Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

EITC Can Be a Blessing on Tax Day

6869765923_307afdd67c_bBy Robin Stephenson

I’ve been thinking about my taxes lately. I’m that person who keeps important papers stuffed in my closet in a crumpled brown paper bag, which I conveniently ignore until the calendar flips to April. My dad will start calling me with reminders any day now, and I’ll make the deadline – I’ll probably file on April 15, if history holds. Taxes are important to my dad. Prior to the current recession, the deepest economic downturn post-World War II was in the early 1980s. Our family qualified for the earned income tax credit (EITC) during that time, and for a few tough years, it made all the difference.

In the early '80s, work was unpredictable and my parents worried a lot. Unemployment and instability are extremely stressful for a family. My memories of that time are reflected in the news today, which is filled with stories of families struggling to find their way through recession. Even though employment hasn’t reached pre-recession rates, Congress has failed to reinstate emergency unemployment, leaving more than 2 million unemployed Americans without a safety net. For those who had some form of work during 2013 and qualify, the EITC will provide some financial assistance.

The tax credit, instituted in 1975, is one of the principal anti-poverty programs in the U.S. budget. If a car breaks down, or there is an expense that month-to-month paychecks can’t cover, the EITC is there to help keep low-income working families from falling into debt. (Take this quiz to see how much you know about the EITC).

In 2010, when this refundable tax credit was about to expire, Bread for the World made it the focus of our Offering of Letters campaign for that year. During the Great Recession, the EITC proved to be a lifeline for many working families that still struggled in the tight economic climate. Bread for the World has advocated for the current benefit levels for this refundable tax credit to be made a permanent part of the tax code—the current benefit levels expire in 2017.

President Obama has called for an expansion in his 2015 budget proposal to include an expansion of the tax refund for childless workers. Currently, a single worker without dependents working full time at minimum wage ($15,080 annually) does not qualify for the credit. If the EITC were expanded to this group of workers, the Treasury Department estimates another half million people would be lifted out of poverty.

Bread for the World will continue push for EITC to be made permanent, and will advocate for the expansion. Since my senator, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the tax code and sits on the Budget Committee, I feel like I have a special role to play, and I want to be sure he hears my story. I’m glad EITC was there when my family needed it.

 

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Do you have a story how EITC has helped you or your family?  Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them can move hearts and minds to action.  If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site. 

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

Photo: flickr user 401 K (2012)

SNAP: Fueling Strong Minds and Bodies

AlliWhat do WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, choreographer and MacArthur genius grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and Olympic speed skater Emily Scott have in common? These recent newsmakers are all at the top of their respective fields, and they are all former recipients of food stamps.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is one of our nation's most effective anti-hunger programs. It feeds people and also helps them escape poverty and realize their dreams. From musician Moby to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), many prominent Americans have benefitted from this vital form of assistance.

Koum made headlines last week not only for selling his company to Facebook for $19 billion, but for signing the paperwork for the deal on the door of his old social services office. The tech whiz's journey, from barely making it to becoming a billionaire through hard work and ingenuity, is the sort of feel-good narrative that everyone loves. But not everyone will acknoweldge that the federal safety net is an important part of that story—many are under the false impression that the program is growing too large, or wrongly believe that it fosters lifelong dependency. 

Not everyone who is on food stamps will become a billionaire, but SNAP and other safety net programs produce success stories every day. Barbie Izquierdo is a former SNAP receipient and anti-hunger advocate who appeared in the documentary A Place at the Table, and is using her platform to spread the word about hunger in America. Dawn Phipps is a registered nurse who once received SNAP benefits for herself and her children; not only does she spend her working hours caring for others, much of her free time is devoted to volunteering at her local food bank and advocating with Bread for the World, to make sure others continue to have access to the assistance she once relied on for help.

Both Barbie and Dawn are featured on Faces and Facts, a new website from Bread for the World and our Circle of Protection partners. The site compiles stories of people whose lives have been changed by safety net programs, as well as those who have been negatively affected by recent budget cuts to some of those same programs.

Each story reminds us that behind every fact or statistic about hunger is a person, and that it doesn't make sense for Congress to balance our nation's budget by making cuts to programs that help struggling families. Every dollar cut from a safety net program means one less dollar being used to help someone grow, thrive, or maybe even come up with the next big idea that will change our world.

If you'd like to add your story to Faces and Facts, fill out the submission form or send an email to stories@circleofprotection.us.

Photo: Alex Morris, who is featured on the Faces and Facts site,  feeds her son, André, in their Bend, Ore., home. (Brad Horn)

The American Dream: A Fantasy?

By Cynthia Ezedike

As someone who was born in a poverty-stricken country, I have heard about the American dream countless times. It is the reason so many people have immigrated to the United States, and why so many will continue to do so. It is the reason my parents came to the United States from Nigeria, struggled to get an education, and are now doing all they can to provide for their family. However, the American dream is becoming more and more difficult to attain.

How does one of the richest countries in the world have 50 million of its people facing food insecurity? Why are so many working families struggling to put food on the table? In the past, hard work and steady employment almost guaranteed a comfortable life. Many people put themselves in debt to attend college with the hopes that once they graduated and started and started their career, they would be able to live well. Today, not even a college degree guarantees a roof over one's head or food in one's belly. 

