341 posts categorized "Hunger and the U.S. Budget"
Bread for the World policy analyst Amelia Kegan and director of church relations Gary Cook travel to the White House in August to deliver the first set of signatures from Bread for the World members asking the president to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad. (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World)
By Amelia Kegan
You may be overwhelmed by the number of times we have asked you to call your members of Congress lately. You may be so angry at the partisan brinkmanship that you want to ignore the news. I know because sometimes I feel it, too. But I’m not giving up and we won’t stop asking you to speak up. Your voice makes a difference; there is too much at stake to lose faith now.
Soon Congress must pass a responsible budget and the path there will include more partisan fights over a continuing resolution, the debt ceiling, and sequestration. The fate of SNAP in the farm bill is still uncertain as the House and Senate move toward a reconciliation process. At each juncture we must be vigilant and vocal or risk an increase in hunger both at home and abroad.
Bread for the World knows ending hunger requires a long-term vision. We envision transitioning from a political climate of defensive protection to a bold offensive against hunger, transforming the rhetoric of scarcity into one of hope and abundance. We will pull out by the roots this political culture that blames the poor and demonizes those on SNAP. We will replant a new seed of radical commitment to ending hunger within Congress and the White House—a seed that will eventually yield economic security for all and a real opportunity to attain the American Dream. We will grow this transformation with the soil of on-the-ground, person-to-person grassroots organizing, the waters of political accountability, and by radiating the fierce unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
But staring only at that grand vision of ending hunger in our time without attending to the immediate fights in front of us is like driving with our sights on the horizon while ignoring that sharp and dangerous curve in the road right just up ahead. How will we end hunger in this generation if 2014 begins with 4 million Americans kicked off of SNAP and 2 million more people around the world denied lifesaving food aid because of the sequester?
The budget battles we are fighting today are becoming part of the political narrative defining this era. There is no doubt in my mind that if we keep at it we will emerge victorious because we're in the right on this. When those suffering from hunger are able to fill their dinner tables with more than just anxious conversation, we all benefit. History, economics, and scripture have taught us that we are all in this together.
While each new budget fight might bring a level of increased exhaustion, frustration, and irritation, we cannot be discouraged. We must continue the relentless struggle over these fiscal fights. And while some may question the sustainability of our seemingly small efforts, we know the parable of the mustard seed and that with faith, we move mountains.
As we face the next several months, prepare yourself for the trial ahead by taking comfort in the certainty that you are not alone in God’s kingdom and everyone deserves a place at the table.
Amelia Kegan is a senior policy analyst for Bread for the World.
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.
By Jon Gromek
I recall my Yiayia (Greek for "grandmother") telling me stories as a child of what it was like growing up in Greece under Axis occupation during World War II. Food was scarce; life was harsh.
Almost all the food that was grown and collected had to be given to the occupying soldiers, leaving very little for the villagers on the island. Many throughout Greece developed “starvation recipes” which were invented as ways to stay alive—grinding chickpeas when there was no ground coffee, collecting breadcrumbs in a jar to have something extra at the end of the week, and even hunting stray cats and dogs on the streets for food. Others, like my Yiayia, took to breaking curfew at night and smuggling what food they could to the neediest of families, risking their lives while doing so. Time has passed, but in recent years a new occupation has taken hold in Greece, bringing about another wave of hunger and poverty among the country's poor and middle class: austerity.
I recently had a chance to travel back to Greece to visit family. I was prepared for a lot to have changed since my last visit six years ago, but was unprepared for what I saw and learned.
Traditional charities that have long helped families make ends meet, like food banks and soup kitchens, have been strained under austerity. Now, up to 90 percent of families in the poorest parts of Greece are dependent on food assistance to keep them afloat. According to the Greek Orthodox Church, faith-based ministries now feed an estimated 55,000 people a day in Athens alone and the need is still growing. My aunt and uncle, both public school teachers in Athens, told me of the all-too-often occurrence of children going to school hungry—some close to starving. UNICEF recently estimated that nearly 600,000 children (1 in 3) live under the poverty line in Greece and more than half that number lack basic daily nutritional needs.
In many ways, Greece’s attempts to get its fiscal house in order have been on the backs of hungry and poor people. We see in Greece what we know at Bread for the World: private charity cannot fill the gap in responding to the needs of those who are hungry. If recent proposed cuts to SNAP take effect and the sequester continues we will see more and more families and children go hungry and be robbed of opportunity—just like an entire generation in Greece.
When I reflect on what my Yiayia risked her life and fought for in the dark of night those many years ago, it certainly was not this; it was for a world where all have enough and all are fed. In the coming weeks, urge your members of Congress to protect SNAP and replace the sequester with a balanced approach. Congress needs to hear from you about the world you want to see for the next generation.
Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub, at Bread for the World.
By Minju Zukowski
As we know, SNAP is under unprecedented attack— a recent proposal in the House of Representatives would cut the essential nutrition program by $40 billion. This could prove disastrous for the roughly 47.5 million Americans who currently depend on SNAP (formerly food stamps) to feed their families. In addition to any cuts made through the farm bill, all SNAP households will see a cut in SNAP benefits on Nov. 1, when a temporary increase in benefits expires.
