Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

Staying Afloat in a Recovery

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For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.

Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.

Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November.  “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”

While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.

The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.

Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.

Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.

During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.

Immigration Reform: Looking Ahead to 2014

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Participants in the Fast for Families, join together in prayer (Photo courtesy of Fast for Families).

In spite of the House of Representatives' inaction on immigration reform this year, 2013 ended with a crescendo of activity among advocates, and planning for a harder push for reform in 2014.

In November, faith, immigrant rights, and labor organizations launched the Fast for Families campaign, an effort to move the hearts of members of Congress, and inspire them to pass just and compassionate immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Bread for the World was one the sponsors of Fast for Families, and on Dec. 5, Bread for the World President David Beckmann prayed and fasted at the campaign tent on the National Mall, just a few blocks from Bread’s Washington, D.C., office.

“Immigration reform will allow people to work their way out of poverty,” Beckmann said.  He added that “immigration is part of the great exodus from poverty that is going on today,” and said that nations with comprehensive immigration policies have been able to more efficiently combat poverty than the United States. 

On Dec. 12, the Fast for Families campaign culminated its activities for the year with major direct action in Congress. More than 1,000 activists occupied the offices of 170 congressional representatives who were inactive on reform during 2013. Bread for the World was a full participant in the daylong action, working with our faith partners on several aspects of the event.

Ricardo Moreno, Bread for the World’s national organizer for Latino relations, kicked off Bread’s participation by leading a prayer service at the fasting tents in the morning. In the afternoon, a dozen Bread for the World staffers participated in the congressional action, “occupying” a congressional office and singing, praying, and sharing stories about the personal, real-world implications of the nation’s broken immigration system for families in the United States and overseas.

The Fast for Families campaign promised that the action was a symbol of increased grassroots engagement 2014.

In addition to grassroots action, Bread for the World staff members have been meeting with House Republican offices–including those of Republican leaders such as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)–to discuss the economic importance of immigration to the economy.Lower-skilled immigrants, in particular, revitalize rural and urban areas through their labor and entrepreneurship.

Although House Republicans didn’t act on immigration in 2013, they have repeatedly stated that it will be on the agenda in 2014. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has indicated he would like to tackle the issue next year. Speaker Boehner also signaled that he is serious about addressing immigration reform when he hired Rebecca Tallent, from the Bipartisan Policy Center, to lead his immigration policy work. Tallent is a veteran on immigration reform, and worked on previous congressional attempts at reform as a staffer for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Next year promises to be important for the immigration reform movement and Bread for the World will be fully engaged on the ground in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country.

Waiting for the 8th: Family Feels the Sting of Recent SNAP Cuts

Food_distrubutionMuch has been written about the Nov. 1 cuts to food stamps (SNAP), and how the abrupt reduction in benefits has affected struggling families across the country. But few articles have been as moving as the Washington Post's "Waiting for the 8th," a profile of Raphael Richmond, a Washington D.C.-area mother who is attempting to feed herself and her children in the wake of the biggest cut to the food stamp program in 50 years.

The reporter follows Richmond, and her daughter Tiara, to a local food pantry. Since the cuts took effect, the family members have compiled a list of various food giveaways around the city, visiting those places to help them stretch their SNAP dollars. The service providers, as valuable as they are, clearly are having difficulty meeting the increased demand. This is most evident during Richmond’s visit to Bread for the City, a wonderful D.C.-based non-profit that helps provide food, medical care, and other vital services to vulnerable populations.

They walked into Bread for the City, where 40 people were crowded into the waiting room, and where the food line was a steady procession toward disappointment."No more deer meat," read one sign. "Pick a holiday bag OR a regular bag. You cannot receive both," read the next. "Only one visit per month," read another. "Food is intended to last for three days," read the last notice, right by the counter, where Raphael handed over her number to a volunteer and waited for her bag of food."

"Thank you," she said when the bag came back three minutes later, filled with turkey, applesauce, yams and five cans of greens. Raphael turned away from the counter, doing the math in her head.

