Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

139 posts categorized "Organizing"

Nebraska Bread and Community Leaders Meet with Sen. Johanns as Farm Bill Heats Up

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A group of advocates that included (l to r) John Levy of Heart Ministry Center, Beatty Brasch, of the Center for People in Need, Scott Young of the Food Bank of Lincoln, and Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader Kaela Volkmer, visited the office of Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and encouraged him to protect and strengthen SNAP.

By Kristin Ostrom and Kaela Volkmer

Just one week before the scheduled congressional debate on the farm bill and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), a diverse team of leaders met with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in Omaha to talk about SNAP. Sen. Johanns is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and former Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush. Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader Kaela Volkmer organized and facilitated the April 30 meeting with the senator, who was joined by his state director Nancy Johner and agriculture policy assistant Ben Connor. We are grateful for the senator’s time and attention and for Nancy Johner’s assistance in scheduling the meeting.

The team urged Sen. Johanns to protect and strengthen SNAP in the upcoming farm bill debates and to reject amendments that could reduce SNAP's ability to meet the needs of hungry people. Kaela also referred the senator to a letter she delivered several months earlier. The letter, which was signed by more than fifty faith and community leaders in Nebraska, lifted up SNAP as an efficient and effective investment in helping to meet the most basic need for food during difficult times.

The meeting was positive and cordial, and the team felt Sen. Johanns was receptive to their points. They came well-prepared with stories and stats to bolster their ask that Sen. Johanns protect and strengthen SNAP and reject farm bill amendments that would cut SNAP. Johanns confirmed the team was meeting with him at the exact right time for this issue!

Continue reading "Nebraska Bread and Community Leaders Meet with Sen. Johanns as Farm Bill Heats Up" »

Educate and Advocate: Portland’s CROP Walk

CWS CROP walk participant signs a Bread for the World petition to President Obama asking him to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad. (Robin Stephenson).

By Robin Stephenson 

Ending hunger takes a village. Churches, non-profits, and faithful individuals respond to hunger in different ways. Holistic approaches to fighting hunger acknowledge immediate need while also advocating for changes to policies that address the root causes of hunger and poverty.

CROP Hunger Walks, community-wide events sponsored by CWS and organized by local volunteers as a way to raise funds to end hunger, illustrate that action and advocacy can join forces in one event.

Last Sunday, Church World Service, Bread for the World, and the Portland, Ore., community came together around the issue of hunger. Nearly 100 participants, old and young—some participating as congregational teams—walked through sunny downtown Portland on a spring day. The walkers, who carried banners and hand-made signs, raised awareness of hunger and drew questions from others enjoying the warm afternoon.

Volunteer Lisa Wenzlick coordinated the walkers, and Steven Anderson served as treasurer. First Christian Church provided hospitality as well as a starting and ending point. Participants raised funds which will be used support local efforts to address hunger as well as CWS’s global work.

The day was rounded out with an advocacy action on behalf of hungry and poor people as individuals signed Bread for the World’s petition asking the  president to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad.

Bread for the World has long had a close relationship with CWS and many CROP Walks nationwide are a reflection of this partnership.

If you would like to get involved, find out if there is a CROP Walk near you or learn how you can organize one in your community.

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

 

Immigration is a Hunger Issue

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Marvin Garcia Salas eats breakfast with his son Jesus, 4, in Chiapas, Mexico. Marvin was once an undocumented immigrant in the United States, where he had moved without his family to better support them. Hunger, and a lack of economic opportunity are at the root of much of the undocumented immigration from Mexico. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World


“Immigration is a hunger issue,” emphasized organizer David Gist during Bread’s monthly grassroots webinar and conference call yesterday. Mixing personal narratives with biblical principles and policy, the call focused on today’s release of a bipartisan Senate bill on immigration reform.

Since 2010, Bread for the World Institute has researched immigration’s connections to hunger and poverty. Moving forward, Bread for the World will act as an ally on immigration reform, mobilizing people of faith and aligning with partners who seek reform that respects the dignity of immigrants in the United States while addressing poverty and hunger overseas. We recognize that poor conditions in home countries is a major cause of unauthorized immigration to the United States, and we have identified five principles (PDF) that are crucial to craft policy that addresses hunger as a root cause of immigration.

