on Poverty spawned many well-known social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and Pell Grants, as well as modern food stamps and WIC nutrition programs. Poverty and hunger where on their way to becoming a distant memory until the mid-70s hit.
Today, an economy in recession, brinksmanship over the budget, and a focus on reducing government spending have all contributed to the increase in poverty, which in 2008 was higher than it had been in 1973. But a key factor that has led to the weakening of the social safety net is the lack of poverty on an administration’s agenda.
Some presidents since Johnson have legacies from their time in office that include an aspect of poverty—Carter and another deep recession, for example—but no president since LBJ has elevated the issue like Johnson did. As for the parties, Republicans today have focused on cutting anti-poverty programs, a stark contrast from the Nixon era. Democrats have focused more on aligning themselves with the middle class than acknowledging the 46 million Americans who live in poverty.
No one, president or party, has talked seriously about ending poverty in the last half century since something as strong as a war was declared on it. Even the word itself has been left in the shadows and ignored. It was almost taboo to mention in the media until just a few weeks ago.
It is easy to focus on the negative fallout that came after the Johnson/Nixon era in regard to poverty. But the programs that came out of that time have helped millions survive during the hard times of the past 50 years. Poverty surged after the financial crisis of 2008, but anti-poverty programs have done much to moderate the hardship.
Seeing my Google alerts blow up due to the sudden use of the word poverty is encouraging. Both parties are not only talking about it but proposing bold steps to reduce and end poverty. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed shifting the management of anti-poverty programs to the states, but did not talk about cutting the funding for anti-poverty efforts as had been the case in previous months.
Hopefully Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address will be filled with this current anti-poverty fervor. Hopefully both parties can put aside the brinksmanship that has plagued this Congress and embrace the spirit of helping their fellow human beings. Hopefully we can all urge our politicians to do the right thing and make the eradication of hunger and poverty a top priority. Other countries, some in worse economic positions than the United States, have done this, why not us? If the presidents of my day can declare war on terror or weapons of mass destruction, why can’t they fight poverty again with the same spirit?
Fito Moreno is a media relations specialist for Bread for the World.
“Partly because of the War on Poverty, we cut the poverty rate in half during the 1960s and early 1970s. But we haven’t made much progress since then, mainly because reducing poverty hasn’t been a national priority. No president since Lyndon Johnson has made reducing poverty one of his top five priorities.”
- Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, in today's press release "Bread for the World Welcomes New Debate about Poverty."
Today marks 50 years since President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty." This year's Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, outlines a four-step plan, which includes 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.
Congress has several issues on its agenda in January that will have an impact on poverty in America. Federal safety-net programs have helped many families weather the Great Recession, but poverty rates remain high. Until the U.S. unemployment rates are reduced to pre-recession levels, unemployment insurance plays a vital role in helping the long-term unemployed as they seek work. Take a moment now and urge your members to pass an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, restoring vital aid to 1.3 million job seekers.
The farm bill conference committee is expected to release its final report soon. Although poverty has increased during the Great Recession, food insecurity has stayed relatively stable. SNAP (formerly food stamps) has been critical keeping food on the table for 47 million struggling Americans during tough economic times. Tell Congress: now is not the time to be taking food away from struggling families.
"We all deserve better than this," writes Tara Dublin of Portland, Ore. In a recent Mom's Rising blog post, Dublin, an unemployed single mother who lost her job in social media, likens her experience to living a nightmare.
In last month’s budget deal, Congress failed to extend EUC - emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. Every week that Congress delays an extension, 72,000 people lose their benefits. Congress will consider another extension in the next few weeks with the first test this morning in the Senate.
In a Dec. 3 press conference, Labor Secretary Tom Perez talked about the plight of the unemployed missed by statistics. "They have been looking day in and day out for work. They are trying to feed their families," The Durango Herald reported Perez as saying.
Many of the long-term unemployed have used their savings to fill in financial gaps as they look for work, and unemployment benefits are their last lifeline. "They are trying to stave off foreclosure," said Perez. "They are making judgments between food and medicine – judgments that no person in America or anywhere should have to make.”
But more than the bills that pile up, just keeping your head up is difficult, says Tara Dublin. "This is not where I expected to be at the age of 44," writes the exhausted single mother, "especially not when I had my life together so good 4 years ago." Dublin remembers when life was easier. "But then 2009 happened and now here we are, and it is time this Dark Age of Awful comes to an end.”
Although the economy is slowly improving, it is not enough. There are three applicants for every job opening in America. Today's vote will test the temperature of America and our willingness to leave an estimated five million unemployed workers out in the cold this year.
In the Senate, Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed have authored a bill that would extend the benefits retroactively for an additional three months. The Senate postponed a vote scheduled last night for 10 EST this morning, allowing senators caught in bad weather time to reach Washington, D.C. It is yet unclear when and if the House, which returns from the holiday recess today, will take up the bipartisan bill.
Call 800-826-3688 now or email your members of Congress today. Tell them to extend unemployment insurance immediately as their first action in 2014.
Photo: Construction workers experienced the highest percentage point increase in long-term unemployment during the recession. Read more how full employment is the first step to ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report (Rick Reinhard).
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.