"So that's three days," she said to Tiara on their way out the door. "What are we supposed to do about the rest?"

Charity alone can’t feed everyone who’s hungry. Churches, food banks, and private food charities have all been stretched thin by our economic downturn—food bank demand has increased nearly 50 percent since 2006. The role of federal nutrition programs, including SNAP, is more crucial than ever.

Congress will soon leave town for the year without passing a new farm bill, which determines funding levels for SNAP. We ask that you continue to pray for hungry families and urge members of Congress to protect SNAP.

Photo: People in Baltimore, Md., line up to receive donated food (Mark Fenton).

Why Are 1.3 Million Americans Losing Their Unemployment Benefits?

Alicia Nesbitt, a 56-year-old former financial aid administrator from Connecticut, has just two more unemployment checks ($348 total) coming to her before the end of the year. "If anyone had told me I would be unemployed and uncertain as to my future at my age, I would not have believed it," she recently told NBC News.  Mary Helen Gillespie of New Hampshire told the New York Times that, since being laid off in April, she has been living on unemployment insurance payments of $384 a week—which she will soon lose. Casey O'Connell, who lives outside of Philadelphia, Pa., has used her unemployment benefits to keep her family from falling too far behind in their bills, and isn't sure what she'd do without the weekly $270 payment she receives.

Alicia, Mary, and Casey have all managed to stay afloat after being laid off because of emergency federal unemployment benefits, which can offer as many as 73 additional weeks of payments to individuals who have maxed out their state unemployment benefits. But yesterday evening, the House of Representatives passed a long-awaited budget deal that failed to extend the those emergency benefits, called the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Now, the program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and, without an extension, 1.3 million people will lose their benefits the week after Christmas—and millions more will be denied those benefits altogether next year.

This is a major failing, but the budget deal is a move in the right direction. It replaces some of the harmful cuts of the sequester, ends the threat of additional government shutdowns and fiscal cliffs, and perhaps even signals that the political gridlock that has defined this Congress is easing. And, Congress can still "fix" EUC after they return to Washington in January. Still, that may be of little comfort to those who will see their benefits abruptly cut off at the end of the year.

In a statement given before the House voted on the deal, Bread for the World President David Beckmann called it "a good first step," but one that is "not perfect," in large part because it doesn't include a provision to extend EUC.  "It leaves more than 1 million unemployed workers without benefits just after Christmas," he said. "Congress should address this immediately."

Read Bread for the World President David Beckmann's full statement on the budget compromise, and see this analysis from the Center on Budget Priorities and Policy for more on how failing to extend federal emergency unemployment will affect each state.

Join Pope Francis in Prayer Today at Noon

Woman-prayingBy David Beckmann

The day has come! A multitude of Catholics rallied by Caritas Internationalis and millions of other Christians and people of other faiths around the world are raising their voices in a "wave of prayer" today at noon (local time in every time zone) to end hunger.

Pope Francis has released a message in support of this worldwide effort. We hope his words will inspire you to join this prayer wave!

Would you join us today at noon? Pray individually or ask others to join you.

Today a clear and loud message of ending hunger in our time will rise to God. Hopefully it will also touch the hearts of our nation’s leaders in Congress when they are finalizing — at this very moment — a decision on the farm bill and harmful cuts to nutrition programs. At this critical time, they need to hear from you.

After you pray, please take action and call (800-326-4941) or email your members of Congress. Tell them not to cut SNAP (formerly food stamps), but to take actions that will help end hunger in our country and around the world.

If you need a prayer for this occasion, consider the prayers — from various Christian traditions — we have assembled at www.bread.org/prayerwave.

Together in prayer we can change the world.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Praying into 2014

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By Rev. David Beckmann

I invite you to join Bread for the World and our partners in the Circle of Protection in supporting Caritas Internationalis’ new campaign to end hunger, which is endorsed by Pope Francis. They are calling for people to pray at noon on Dec. 10 in each time zone, starting in Samoa and proceeding west in a “wave of prayer” as the day goes on.