SNAP is also facing another enemy—inflation.
A new USDA report finds that SNAP allotments haven’t kept pace with inflation, meaning the amount of benefits families receive has remained relatively constant, even as food prices continue to climb. The average monthly SNAP benefit per person was $133.41 in 2012, which amounts to less than $1.50 per meal. The findings underscore the need to strengthen, rather than slash, this critical safety net program. Some key statistics from the report:
Adjusted for inflation in food prices, the maximum SNAP benefit declined by about 7percent, a reduction of about $47 per month for a family of four, between 2009 and 2011.
- Increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 10 percent ($69 per month for a family of four) would reduce the number of SNAP-recipient households with very low food security by about 22 percent, while reducing the maximum benefit by 10 percent would increase that number by about 29 percent.
These statistics show that while food-price inflation has eroded some of the value of SNAP benefits, bolstering the program can not only offset the problem, but reduce the number of households categorized as experiencing very low food security.
Help the millions of hungry and poor people who rely on this benefit—contact your members of congress during the August recess and ask them to vote against cuts to SNAP when they return to Washington in September.
Minju Zukowski, a senior marketing major at Towson University in Maryland, is Bread for the World’s media relations intern.
By Justin Fast
Michigan is a gorgeous state and one of the most diverse agricultural states in the country—thanks in large part to the migrant workers who toil to make that possible.
Yet it's also a state where nearly as many children go to bed hungry as go to church on Sunday morning. During the recession, when Michigan had been struggling for some time, I was privileged to work with Michigan food banks connecting families with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). I also managed state and federal advocacy on behalf of these nutrition programs.
Proposed cuts to programs like SNAP or foreign aid that go unchallenged go unnoticed. And as is so often the case, those who can least afford to speak up or speak out, those without a place at the table, are the ones whose voices are silent in the history books. Their stories go untold.
So in the spirit of breaking the silence, I’d like to tell you Germaine’s story.
Germaine was born in Coesse, Ind. She grew up as a Methodist Episcopal preacher’s kid in northern Michigan during the Great Depression. Hunger was a frequent reality, and Germaine told me that truck drivers used to toss fruit from their overflowing trailers to her and her brothers.
As a grown woman, Germaine married, tended house, and ran a successful home business with her husband in rural Michigan. They raised three happy, healthy children who went on to greater things. In short, her life was fruitful.
I have no doubt that both of these experiences—growing up poor and running a home business—had a profound effect on Germaine. To call her frugal or resourceful would be an understatement. She always had a quarter cup of yogurt or a half glass of water in the fridge to keep it from going to waste. The ends of a loaf of bread were better than the silent dread of an empty cupboard.
When I knew her, Germaine wasn't a girl chasing fruit trucks or a businesswoman anymore. Well into her 80s, Germaine's struggle wasn’t putting food on her family’s table, it was putting food on her own. And at that time, when Germaine needed it most, she applied for SNAP benefits to help make ends meet. It was there for her.
Germaine is my Grandma.
I marvel that having worked for the food bank network and in SNAP outreach, federal advocacy, and SNAP education, I never knew that my own Grandma participated in SNAP.
Maybe you, like me, come from a part of the country or a part of your state where it's shameful to talk about SNAP—where people are ashamed to tell their stories, because people speak shamefully about them. But there’s no room for shame in a community characterized by grace.
The vast majority of those impacted by the largest proposed cuts in the history of SNAP are people just like my grandma: senior citizens, the disabled, or families with children. And when half of all Americans will participate in SNAP at some point in their lives, their stories can’t be that much different from yours.
None of us lives very far from food insecurity.
Nutrition programs are not the sole solution to a hungry and hurting world—nor are they the Bread of Life. But with them, the world looks a whole lot more Christlike. Thanks to SNAP, children no longer starve in the United States. And last year alone, the program helped raise nearly 4 million people out of poverty.
As you work to make our society closer to what Jesus intended through your advocacy, I challenge you to take the following actions:
- Continue getting to know people facing hunger, people eligible for or participating in SNAP. Learn their stories.
- Try living on the average SNAP benefit. And then imagine living on less, as do many of our brothers and sisters in developing countries—you’ll have a much better appreciation for foreign aid.
- Help someone apply for the programs you are preserving.
- Pray for your legislators and follow up to let them know you are doing so—even if your legislators are already supportive of these programs.
As Christians, we know God in the breaking of bread. And we know that in communion with one another we can declare God’s promise that those who hunger will be satisfied. In my tradition when the congregation has taken communion, the pastor asks “Have all been served?”
The answer is always “no.” There are more to serve.
Justin Fast is a Hunger Justice Leader and a social initiatives specialist with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. This is a shortened version of the speech that he gave at Bread for the World’s 2013 Lobby Day on Monday, June 10.
The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.
The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.
However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.
In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.
More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.
Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.
Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.