Illustrating the often stark choices that drive migration to the United States, organizer Tamela Wallhof told the callers about Antonio, a man with whom she worked in Hilipo, Nicaragua. A subsistence farmer, Antonio was driven from his land by a combination of Nicaraguan and international policies that encourage large cash-crop farming in place of family-farming for local consumption. If Antonio had stayed in Nicaragua, his only option would have been to work for one of the large coffee plantations for less than a dollar a day, a sum that would not feed his extended family. Facing that future, Antonio was willing to risk entering the United States without authorization. 

Later in the call, Ana, a woman in her 20s,  spoke about her parents who left Peru nearly 15 years ago amid threats of kidnapping. Her parents left because of their concern for the wellbeing of their children. Ana escaped danger in Peru, but now lives in the United States without authorization. As her tale unfolded, Ana expressed raw fear about the fact that she could be deported from the only home she has ever known. She lives with that reality every day.

These stories show the human faces behind immigration and speak to our hearts. Bread for the World is driven by a biblical call to love our neighbor. And the Bible is full of immigration stories.

“We are called to ground our treatment of the stranger in scripture,” said Rev. Walter Contreras during the call. The Bible instructs us on how we should treat strangers. The model is hospitality, from the stories of God’s people as immigrants in Genesis to Jesus's teachings in Mathew 25—in which he tells us that what we do for the stranger we do for the savior.

As a faith-based organization dedicated to ending hunger, immigration reform falls squarely in Bread’s mission. Situations that push families like Antonio's and Ana’s to migrate are far too common and illustrate poverty beyond our borders.

But as David Gist points out, “it’s also a hunger issue here in the U.S. Thirty-four percent of U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant adults lives in poverty—34 percent! That’s almost double the rate for children of U.S.-born adults.”

There is a lot of work to be done and the introduction of a Senate bill is just the first step. The House of Representatives will go through an independent process, but it is important people of faith to talk to Congress:  reformed policies must respect human dignity and alleviate hunger and poverty both here and abroad.

“The opportunity for immigration reform process to move forward is now,” says government relations director, Eric Mitchell.

Today offers such an opportunity as religious leaders visit Capitol Hill for a day of prayer and action and you can join them. Learn more here.

Strength and Precision Lead to Strong Week of Advocacy in the Show-Me State

'Telephone' photo (c) 2010, Sh4rp_i - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Zach Schmidt

Last week was a successful one for Bread for the World’s advocacy in Missouri, as a blitz of phone calls at the beginning of the week paved the way for one crucial, targeted phone call at the end of the week. Here’s how it happened:

On Monday, March 18, Missourians delivered a record 145 phone calls to the offices of Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)! With support from pastors, directors, and lay leaders across the state, advocates called on their elected officials to replace the sequester with a balanced plan of smart spending cuts combined with additional revenuea plan that, most importantly, protects hungry and poor people. Thanks to all who made phone calls and especially to those who encouraged others to call as well. Well done!

Four days later, on Friday, March 22, the Senate debated the budget resolution and considered various amendments, some of which caused Bread for the World concern. Sen. McCaskill was again a priority for advocacy, especially on an amendment to cut categorical eligibility for SNAP, which would result in 1 million program participants losing access to benefits. Bread for the World wanted to make sure Sen. McCaskill voted “no” if that amendment came up for a vote. Given the need to deliver a rapid, precise message to the senator’s staff in Washington, Bread’s regional organizer for Missouri called on a respected and informed state leader, Jeanette Mott Oxford.

Bread provided analysis of how this amendment would impact SNAP at both the national and state level. Jeanette shared the information with key staff members in Sen. McCaskill’s office and promptly heard back from Gary Gorski, the senator’s legislative assistant for agricultural policy, who asked for more information on how Missourians would be affected. Thanks to a team effort between Jeanette and Bread’s organizing and government relations staff, the information was delivered, leaving no doubt that this amendment would be disastrous for Missouri.

Thankfully, the harmful amendment ended up being withdrawn, and an important dialogue has now been initiated with Sen. McCaskill’s office—a dialogue that can be built upon during the upcoming farm bill negotiations.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Record Day of Advocacy in Kansas and Nebraska

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By Zach Schmidt

Last Wednesday, March 13, was a big day for hunger advocates in the Great Plains states. On that “game day” leaders across Kansas and Nebraska scored an impressive, triple-digit number of phone calls to the offices of Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). More than 200 phone calls were logged between the states—an all-time high! And many callers reported having substantive conversations with the senators’ staffers.