I know plenty of families that were forced to make lifestyle changes and cut food spending during the economic downturn of recent years. These families, mine included, are pretty well off and would not be counted among those living in poverty. Still, they have noticed the rise in the cost of groceries, and have made a conscious effort to stick to a budget and avoid unnecessary purchases. If these families are concerned about the high cost of food, what are those who are not as well off doing? How are families living at or below the poverty line staying afloat?

In a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio acknowledged the need to remove the stereotypes associated with federal nutrition programs. He said “the idea that people are lazy and they don’t want to work…that’s just not true.” The fact that so many food banks and charities have been stretched to their limits shows that many people are suffering in this nation. Colicchio pointed out that the number of people living in hunger is so great that we can’t expect charities alone to lift the burden. Charities, as he put it, help manage hunger. In order to end a problem this large, we need an action that is equally as large.

Political action is what is needed. Politicians are here to serve their constituents, so we, as citizens of this great nation, must appeal to Congress to work toward meaningful policies that benefit the 50 million Americans dealing with hunger. Congress must protect and strengthen federal programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty. It is imperative to making the American dream a reality once again.

Cynthia Ezedike is an intern in Bread for the World's communications department.

Enough is Enough: Protecting SNAP in 2014

Nadine_fridge
Nadine Blackwell, a former nurse and Philadelphia resident who receives SNAP (food stamps) surveys the contents of her refrigerator. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

It’s no secret the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps) has been dealt a series of crushing blows over the last several months. We’ve seen unprecedented cuts to the program, including an $11 billion cut that took effect on Nov. 1, and impacted more than 47 million Americans. Earlier this month, an additional $8.6 billion cut to SNAP included in the farm bill was signed into law. As a result, 850,000 SNAP households in 15 states and the District of Columbia will see their benefits cut by about $90 a month.

Let’s not mince words—these cuts will have dire consequences for millions of hungry Americans. They will affect people like Nadine Blackwell, a disabled former nurse who dedicated years of her life to helping others. She now relies on SNAP and other safety net programs in her time of need. Faced with deep cuts to her SNAP benefits, Nadine may be able to turn to friends, neighbors, and food pantries for some additional help, but churches and charities are struggling to fill the gaps in most families’ grocery budgets. (Watch Nadine’s story)

With a farm bill signed into law, Bread for the World members have asked us for next steps regarding SNAP. If the last several months offer any indication, attacks against SNAP will continue. The farm bill fight may be finished, but our work to protect and strengthen the program is far from over. Although we are tired and frustrated, we cannot let our feelings of disappointment become feelings of defeat. We must tell Congress that enough is enough, and redouble our efforts to fight any additional cuts to the program.

The SNAP cuts in the farm bill are a huge blow to those families who will see their food budgets shrink, but our voices have made, and will continue to make, a difference.

Faithful advocates successfully blocked harmful provisions that would’ve lead to millions of people not just experiencing cuts to their benefits, but losing them altogether. We stopped policy changes at the federal level that would have banned convicted felons from the program for life (a move that would’ve affected millions of children in the process), punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant. Those provisions, if enacted, would’ve affected people like Nate, a young father in Ohio who is working hard to provide for his baby daughter. For Nate, a returning citizen who has had trouble finding work, SNAP has been a vital lifeline, allowing him to feed and care for his daughter as he gets back on his feet. (Watch Nate’s story)

We could see more votes to cut SNAP in the coming months; the program will likely remain at the center of a bitter congressional tug-of-war. But advocates must continue to bust myths about SNAP and spread the message that it helps children and struggling families eat. In a nation that has more than enough food to go around, no one should have to go hungry because Congress wants to find budget savings.

With so many families seeing their SNAP benefits reduced, our work to protect other anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs takes on even greater importance— protecting WIC, school meals, and tax credits, and reinstating emergency unemployment insurance will be crucial to making sure that families reeling from the SNAP cuts don’t fall deeper into poverty as a result.

And we will continue to tell members of Congress that they must protect SNAP. Families struggling to put food on the table must be our lawmakers’ top priority. Enough is enough.

A Gem Worth More than $800 Million

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)

Seeing Hunger in My Neighborhood

Grocery_store_checkout

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.           

Sandra-joireman-web1Sandra Joireman is Bread for the World's board chair and professor of political science at the University of Richmond. 

 

 

Thank You, Congress, for the Food

Food-aid-padreBy Angela Rupchock-Schafer

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?

Angela Rupchock-Schafer is social media manager at CWS and an incoming Bread for the World board member. This article originally appeared on the CWS Blog.

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).

The Faces and Facts Behind Hunger

Dawn
SNAP advocate Dawn Phipps at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

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.

 

Congress Protects Many Anti-Hunger Programs, Fails to Act on Unemployment

Employment_centerYesterday, 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).

Broad Budget Spending Bill Likely This Week

Editor's Note: The Senate passed the omnibus spending bill, with a vote of 72 to 26, on Jan. 16.

Food aid line
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.

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