Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Nothing Can Get in Our Way This Midterm Election

Lobby_Day_2014,_Worship_048

By Stephen Padre

Major news outlets from NPR to the Washington Post are reporting that the midterm elections – a little less than a month away – are being called the “Seinfeld election.” In other words, the election is about nothing, just as the popular comedy show of the 1990s was largely about nothing.

Granted, midterm elections don’t attract as much interest or debate from voters as a banner presidential election. Yet it’s important to remember that the entire lower chamber of Congress – the House of Representatives – is up for election as is a third of the upper chamber – the Senate. This is the case every two years, major election or not. That’s a major chunk of our country’s decision makers, those with the power of the purse.

But if this election is about nothing, that’s a problem.

This year, as part of its new campaign to end hunger by 2030, Bread for the World wants to make hunger a prominent issue. With the Bread Rising campaign, Bread wants to make hunger an issue of the midterm elections and of the election two years from now, when we will elect a new president.

Hunger is certainly not a nothing issue. It’s a major something. It’s a big topic that deserves the attention of our nation’s top leaders, especially those who have the power of the purse.

The best way to make hunger an issue for potential members of Congress is for voters and other residents of districts and states to bring the issue of hunger to the attention of candidates. Hunger affects people from all walks of life – people living in poverty, people who are unemployed, immigrants, the elderly, children, single-parent-headed households, and working families. Candidates need to hear from and about people affected by hunger in their jurisdictions.

It’s up to us as activists to speak up. As Christians, we are called to speak out. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it,” says Proverbs 3:27. We have the power already in our democracy to raise concerns with our elected leaders, and an election is an ideal time to do that as candidates speak about their plans for being in office.

With your power as an activist and voice for hunger, Bread can further equip you with tools to speak up. Fact sheets about hunger in the United States and in the states with the highest percentage of people living in poverty and hunger are available.  Pair one of these with information about how your current member of Congress has voted in the past on hunger-related legislation in Bread’s Congressional Scorecard. If you need help getting started, check out Bread’s election materials.

But if we don't speak out - if we let apathy win the day - then the nothing-ness of this election will get in our way, and hunger in our world will persist. But if we speak up in a chorus of concern for what hunger is doing, then nothing can stop us!

Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.

World Prayers for Oct. 5-11: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Afghanbread
Bread in Afghanistan. Photo by Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion from Wikimedia Commons

This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray, act, and give. In this blog series, we will be providing a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
 
This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.
 
We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.
 
We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.

For the week of October 5-11, we pray for: Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan:

God of peace, we lift up these places, many of which are unfamiliar to us. You know the needs of these nations' peoples. We pray especially for peace and justice in Afghanistan, a country that has suffered under conflict and war for many years. We pray for an end to the suffering from war and the hunger it causes. May this country know peace and the see hunger cease. Protect all who serve in our armed forces there. Keep them safe and out of harm's way. And watch over their families back at home as they go about life with their loved ones far away. We lift up those providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and these other countries. Give them strength and support as they address poverty and other challenging conditions. All these things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Percentage of the population of some of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Afghanistan: 35.8
Kazakhstan:
2.9
Kyrgyzstan:
38.0
Mongolia:
27.4
Uzbekistan:
16.0

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the upcoming 2015 Hunger Report

Want Very High-Leverage Charity? Try Advocacy.

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The work that churches and charities do in directly feeding people is important, but they can't end hunger alone. The federal government needs to do its part. This is where advocates come in - pushing the government to play its role in ending hunger in our time - in what becomes "very high-leverage charity." Bread for the World photo

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered by Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, at Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 2014.

Churches and other concerns commissioned a recent report on hunger in Alexandria.  I read reports about hunger all the time, but this report on widespread hunger in my own community hit me in the gut.

This report shows that churches are the front line of food charity in Alexandria, and that Christ Church seems to be doing more than any other church in this area… 

But hunger in our city far outstrips what churches and charities can do.  Alexandria is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the country, but this report shows that about one in five people in Alexandria – 29,000 people – lives in families that are struggling to make ends meet… 

Most of the assistance that people do get comes from the national nutrition programs. Based on the report’s description of Alexandria’s charitable agencies, I’m guessing that they together provide food assistance to fewer than 4,000 people a month.  On the other hand, just one of the federal programs, SNAP (food stamps), benefits about 9,000 people in Alexandria every month.  And while SNAP doesn’t provide enough to pay for a family’s groceries, the benefits that people receive from charities are generally much more limited. 