The calls targeted a bill recently introduced by Sen. Roberts and cosponsored by Sen. Johanns, the Improve Nutrition Program Integrity and Deficit Reduction Act (S.458), which would cut $36 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and result in nearly 1 million recipients losing benefits. Hunger advocates, joined by faith leaders in both states, find this unacceptable, and they let their elected officials know that now is not the time to cut nutrition assistance.

The strong showing on March 13 was a result of leadership and teamwork. A dozen key players, including bishops, pastors, directors and lay leaders, encouraged their contacts and connections to make phone calls. Communication was key: leaders shared updates on whom they had asked to make calls, who had committed to call, and what the callers heard back from the offices of the senators. Each of the leaders got behind this, and they delivered the bulk of the calls. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who made a call and especially to those who led others to call! This was one for the books.

Less than a week later, hunger advocates in Kansas and Nebraska enjoyed another big day. On Monday, March 18, two separate opinion pieces from respected local leaders were posted in the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska’s two largest newspapers. In their own unique way, these leaders voiced their support for SNAP, pointed out the damaging impact of S.458, and urged Sen. Johanns to reject the bill. There hasn’t been enough said about hungry and poor people during these budget debates—not from the mainstream media and not from members of Congress on either side of the aisle. These op-eds—and others like them—help to break this silence.

With these big days of phone calls and op-eds, hunger advocates in Nebraska and Kansas are standing with people in their communities, in their states, and in our nation who stand to lose the most in the budget debates. It is a privilege to work in partnership with them.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Anti-Hunger Advocates: Get Ready for a Busy Year

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Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) listens as Bread for the World activist Jana Prescott speaks during Bread for the World Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

While the 113th Congress is new, many of the issues it will tackle are not. Funding for both domestic nutrition programs and refundable tax credits is still in jeopardy. Poverty-focused  development assistance is also in danger, and any cuts made to PFDA would result in lives lost and an increase in hunger and poverty around the world.

Given the urgency surrounding congressional budget negotiations and the fact that the fate of programs that benefit hungry and poor people is uncertain, anti-hunger advocates need to be ready for a busy year. Here are three questions you should ask yourself in preparation for your 2013 advocacy efforts. 

Do you have a new representative or senator in your region?  

If so, introduce yourself to staff in the new member's local office, and also use the opportunity to introduce them to the issues in the 2013 Offering of Letters.

Relationships are key to successful advocacy and making contact with local staffers is important.  They can help you connect with the D.C. legislative staff, and since they live in the member's district and work directly to address the concerns of constituents, they often have an understanding of how poverty and hunger are affecting a community. Local meetings also give our experts on Bread’s staff the opportunity to follow up with the legislator’s D.C. staff.  Check out the Congressional Management Foundation list "Five Key Ways to Engage Freshman Legislators," and if you are able to set up a local office meeting, be sure to contact your regional organizer. Bread's organizers can provide you with talking points and handouts that you can use during your visit. 

Check out this example, from the New Mexico Bread team, on finding your members in district.

Is your member on a relevant committee?

At Bread, when critical decisions are being made we target those senators and/or representatives whose voices and votes in committee can impact what will eventually reach the floor for a vote.  We may encourage more in-depth advocacy on a single issue in that member’s region. For a list of relevant committees, see this blog post.

Are you planning a hunger summit or site visit that your member of Congress could possibly attend? 

Members of Congress typically spend three days a week in Washington, D.C., and travel home on the weekends.  Members also have longer periods of time spent in their home states or districts (called recess), which are dictated by each chamber’s calendar.  Recess is a great time to connect with your member of Congress, but it's important to plan ahead. If you want to request a meeting with your member, find out scheduled town hall dates, or invite your member to an event during one of those periods, do it well in advance. 

As part of a local faith roundtable, our Oregon Bread team often partners on events that educate our community.  Last year, the newly elected Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore., District 1) dropped by the annual Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger breakfast in Portland and then wrote about it in a Facebook status update!

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

Committees 101: Congressional Committees and Advocacy

'US Capital' photo (c) 2010, Jason Ippolito - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Robin Stephenson 

If you’re an advocate who has worked with Bread for the World for a while, you’ve probably heard your regional organizer talk about congressional committees. Organizers stress the importance of knowing the committee assignments of your members of Congress, and the relevance those assignments hold for our campaign issues. If you’re new to advocacy, you may wonder why it matters.