Here in Washington D.C., we will gather to pray inside the U.S. Capitol (Room H-137). We have invited members of Congress and our partners in the Circle of Protection to join us in this prayer event. I ask you pray with us at noon in your time zone to end hunger. You can pray in whatever faith tradition you have, or chose from one of the prayers we have provided online at www.bread.org/prayerwave.

This wave of prayer comes at a critical time when there will most likely be a vote on the fiscal year 2014 budget, the farm bill, and possible additional cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps). The House of Representatives will recess for the holidays on Dec. 13, while the Senate recesses on Dec. 20.

As we pray for an end to hunger, we also give thanks for the victories we have achieved in a year when Congress is so polarized that it resulted in a government shutdown.

Together with our partners, we have maintained a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people. Despite the continuing push to cut federal funds for poor people, our last analysis indicates these cuts amount to only a small fraction of $2.5 trillion in cuts the House of Representatives has been pushing  in the last two and a half years. (We will have a full estimate by the end of this Congress.)

No matter what the actual amount is, we could not have done this without your support and advocacy and the active participation of our partners in the Circle of Protection (www.circleofprotection.us). The Circle represents 65 heads of denominations, relief and development agencies, and other Christian organizations, plus more than 5,000 other pastors and church workers. It includes our brethren at Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the United States of Conference of Catholic Bishops who have been supportive of our desire to join them in the Dec. 10 wave of prayer to end hunger.   

We also give thanks this Advent that hunger and poverty is back on President Barack Obama’s radar — thanks in part to the petitions you sent him. Earlier this week, he delivered a major address on providing more opportunity for low-income and struggling Americans.

The program of action that President Obama outlined in the speech is consistent with our recommendations in the 2014 Hunger ReportEnding Hunger in America (www.hungerreport.org). However, we reminded him that low-income Americans cannot climb the ladder of opportunity that he is promoting if one of the critical parts of the safety net that undergirds the ladder – SNAP – is in shreds.

During this Advent, we also give thanks for the continuing exodus from hunger globally, with the numbers down to 842 million people experiencing chronic hunger. According to the United Nations, that is 1 in 8 people globally.

This achievement is, in part, due to our government’s leadership of international efforts to strengthen agricultural investments in poor countries and ensuring better nutrition for mothers and children.

Your advocacy helped convince our government to pledge $10 billion through fiscal year 2014 toward eliminating malnutrition among women and children in the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday — and it promised to continue funding nutrition programs at this level beyond 2014.

This Advent, we also give thanks for the opportunities and challenges that God has given us in 2014. We look forward to implementing our 2014-2016 plan, the first in a series of plans to implement our long-term vision and plan. This includes celebrating our achievements in the last 40 years at our annual National Gathering( June 9 and 10, 2014 at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center in Washington, D.C.) and launching our 2014 Offering of Letters, focused on reforming U.S. food aid.

Lastly, during this Advent we give thanks to God for you — for your persistent advocacy, your steadfast support, and your unwavering faith that we can end hunger. Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Photo: Night sets over Antigua Guatemala at the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross).

David Beckmann Talks 2014 Hunger Report on Public Radio

HR14-cover-highrez_resizeBread for the World President David Beckmann recently discussed Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, with talk show host Tavis Smiley.

In his interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, which aired Nov. 22, Beckmann said that while the Hunger Report proposes steps to eradicate hunger in the United States by 2030, Congress is working against that goal by moving forward with cuts to food stamps, which could make it more difficult for millions of Americans to put food on the table. "On Nov. 1, a cut in food stamps went into effect; it has already taken away 300 million meals," Beckmann said. "And then Congress is debating not whether to cut food stamps further, but how much. We don't want more cuts in food stamps. The cuts that the House is proposing would deepen hunger for 6 million Americans."

Beckmann also talked about how safety net programs helped keep hunger in this country at bay in the wake of the 2008 recession, how a strong job market is key to reducing hunger, and why advocates must reach out to members of Congress on these issues.