The report argues that people Alexandria could have a big impact by making the national nutrition programs work better in our community…Signing people up for the programs would be high-leverage charity.

The report doesn’t talk about advocacy, but Congress cut SNAP last year.  The cut that went into effect last November has reduced SNAP benefits in Alexandria by about $700,000 a month.  That cut in groceries for low-income people in Alexandria is probably more than all the assistance that Alexandria charities provide.  The average benefit for Alexandria’s SNAP recipients dropped from $125 a month to $115 a month.  The benefit per meal dropped from $1.40 to about $1.30. 

The House of Representatives was pushing for much more drastic cuts in SNAP – roughly ten times the cut that went into effect in November.  Bread for the World members, including the high school youth group here at Christ Church, lobbied Congress to push back against SNAP…Advocacy is very high-leverage charity…

We don’t need to debate how guilty we should feel about the extent of hunger among our neighbors.  I think we should have some sense of guilt...[But] God’s gracious presence in our lives can budge us – move us – to share the love, also with people who struggle to put food on the table for their kids.

I am also convinced that God has made it possible in our time to make progress against hunger and poverty – maybe to virtually end hunger.  We know this because the number of people in extreme poverty in the world has been cut in half since 1990... 

The real possibility of ending hunger in our time is a great gift from God. It will take some effort from us, but the possibility is a miracle…And the chance to end hunger is now, in our generation, here in northern Virginia and all around the world.

Bread Team Fights Hunger in Missouri

Advocacy-in-action
Besides advocating at the state level, some Bread activists from Missouri attended Bread’s Lobby Day and visited their members of Congress in Washington, D.C., in June. Here participants in Lobby Day prepare to go to Capitol Hill for their meetings. Bread for the World photo


by Beth DeHaven

Note: While Bread for the World engages in advocacy at the federal level, many Bread activists are also involved in efforts to fight hunger at the state government level. Here’s one story.  

On June 20, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill that will help hundreds of hungry people across the state. Senate Bill 680 lifts the lifetime SNAP (formerly food stamps) ban for drug felonies, which is a recommendation of Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, and opens the way for a pilot program making it easier for SNAP recipients to purchase fresh food at farmers markets. The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) and other faith and justice groups have worked diligently for years to end the ban on SNAP, and the Bread for the World Team in Springfield, Mo., played a part in this success. (See Bread's interview from last year with MASW's executive director.)

For many years, members of Springfield Bread Team have sponsored annual Offerings of Letters in the area's churches, visited the local offices of their representatives in Congress, and traveled to Washington, D.C., for Bread's annual Lobby Day. Team members have hosted informational and letter-writing tables at local events like CROP Walks, Food Day, denominational gatherings, and alternative gift markets. The team has also learned more about hunger issues at its monthly meetings by discussing books like Exodus from Hunger and Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, and the team has hosted screenings and discussions of the film "A Place at the Table." The team even put together a "Hunger Games" interactive event, complete with costumes and games, followed by discussion about the reality of hunger affecting poor people in our world today. 

About a year ago, the team came to realize that in order to more fully live out Bread's vision of ending hunger, it also need to join forces with advocacy groups fighting hunger and poverty in Missouri. At that time, many team members did not even know the names of their state representatives. Through further research, the team learned that MASW was a well-established and effective state advocacy group and that it has a hunger task force, which the team decided to join.

This year, with support from Bread's regional organizer, the team has worked closely with MASW to advocate for lifting the SNAP ban for drug felonies and also for expanding Medicaid. On April 23, the team traveled to the state capital to participate in a lobby day. Each team member met personally with his or her state senator and representative on these issues. The team even visited the office of the Speaker of the House to urge him to assign SB 680 (the SNAP bill) to committee. 

Efforts to expand Medicaid in Missouri have not been successful yet, but the team will continue to work with MASW on the issue in the year ahead. The team has also signed on as an endorsing organization of the Missouri Health Care for All movement, and members have met with the movement's statewide grassroots organizer to begin planning an educational forum to be held in Springfield in September.