During a new congressional term, each political party assigns its members to positions on committees. Committees are where the bulk of the work in shaping legislation happens. They allow members to focus on specific issues—often something relevant to an industry in a member’s home district or state. Once a member has received a committee assignment, he or she will often hire or appoint staff with specialized knowledge in that area to advise them. And not all committee seats are created equal: committee chairs and ranking members (usually the longest-serving minority party members) hold important leadership positions.  

If your member’s voice is more influential on a particular issue because of a committee assignment, that means your voice has more influence on the outcome of a bill. If the bill affects hungry and poor people, we need your voice to be as loud as possible and we will ask you to use it often.

A good example from my region is that of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is the chair of the Senate finance committee. His committee has jurisdiction over tax increases and entitlement reforms (its counterpart committee in the  House is called ways and means). As budget negotiations heat up, the future of anti-hunger programs will depend on increased revenues, and the best way for legislators to increase revenue is through tax reform.

Congress can’t rely solely on spending cuts if it wants to balance the budget without increasing poverty. We want to encourage Baucus and his committee to draft legislation that makes refundable tax credits, such as the EITC, permanent. These credits are critical to low-income working families. In order to achieve this, not only will Baucus need to support revenue increases, he will need to convince the ranking member of the committee, Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah), that they must do so together, as part of a bipartisan effort.

During these highly politicized budget negotiations, doing the best thing for hungry and poor people isn’t always easy. But even if it is difficult, we need our members of Congress to make the right decisions. They need to know that a balanced budget should not increase poverty, but set a framework for a future in which we can continue the work of ending hunger and increasing prosperity. And the people who can deliver that message are their voters.

Anti-hunger advocates in Montana and Utah have their work cut out for them during the next several months. We will encourage increased public dialogue through op-eds and letters to the editor. Using meetings and phone calls to let members of Congress know about hungry people in their districts and states is also critical.  

Below is a list of the key committees with jurisdiction over the programs relevant to each of our 2013 issue areas. Only the committee chairs are listed. To find out if any of your members of Congress are on a relevant committee, click the link for the full roster.

Protect Funding for SNAP:  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is authorized through the farm bill. 

  • Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Committee on Agriculture: Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla., Dist. 3) and ranking member Colin Peterson (D-Minn., Dist. 7) Full Roster

Protect Funding for PFDA:  Poverty-focused development assistance, programs that end hunger abroad, is under the jurisdiction of foreign relations.

  • Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:  Chairman VACANT, ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)  Full Roster
  • House Foreign Affairs Committee: Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif., Dist. 40) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y., Dist. 16)  Full Roster

Protect Funding for WIC:  The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women Infants and Children is authorized through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

  • Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:  Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Education and the Workforce Committee:  Chairman John Kline (R-Minn., Dist. 2) and ranking member Thomas Petri (D-Wis., Dist. 6) Full Roster

Preserve the EITC and CTC and Raise Revenue to Support Anti-Hunger Programs:  Tax credits that help working families and tax reform are under the jurisdiction of the tax writing committees.

  • Senate Committee on Finance:  Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah)  Full Roster
  • House Committee on Ways and Means:  Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich., Dist. 4) and ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich., Dist. 9)  Full Roster

But perhaps one of the most important committees dealing with funding of these programs is appropriations.  It is essential that when they make funding choices, programs for poor and hungry people are protected.

  • Senate Committee on Appropriations:  Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) Full Roster
  • House Committee on Appropriations:  Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky., Dist. 5) and ranking member Nita Lowey (R-N.Y., Dist. 17) Full Roster

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

Recess 101: Engaging Members of Congress In Your District

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The Twin Cities Bread team used a fall 2012 congressional recess as an opportunity to schedule an in-district meeting with Rep. Erik Paulsen(R-Mn.). Pictured: (front row, l to r) Audrey Johnson, Ed Payne, Brad Pepin; (back row, l to r): Gerry Peterson, Dick Johnson, Rep. Paulsen, Judy Waeschle, Carol Dubay, Lois Troemel. (Photo courtesy of Twin Cities Bread team)

By Robin Stephenson

For members of Congress, recess doesn’t involve games of tag or hide-and-seek on the playground. It is a time when they return to their home states and districts to find out what their constituents think—what you think.

During recess, town halls meetings (PDF ) are likely to take place. A town hall is a great opportunity to get your member of Congress to speak publicly about programs affecting hungry and poor people.