What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.
Forty-nine years ago,
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in response to a national
poverty rate of 19 percent. President Johnson believed that the U.S.
government could eliminate crushing poverty and created policy initiatives such
as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, and Job Corps. Although the
poverty rate has decreased since 1964, it remains unacceptably high at 14.5
percent of U.S. households, with nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2
million children living, in poverty.
On July 31, House Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a hearing on the progress of the War on Poverty. Although both want to revitalize the American dream so that more people have the opportunity to achieve a better life, they offer starkly different paths to alleviating poverty. Rep. Ryan favors decreased taxes and incentives to get people off of assistance programs. Rep. Van Hollen argues that the budget put forth by congressional Republicans is akin to waging war against the poor, citing calls to block-grant SNAP and cut other federal anti-poverty programs. To illustrate their respective viewpoints they called on witnesses, including as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK.
Sister Simone Campbell said that we, as people of faith, need to love and care for the poor, and she also addressed the vital importance of the federal government and the private sector in lifting people out of poverty. She also discussed how low wages, a major driver of poverty, make it extremely difficult for working families to put food on the table. An increased minimum wage is, along with SNAP (formerly food stamps), our most effective tool in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. A faithful budget is needed to end hunger and poverty in the United States.
At Bread for the World we know that the best way to alleviate poverty is to create good jobs that pay a living wage. No one should go hungry while working full time at the federal minimum wage. We also know that the current sequester will hurt working families and increase hunger in the United States. Congress should replace the sequester’s indiscriminate and catastrophic cuts with a balanced plan of increased revenue and responsible spending reductions. The only thing holding America back from ending poverty is a scarcity of political will. It will take not only faith but patriotism to lift 49 million Americans out of poverty.
To learn more about how to end hunger in the United States, read the background paper "Ending Hunger in the United States."
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
Next Wednesday, I will attend a meeting at the White House and hand-deliver Bread for the World’s petition. We are asking President Obama to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger.
More than 25,000 people have signed thus far, but we want the strongest possible showing for this meeting with White House staff. Help us get to 30,000 signatures! Please take a moment to add your name to this effort by signing the petition. Once you sign, we'll keep you updated on our efforts.
Let’s show the president that the movement to end hunger has momentum. Let’s show him that there’s a strong constituency waiting for him to speak up about poverty.
Together we can compel our leaders to show moral courage and work to end hunger. That’s why we started this petition, and that’s why we need your voice.
God's grace in Jesus Christ moves us to help our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or on the next continent. Adding your name to the petition is a simple but powerful way to help your neighbors. Speak out against hunger just as the Hebrew prophets spoke out against injustice in their time.
I invite you to stand with us by signing the petition. I would be honored to bring your name with me to the White House next week.
If you can get 10 of your friends to sign, we’ll send you a pack of 10 Bread for the World Christmas cards to say "thank you." The deadline for signatures is 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 5. Your friends can indicate that you referred them when signing the petition. You can use Bread’s online petition recruiting page or share the petition using Facebook.
By Traci Carlson
Despite the toll that the recession has taken on hungry and poor people, and the rising cost of food and other basic necessities, Congress hasn't raised the federal minimum wage for four years.
With the rate stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, workers earning the federal minimum wage find themselves struggling to make ends meet—even when holding down multiple full-time jobs, in some cases. An increase in wages would reduce hunger and poverty in the United States.
Today, as senators held a hearing on the 75th anniversary of the federal minimum wage, activists gathered at the Methodist Building, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, to pray for a living wage.
Those gatherered reflected on the fact that the federal minimum wage would be $10.74 today, had it kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years. They shared stories of real people struggling to feed their families and they prayed for political leaders to act justly on this issue and raise wages for millions of America's lowest-paid workers.
Please join them in praying for those who are hungry, those who have the political power to increase the minimum wage, and also for people of faith, who can help pressure this nation's leaders to change wage policy.
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32)
"[T]hat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:34-35)
To learn more about how jobs that pay a living wage help fight hunger and poverty, click here.
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Today, I’m meeting with members of Congress, calling on them to pass an immigration reform bill that creates a path out of poverty for hard-working families. We will be joined by hundreds of evangelical leaders gathering in Washington to pray and take action for reform. Amplify my voice and the voice of all these other faith leaders by asking your representative to support an immigration reform bill that is rooted in biblical teachings.
Our faith calls upon us to care for our neighbors and speak out on behalf of those in need. Undocumented immigrants in the United States disproportionately experience hunger — and many are driven to the United States by hunger and poverty in their countries of origin. That is why Congress must approach immigration as a hunger issue, both in this country and abroad.
Compassionate and inclusive reform will reduce hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world, create jobs, and help reduce the national deficit.
Call or email your U.S. representative and urge passage of an immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. Use our toll-free number: 1-800-326-4941.
You can learn more about immigration reform and Bread's position here.
David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.
Photo: Bread for the World and other organizations participated in a Pray4Reform prayer vigil for just immigration reform in Washington, D.C., on June 27, 2013. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).