"I’ve never met anybody who said, 'Oh, I want to make sure kids go hungry,' but there are other things more important to politicians. There are other things that are more important to many of us," Beckmann said. "And on a day-to-day basis, when we really get agitated it’s about something that’s going to affect me, and maybe that’s when I call Congress. But what we need to do is call Congress when hungry kids are getting hurt—and when that happens, that’s when we’re going to end hunger."

Listen to the full interview below.

Ending Hunger in America: The 2014 Hunger Report

HR14-cover-highrez_resizeEnding hunger in America is possible. It is not an impossible dream. If we decided we really wanted to do it, we could wake up one morning in 2030 and be living in a country where hunger is rare and temporary, not the shared experience of millions of Americans that it is in 2014.

Bread for the World Institute releases its annual Hunger Report today. This year's report, titled "Ending Hunger in America," lands just days before Thanksgiving, at a time when the House of Representatives is pushing to cut food stamps by $39 billion--a proposal that would increase hunger for six million Americans. 

“Only this Congress would think that Thanksgiving is a good time to make it harder for people struggling to feed their families amid a weak economy,” says Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute. “Instead of making detrimental cuts to key programs, which would only increase hunger in America, Congress should focus on creating jobs and spurring economic growth.”

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 would also decrease hunger from today’s rate of 14.5 percent. By making jobs a priority, it would be possible for President Obama and Congress to reduce hunger in America by 25 percent by 2017. In addition to investing in good jobs as a way of ending hunger, the report also recommends ending the political brinkmanship that led to the sequester or automatic budget cuts and focus on investing in people, strengthening the safety net and encouraging community partnerships .

 “Developing countries have made great strides towards ending hunger since 2000,” says Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. “However, U.S. hunger has increased, as evidenced by the record number of Americans receiving food stamp benefits today.”

 The 2014 Hunger Report calls on the U.S. government to work with the international community to establish a universal set of goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in December 2015. New global development goals must include goals to end hunger and extreme poverty, and achieve global food security and good nutrition for all by 2030.

Beginning at 9 a.m. today, we'll be live-tweeting the Hunger Report launch, which will include a panel discussion on the issues explained in the report. Participate in the conversation virtually by following the #hungerreport hashtag, and both the @bread4theworld and @breadinstitute Twitter accounts.  For more information, and to download a copy of the 2014 Hunger Report, please visit www.bread.org/hungerreport

Students Advocate for the Hungry During Teach-In for Justice

Billy_Kangas_and_friendBy Billy Kangas

Last weekend, hundreds of Catholic youths descended on Washington, D.C., for the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, an annual gathering of college and high school students from Jesuit institutions. They prayed together, networked, reflected, and learned about working for justice in the world. The speakers were inspiring, but even more inspiring were the students! They were bright, passionate, engaged, informed, energetic, and deeply committed to letting the love of Jesus spill out of them in both their personal lives, and in their public service and advocacy. They inspired, rejuvenated, and showed me the face of Jesus over and over again.

As Bread for the World’s Catholic relations fellow, I was given the opportunity to put together a team to hang out with hundreds of these amazing young people, who are looking to explore what it means to be an active Catholic with a public voice.

My fellow Bread staff members and I presented at a number of workshops. Amelia Kegan, a domestic policy analyst at Bread, and I talked about creating a "circle of protection" around essential safety net programs here in the United States, and how to take action by urging policy makers to strengthen programs that help hungry people. Bread’s international policy analysts, Beth Ann Saracco and Ryan Quinn, led a session on maternal and child nutrition, and how providing proper nutrients to women and children during the 1,000 days from the beginning of pregnancy through a child’s second birthday is essential for preventing disease, improving education, strengthening health, and saving lives. These 1,000 days are key!

We also invited participants to come to share with us how they are involved in ending hunger in their own communities, and in the world at large.

On Sunday, we were able to address the group as a whole to discuss the importance of protecting SNAP (food stamps) in the farm bill. We trained groups of students in how to talk to their policy makers when they gathered at the Capitol building on Monday for prayer, praise, and advocacy meetings with their congressional representatives.