If you would like to get a face-to-face meeting with your representative or one of your senators, try to schedule it during recess, when members of Congress are more likely to be available. And if you are planning an education or advocacy event, choose a time when your member may be able to attend (August recess is the longest in-district period). They are always looking for opportunities to meet with their constituents.

Local staffers schedule activities early, but schedule changes often occur, so some flexibility on your part may be required. Just because your member is in-district doesn't mean they can attend your event, but it never hurts to ask and put yourself on their radar.

Below are the tentative recess periods for members of the Senate and House. These dates will aid you as you plan your anti-hunger activities for 2013 (you may periodically want to recheck these calendars).

House 2013  tentative scheduled recess periods:

  • Feb. 18 – Feb. 22
  • March 25 – April 5
  • April 29 – May 3
  • May 27 – May 31
  • July 1 – July 5
  • Aug. 5 – Sept. 6
  • Oct. 14 – Oct. 18
  • Nov. 4 – Nov. 8
  • Nov. 25 – Nov. 29

Senate 2013 tentative scheduled recess periods:

  • Feb. 18 – Feb. 22
  • March 25 – April 5
  • April 29 – May 3
  • May 27 – May 31
  • July 1 – July 5
  • Aug. 5 – Sept. 6
  • Oct. 14 – Oct. 18

Call your regional organizer if you want to talk about planning an event in your area. 

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

Keeping You Informed: Bread's Monthly Grassroots Conference Calls

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From the soundproof room in our D.C. office, Bread experts update grassroots activists and answer questions. Pictured (l to r): LaVida Davis, director of organizing; Marion Jasin, organizing assistant; Eric Mitchell, director of government relations; Christine Melendez-Ashley, policy analyst. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

"The fight is not over," said director of organizing LaVida Davis during the most recent Bread for the World national grassroots webinar and conference call. "The fiscal cliff is part of a longer conversation. [Members of Congress] still really need to hear from us.”

On the third Tuesday of each month, Davis and Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, along with other expert staff, gather around a phone to give you the most up-to-date information about our work and answer any questions you may have. The conference calls, which also have a webinar component, give our members direct access to our government relations staff.  These are the members of Bread's staff who spend many of their afternoons in the offices of your members of Congress and know the ins and outs of the policy behind each of our campaign priorities.

At Bread, we know that every advocate accesses information differently, so we offer a variety of ways in which our grassroots can stay informed. When Congress is in session, we publish written legislative updates on this blog, we send out monthly newsletters, and, of course, our regional organizers are always available to help you plan local actions and answer your questions. The conference calls are yet another tool the you, as an advocate, can use to prepare for action.

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Photo: Behind the scenes, Bread organizers Tammy Walholf and Sarah Rohrer answer questions in the webinar chat room. (Robin Stephenson)

During the most recent call, held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, one caller who identified herself as Joanne wanted to know how school lunches fared in the recent “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1.  Ready to answer her question on the other side of the phone was Bread’s domestic nutrition policy expert, Christine Melendez-Ashley. She told Joanne that the school lunch program was not affected and that the sequester (or automatic cuts) scheduled for March 1 would not impact the nutrition program either, because it is one of the programs exempt from these across the board cuts.

Melendez-Ashley said that if the sequester is not averted it will affect discretionary programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Both of those programs are part of our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign and are critically important to hungry and poor people. 

She emphasized during the call that funding for WIC and PFDA is especially vulnerable because they are categorized as discretionary, meaning Congress must appropriate funds to pay for the program each year.  Mandatory programs are not subject to  across the board cuts—the spending levels for these programs are determined each year by the number of eligible participants.

The August 2011 Budget Control Act put spending caps on discretionary programs over 10 years and Congress must decide which programs will see decreased funding as they work through the appropriations process each year.  The fiscal cliff bill further lowered those spending caps for the next two years as a way to delay the sequester. Sending Congress a message that these programs need a circle of protection is as critical now as it ever was.

Eric Mitchell cautioned that another perfect storm is brewing, and referred to the events coming down the pike as "March Madness." Between the debt ceiling (scheduled to hit between mid-February and March), the scheduled sequester (March 1), and the expiration of the 2013 continuing resolution (March 27), members of Congress have a lot of decisions to make in less than 60 days. 