The Springfield team is excited to continue advancing Bread's policy-change agenda and strengthening its partnership with advocacy organizations in Missouri. Hunger is a complex problem, but through collaboration and by addressing related issues like health care, the team believes it can do more to end it.

Beth DeHaven is a leader on the Bread for the World team in Springfield, Mo.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.

The Top Ten Hungriest and Poorest States

 
SNAP-farmers market
Marie Crise is able to use her SNAP benefits to purchase fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables at the Abingdon Farmers Market in Abingdon, Va. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl


by Eric Mitchell

We need to move past the Great Recession of 2008. But for families that are still unable to regularly put food on the table, how can they? The recession caused the number of families at risk of hunger to increase by more than 30 percent! But because of anti-hunger programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), we haven’t seen that number go up any higher since then. Unfortunately, despite (slight) improvements, nearly 1 in 6 Americans (49 million) were still struggling to put food on the table in 2013. 

In recent years, the 10 hungriest states (see chart below) have seen no relief. Since 2001, the percent of households struggling to access food has increased in all 10 of these states. The economy is improving but not fast enough for many Americans who are struggling to feed their families. In 2013, more than 45 million Americans still lived in poverty.

Statistics alone do not tell the full story. Hunger and poverty impacts the lives of children, older Americans, veterans, and the disabled especially hard. (See state fact sheets, which you can link to in the chart above.) In states with the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity, it’s even worse. For example, in Mississippi, 24 percent of people live below the poverty line, including a staggering 1 in 3 children. In Arkansas, more than 1 in 5 Americans are at risk of hunger. People are hurting.

Americans At Risk of Hunger

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Nearly 1 in 6 Americans (49 million) were still struggling to put food on the table in 2013.

View a state-by-state map of Americans at risk of hunger »

You would think these staggeringly high numbers would propel these congressional delegations to do something, fueled by an outrage over the conditions of poverty and hunger in their own states. But that’s not necessarily true. Many have actually voted for proposals that would have made conditions worse. Take this example: In 2013, 217 members of the House of Representatives voted to cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion. Fortunately, this proposal did not make it into through Congress. But if it had, 2 million people would have been kicked off of SNAP, and the number of families at risk of hunger in the 10 hungriest states would have gone up even further.

A job used to be a safeguard against poverty and empty stomachs. That’s no longer true. People who receive SNAP also work. But people are working harder while earning less. Since 2009, most middle- and low-income workers have seen their wages go down. The bottom 60 percent of workers have seen their income decrease by 4 to 6 percent.  Meanwhile, Congress has yet to pass legislation that raises the minimum wage.  Such action would help lift many Americans out of poverty.

To truly end hunger in the United States, we must demand federal policies that boost our economy and ensure a strong safety-net for those in need. That’s why our political leaders must make this a national priority. See how hunger and poverty are affecting the 10 hungriest and poorest states. Then, judge your member’s commitment to ending hunger and poverty. See for yourself if their votes help or hurt those caught in a tough place.

10 Hungriest States

10 Highest Poverty States

1

Arkansas

1

Mississippi

2

Mississippi

2

New Mexico

3

Texas

3

Louisiana

4

Tennessee

4

Arkansas

5

North Carolina

5

Georgia

6

Missouri

6

District of Columbia

7

Alabama

7

Kentucky

8

Georgia

8

Alabama

9

Louisiana

9

Arizona

10

Kentucky

10

South Carolina

(Links in the chart above are for fact sheets on those states produced by Bread for the World.)

Faith by itself is not enough.  It is also important to take action. We do this by holding our elected officials accountable. Each member’s vote counts. Maybe your representative cast a critical vote that blocked SNAP cuts, or maybe your member’s votes are contributing to these startling statistics. Find out and take action.  During this campaign season, remind congressional candidates that we need a Congress that is serious about ending hunger and poverty. 

Faithful Witness: A Tribute to Sr. Christine Vladimiroff

Vladimiroff
by Larry Hollar

I admire some people because they do one thing really well. Then there are people like Sister Christine Vladimiroff, OSB, who died last week after a remarkable life marked by versatility, impact, and faithfulness in many arenas. Sister Christine made the passionate struggle against hunger a central part of her vocational life.