We also encouraged the students to message their members of Congress using Twitter, and other forms of social media. Take a look at some of the messages these students tweeted to their representatives as part of our social media campaign:

All of this was very encouraging, but the most powerful takeaway I left with was hope. The media is filled with stories that condemn this young generation, calling them lazy, unmotivated, and unwilling to speak up to change the systems that keep people hungry and poor. But this group, and others like it, is proof that their generation is not only engaged, but immensely creative with their activism and eager to help those suffering from hunger and living in poverty.

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Billy Kangas is the fellow for Catholic Relations at Bread for the World.

Photos: (top) Billy Kangas and a friend at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice (Gary Cook). (Bottom) The group of Jesuit students gathered on the mall for the event (Billy Kangas).

Protecting Foreign Assistance

During the upheavals over the budget in recent years, Bread for the World and our partners have been successful in maintaining funding for U.S. programs that help hungry and poor people around the world. We have driven a major U.S. initiative focused specifically on hunger, and we have helped to improve the quality of U.S. foreign assistance. Bread will continue to advocate for the protection of programs that provide lifesaving food aid, help thousands of farmers learn increase their yields and incomes, and educate children.

Aid Remains Strong in Tough Budget Climate

During the George W. Bush and early Obama years, U.S. funding for programs that help reduce poverty around the world tripled to $22 billion annually, in part because of the persistent advocacy of Bread for the World members.

This poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA), which accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget, along with increased aid from industrialized nations, has supported rapid economic progress in poor countries.

Despite huge budget pressures, we have managed to protect foreign assistance programs that help poor people.

There was a tragic surge in hunger in 2008, driven by the global financial crisis and soaring prices for rice, wheat, and corn. The incoming Obama administration responded, leading the world in increasing investment in agriculture and nutrition in the most-affected countries. Bread for the World and our members rallied around this initiative, called Feed the Future.

In 2011, more than 4.3 million farmers around the world benefitted from U.S. agricultural development assistance through projects like Feed the Future.

In 2008, major research findings gave the world new knowledge about how to tackle the scourge of child malnutrition. One conclusion was that nutrition assistance should target the 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy through her child’s second birthday. Bread for the World Institute played a leadership role in urging U.S. and international officials to incorporate this new knowledge into the global food security program. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the 1,000 Days initiative, and Bread for the World organized a network of U.S. women across Christian denominations — Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement — to support this effort.

Bread for the World Institute convened international meetings on nutrition during Bread’s 2011 and 2013 National Gatherings. At this year's meeting, Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told Bread advocates, "You form one of the greatest movements alive today—the fight to make hunger, malnutrition, and extreme poverty permanently a thing of the past."

This year, world leaders committed $4.15 billion over three years to scale up direct nutrition interventions and an additional $19 billion for nutrition-sensitive programs in agriculture and other sectors. Shah is leading a review of nutrition-related programs in the U.S. government in order to use available dollars most effectively.

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped below the pre-2008 level and is continuing to decline—partly because of U.S. leadership in promoting agriculture and nutrition among the poorest countries of the world.

When President Bush decided to increase assistance to poor countries, he set up new institutions within the U.S. governmen t— the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Bread for the World helped secure congressional support, and both of these institutions have been effective.

Still, the entire U.S. foreign assistance system was badly in need of reform. In response to this, Bread helped set up the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a foreign assistance reform coalition that has been supported by both the Hewlett and Gates foundations.

In 2009, Bread for the World's Offering of Letters campaign was a push for foreign assistance reform. When the legislation Bread supported passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Obama administration announced it would work on the issue.

The administration has since improved coordination among the government agencies that work in developing countries, and President Obama issued a directive that established international development policies and priorities for the entire government.

USAID has set up an excellent system of evaluation, and information on the aid projects of U.S. agencies is now available to the public at www.foreignassistance.gov.

"Those of us who push for more dollars for programs of assistance need to work just as hard to make sure those dollars are used well," says Bread for the World President David Beckmann. "Bread for the World's members have been willing to study up on these issues and push for both funding and effectiveness."

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