Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

Unemployed Struggle As Congress Considers Reinstating Benefits

Reinhard-man-workingLast 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).

They Are Talking About Poverty

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Movie still of Barbie Izquierdo and her children from A Place at the Table, courtesy Participant Media.

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.

Quote of the Day: David Beckmann

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Some jobs still do not pay enough to make end meet  SNAP helps put food on the table for low-income working families. Janitorial work in Washington, D.C., (Joseph Molieri/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.

 

72,000 Unemployed Lose Benefits Each Week

Greenjobs"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).

Don’t Leave Long-Term Unemployed Out in the Cold

Unemployment lineAs the news reports plummeting temperatures across the nation, another no less devastating yet human-made storm is wreaking havoc on the lives of 1.3 million Americans who lost a vital safety net last month. Congress failed to extend federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) as part of the budget deal, leaving the long-term jobless out in the cold.

This evening, the Senate is expected to vote on a three-month extension of emergency unemployment. On average, unemployed workers receive only $269 in federal emergency unemployment benefits a week. This covers less than half of a family's basic expenses for food, housing, and transportation as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the benefits give job seekers the help that allows them to spend their time and energy in finding employment.

Constituents like those of Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois are depending on Congress to act as they return to Washington, D.C., after the holidays. Illinois is one of the hardest-hit states with an estimated 80,000 affected by last month’s EUC expiration and more to come. Nationally, an estimated 1.9 million more Americans will lose benefits in the first half of 2014.

Unemployment has improved since peaking at 10 percent at the height of the Great Recession, but there are still three applicants for every job opening in America. In states like Illinois, which have seen less recovery in the job market, unemployment remains at 8.7 percent. Resident of Elgin, Ill., Lynn Richards told the Chicago Sun Times  before Christmas that she was laid off in April and hasn’t been able to find work, although she has been sending in many applications.

“I’ve been working since I was 20. I’ve never had this much trouble getting a job in my life,” Richards told the Sun Times.  “I’ve applied to like 200 places. I’ve gotten less than 10 calls and a couple of interviews.”

EUC has been a vital part of the safety net that has helped people like Richards pay rent and utilities and buy food as they look for employment. Keeping families from falling into deeper poverty is good for the nation. Besides an average of  $1.55 in economic stimulus created by every dollar of unemployment benefits received, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that allowing emergency unemployment benefits to expire will cost the economy 238,000 jobs. 

What the nation needs is jobs. Job seekers everywhere, but especially in states like Illinois and Nevada, where unemployment has stayed at record highs, are depending on Congress to help and not hinder their own efforts in finding work. As the Senate takes up debate and a test vote later this evening, anti-hunger advocates can urge Congress to do the right thing and pass a EUC extension. 

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: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).

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.

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