Mitchell said it is a good time to thank our members of Congress who voted for the fiscal cliff bill— if the bill had not been enacted, poor and hungry people would've suffered dire consequences. The bill extended refundable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for five years. Although the credits were not made permanent, this is a huge victory.

“Now through March 1 is critical," said Mitchell. “We urge you to also ask [members of Congress] not to politicize the debt ceiling debate.  We want them to take a thoughtful, balanced approach that protects poor and hungry people.”

To find out the next chapter of budget negotiations, ask tough questions of the experts, and hear  how you can influence your policy makers to protect vital programs, call in to our next grassroots webinar and conference call on Feb 19.  We will be waiting for you on the other side of the phone.

National grassroots conference calls and webinars are held on the third Tuesday of every month.  These calls will take place at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST (Please adjust time zones accordingly).  To register, visit www.bread.org/events

Setting a Foundation for Advocacy in Communities

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Panelists speak about hunger at the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger "Hungry for Change" event. Panelists, from right to left: Robin Stephenson (standing), Bread for the World; Patty Whitney-Wise, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon; Philip Kennedy-Wong, Oregon Food Bank; and Howard Kenyon, Northeast Emergency Food Program.

By Robin Stephenson

On a recent frosty, fog-filled day in Portland, some 65 Oregonians spent the morning learning about hunger in their state, with a focus on moving from awareness to action. 

Through the local anti-hunger coalition Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger (OFRAH), of which Bread for the World is a member, Bread staff and the regional Bread Team partnered with Catholic Charities and other Portland-area advocacy and service groups to put on the event "Hungry for Change." The OFRAH program examined the state of hunger in Oregon and highlighted legislative opportunities at both the state and federal level. Advocate voices are critically needed, especially in the coming year as fiscal belt-tightening will likely target programs for poor and hungry people.

In our work in the Portland area, we have benefited greatly by working in partnership. Although policy priorities of different organizations and groups may differ, the common thread of ending hunger creates fertile partnerships where coalitions can bring groups together to focus local energy and grow advocacy. Many of our Bread members are associated with multiple local anti-hunger groups and our working together, with a shared agenda, helps those members focus their advocacy. To our legislative delegations, partnered groups look big, and therefore may be perceived to have a stronger voice.  And as each group has a special niche and particular talent, working together can often create a more complex and nuanced picture of hunger in a region.

One of the highlights of the day was a panel that painted a picture of hunger in Oregon that went beyond simple statistics, and showed how often the same issues require advocacy at both the state and federal level. 

As a regional organizer for Bread for the World, I talked about critical federally-funded programs that keep people afloat as they struggle through tough economic times—programs that can be a crucial hand up for many escaping poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has long been a priority for Bread for the World and is an example of policy that pulls people out of poverty, especially children. Although the EITC was recently extended as part of the “fiscal cliff” bill, it faces several obstacles in the coming year. Our goal is to make this refundable credit permanent. 

Patti Whitney-Wise, executive director at Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, talked about how Oregon’s working poor and near-poor families pay some of the nation’s highest state income taxes. Whitney-Wise explained that the state EITC helps families bridge the gap by supplementing very low wages and allowing them to afford life’s basic necessities, including food and housing. 

Oregon Food Bank’s state policy expert, Phillip Kennedy-Wong, discussed the increasing need in the state and pointed out that state and regional food bank networks have distributed over 1 million emergency boxes in the past year. He also said that cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) have depleted some of their resources. 

But the panelist that made the stark reality of hunger most real was Howard Kenyon, program manager of the Northeast Emergency Food Program. They have felt the pinch of the reduction in U.S. Department of Agriculture  (USDA) commodities, but Howard also sees the effect of hunger on the faces that utilize the pantry daily.  He made sure that everyone understood that poor people were not lazy when they often had to wait several hours for a food box in their overcrowded facility.  He told stories of people he knew who struggled to find work and make it from month to month with meager resources. 

The day also included breakout sessions on advocacy, story-telling, and in-depth federal policy. Each session gave participants a variety of ways to get involved and act toward change.

There is strength in numbers, and when our politicians and media have been silent on the needs of low-income Americans, we must come together and be loud enough for them to hear us amid all the competing voices. 

If you would like to organize an event like this or join a local coalition but don’t know where to start, contact your regional organizer for ideas. 

[Read the Catholic Sentinel article on the "Hungry for Change" event here.]

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national social media lead/senior regional organizer, western hub.

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