Early in her career, Sister Christine taught and oversaw the Cleveland area’s Catholic schools. Years later she told a Bread for the World audience about one of her teachers who noticed that a student was listless in class. “What did you have to eat at home this morning?” the teacher asked. “Nothing,” the student said, “it wasn’t my turn.”  As a parent, I grieved that this student’s family faced such tragic choices, and I realized even more the critical importance of school breakfast programs.

Sister Christine served as a member and later chair of Bread for the World’s board. She also spent eight years leading Second Harvest (now Feeding America), making that national network of food banks stronger and more advocacy-oriented.  That business experience, along with her deep understanding of Christian faith as a grounding for justice and activism, made her ideal for leadership on Bread’s board.

But my richest connection with Sister Christine came during and after her time as prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, as I served as Bread’s organizer for Pennsylvania. She and the other sisters at Mount St. Benedict were reliable and forceful in their activism and witness on many peace and justice issues, including Bread’s hunger concerns. As prioress, she bravely faced controversy when the Vatican ordered her to prohibit another Erie Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister, from speaking abroad at a conference about women’s ordination. Sister Christine took time to consult many people and wrestled with her decision, ultimately refusing to follow the Vatican’s request, citing her authority as a religious order leader to guide Sister Joan in seeking her own decision. For me, this was a lesson in integrity of the process Sister Christine used—thoughtful, prayerful, respectful of all, focused, determined. That reminds me of Bread for the World’s way of doing advocacy.

A decade ago, when I recruited writers from our movement for Hunger for the Word, Bread’s three volumes of lectionary reflections on food and justice, there was no question that Sister Christine’s voice had to be there. Her clear, strong writing made Year B’s book shine.

My final time with Sister Christine in Erie was in a Benedictine community gathering for prayer several years ago. I think it’s fitting that, as people of action against hunger, what she and I shared in that parting moment was the worship of a God who wants hunger to end, and who gives each of us all we need to make it happen. Thanks be to God for her faithful witness!

Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Hunger in the News: U.S. Food Aid; Solving Hunger and Poverty in America

Hunger in News Graphic
A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

Hunger pains: U.S. food program struggles to move forward, by a Medill-USA Today Investigation, USA Today. “After more than 60 years of feeding the world's hungry overseas, the U.S. Agency for International Development is scrambling to overhaul the world's largest government food assistance program.”

UN Says There's Unprecedented Demand for Food Aid, by Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press. “The World Food Program's top official said it's unprecedented that the U.N. aid agency finds itself simultaneously responding to half a dozen major crises in addition to helping the largest number of refugees in the world since World War II.”

Past Time to Solve Hunger in America, by Bob Aiken, Ellie Hollander, Tom Nelson and Lisa Marsh Ryerson, The Hill. “Hunger in America is a solvable problem. In the richest, most agriculturally-productive nation on earth, it should stand as a point of national shame that we have any households struggling to put food on the table at all.”

Activists and Scholars Respond to the New Poverty Data, Moyers and Company.  “What is most frustrating, tragic, infuriating — pick your adjective — about this status quo that wastes so much human potential, is the fact that we know the kinds of policies and actions that would not only reduce poverty, but reduce it dramatically.”

Many UN development goals still far off target, experts say, by Peter Moskowitz. Al-Jazeera America. “Adding to concerns about the targets is the fact that in a postrecession world, the amount of aid given to many of the world’s poorest countries is falling.”

Counting the Hungry, by Martín Caparrós, The New York Times. “It is very hard to calculate with precision how many men and women do not eat enough. Most live in countries where weak states are incapable of accounting for all their citizens, and the international organizations that try to come up with head counts must use statistical calculations instead of detailed census reporting.”

World Prayers for Sept. 28-Oct. 4: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia

Armenia
Echmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia. Photo by Shaun Dunphy from Wikimedia Commons

This is a weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer. The campaign is asking Bread members to pray, act, and give. In this blog series, we will be providing a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
 
This prayer series will follow the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.
 
We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.
 
We invite you to join Bread in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.

For the week of September 28-October 4, we pray for: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia

God of places near and far, known and unknown to us: We give you thanks for the peoples of these countries and their gifts to the region and world. Thank you for sustaining Christians and churches in these places during the decades of communist domination and oppression. We pray for renewal of their faith and that they may be light and salt in their countries. We also lift up people in these countries who live with unemployment and in hunger and poverty. Empower their societies to ensure that everyone has enough to eat and live an abundant life. We pray this in the name of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Armenia: 32.4
Azerbaijan:
6.0
Georgia:
14.8

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the upcoming 2015 Hunger Report

Meeting U.S. Commitment to End Hunger

South Sudan
Photo by Stephen H. Padre/Bread for the World

by Beth Ann Saracco


Last week, Congress got to hear about the importance of nutrition by our country’s top development official, Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator.  It was a standing-room only crowd.

At the center of his remarks was the new USAID Multi-Sectorial Nutrition Strategy, launched in May. It seeks to support U.S. commitments made as part of the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact, which was agreed to at last year’s Nutrition for Growth Summit. At the summit, the U.S. government agreed to prevent at least 20 million children from being stunted and to save at least 1.7 million lives by 2020.

Although the government has made nutrition a higher priority in global development assistance boosted funding in the FY 2014 federal budget, it is not enough.  If we are to reach our commitments on time, we must further accelerate the rate of progress, said Dr. Shah.

Members of both the House and Senate subsequently introduced legislation last week to authorize the Feed the Future Initiative. Feed the Future is an on-going $1 billion-a-year program  that boosts agricultural development and addresses malnutrition in 20 of the world’s poorest countries. In the House of Representatives, the bipartisan bill, H.R. 5656, was introduced by Republican Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ) and Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum (MN). Senate bill S. 2909 is cosponsored by Democrats Bob Casey (PA) and Chris Coons (DE), and Republicans Mike Johanns (NE), Johnny Isakson (GA), and John Boozman (AR)

Feed the Future grew out of the 2009 G8 Summit, when President Obama called on world leaders to reverse a three-decade decline in agriculture investment. It has been funded by Congress through annual appropriations in the State Department’s budget, but without official authorization. The House and Senate bills would permanently codify and authorize this program, building upon the progress already made by developing a whole-of-government strategy that supports country ownership, nutrition, and food security.

Since 2009, Bread for the World has been advocating for the authorization of Feed the Future. If passed, these bills will help to improve the livelihoods of the more than 500 million smallholder farmers in the world, many of whom are women. The program is essential in reducing the number of children under 5 who die annually, currently at 3.1 million.   

We urge Congress to pass Feed the Future legislation before the end of the year. A permanent program like Feed the Future will help move us to end hunger around the world within our lifetime. Please contact your representative and senators today and ask them to cosponsor H.R. 5656 and S. 2909.

Beth Ann Saracco is international policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Climate Change and Hunger are Linked

Indian women farmers
Indian women and children bundle grain stalks after the harvest. Photo by Margaret W. Nea.


More than 100 world leaders are meeting in New York this week at the UN Climate Summit, invited by UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, to “galvanize and catalyze climate action.” As the summit website notes, “Climate change is not a far-off problem. It is happening now and is having very real consequences on people’s lives.”

It also disproportionately affects poor countries and poor people. As Bread for the World has previously said, “The challenge of climate change will either move the world forward toward a more sustainable future, or drive a wedge between rich and poor and usher in generations of troubled global relations.”

While addressing the summit on Tuesday, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) José Graziano da Silva pointedly noted the connection between climate change and hunger and said food security must lie at the heart of any efforts taken.

Referencing the UN report on world hunger released last week,The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, Graziano da Silva said, "We cannot call development sustainable while hunger still robs over 800 million people of the opportunity to lead a decent life.”

He also noted that climate change also affects food’s availability to hungry people, as the planet currently produces enough food to feel all, and yet that is not happening.

"Producing enough food for all is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for food security. People are not hungry because food is not available, but because they do not have access to it."

Graziano da Silva added, "We are ready to work with you to successfully address the impacts of climate change on food security. This is a necessary step to the hunger free world and sustainable future we want."

This is an important moment to galvanize attention and advocacy around the issue of climate change. On Sunday before the summit began, more than 300,000 people marched in New York City to express their concern about the matter, and to insist that the world’s leaders do their part to take responsibility and address the causes and effects of climate change.

Bread for the World has further resources on the connection between hunger and climate change found here.

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