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.
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.
Last week, Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate introduced legislation to authorize the Feed the Future Initiative. This is a step on the road to victory for our 2014 Offering of Letters on food aid reform. Since 2008, Bread has been one of the key players in Feed the Future’s development. Stay tuned for further developments!
On Oct. 19 or other weekends this fall, thousands of churches around the country will celebrate Bread for the World Sunday. From small outposts in Alaska to gothic sanctuaries in Manhattan, worshippers will be invited to turn their faith into action in support of measures that help end hunger in the United States and abroad.
In previous years, churches have engaged in an impressive range of activities. Puppet shows have been created, special sermons delivered, and educational hours devoted to hearing from those on the frontlines of hunger. For some, bread baking has been a theme–for use during the Eucharist and for bake sales after worship.
Many churches have a special offering or collection, often dividing the funds between Bread for the World and their denomination’s hunger program. Some churches conduct an Offering of Letters for the first time in the year or as a complement to their spring letter-writing event.
Most churches will distribute bulletin inserts provided by Bread for the World. These inserts include a brief prayer and give interested individuals the opportunity to sign up to receive email messages that will support ongoing prayers for the end of hunger.
A special four-page guide is also available to aid planning a Bread for the World Sunday observance. The guide focuses on Scripture study and prayer as key components of nurturing a faith that works to end of hunger. Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has written a commentary on Matthew 22:15-22, the Gospel appointed in the Common Lectionary for Oct. 19. Her reflection, titled “Even Taxes Belong to God,” will be useful for preachers and Bible studies.
Commenting on Matthew 22, Rossing states, “Inspired by Jesus’ wit and courage in speaking truth to power, we can join our voices with thousands of others. Speaking together, we can keep the pressure on those we have elected to enact just food policies and laws.”
Jack Jezreel, the founder of JustFaith Ministries, has prepared a new litany or responsive prayer that many congregations will use during worship. Among the petitions is the prayer that we “not be satisfied until all people can pray with gratitude for daily bread.”
For the first time this year, a lectionary study for Bread Sunday has been written in Spanish by Rev. Magdalena I. Garcia of Ravenswood Presbyterian Church, Chicago. Javier Bustamante of the Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., has prepared a Spanish-language litany. A Spanish translation of the Bread Sunday bulletin insert is available at www.bread/domingo.
All of the English-language resources can be viewed and downloaded free at www.bread.org/sunday. Bulletin inserts and offering envelopes may be ordered free of charge online or by phoning 800-822-7323, ext. 1072.
Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, told radio host Tavis Smiley that he feels hopeful.
Encouraged by a recent trend with both political parties addressing poverty in public speeches and decreasing poverty rates, Beckman says a post-recession America is the perfect time to make ending hunger a top priority for lawmakers.
Poverty decreased slightly—by 0.5 percent—last year, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau. It is the first time a decrease has been seen since 2006. The bureau announced that 14.5 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2013. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
“It’s just a start, but it is a change in the right direction,” said Beckmann.
Beckmann made these remarks in an interview on Public Radio International’s “The Tavis Smiley Show” last week.
Beckmann said reduced poverty rates are a result of more Americans returning to the labor market. Food security continues to remain high in the United States – a reality Beckmann sees as unnecessary. He said there are two critical factors in reducing poverty: Economic growth and focused efforts. The United States is lacking a focused effort.
“The last president who made poverty one of his top priorities was Lyndon Johnson,” says Beckmann. The Johnson administration and Congress worked together to cut poverty nearly in half from the mid-1960s through the 1970s.
To build a sustained political commitment that will reduce poverty in the United States, Beckmann emphasizes the importance of making hunger an election issue. Voters must pressure leaders to move from speeches to passing legislation that will end hunger. The elections provide an opportunity to reach out directly to lawmakers.
“We’ve got to elect people to Congress who are going to agree to work together and focus on opportunity for everybody,” said Beckmann.
Smiley is already looking ahead to the next set of elections - the 2016 presidential elections. He said that he recently called for a debate exclusively on income inequality and poverty – something he has never seen in his lifetime.
“I second the motion,” said Beckmann. “Usually in the presidential debates they never ask a question about the bottom 40-50 percent of the country.”
Listen to Beckmann’s interview on the “The Tavis Smiley Show” podcast here.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media at Bread for the World and a senior regional organizer.
A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.
“Living On The Line: The Benefits Cliff,” by Amanda Peacher, Oregon Public Broadcasting. “This is the third in a series of stories about Oregon’s “working poor,” people who are employed but still struggling to pay the bills. In this installment, we look at people living in poverty who find jobs and begin to earn a wage, but then face another challenge: the benefits cliff.”
“World Making Progress Against Hunger, Report Finds, but Large Pockets of Undernourished Persist,” by Daniel Stone, National Geographic. “Global access to food is improving overall, according to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released Tuesday, yet challenges in the developing world—from poor infrastructure and political instability to erratic weather and long-term changes in climate—are keeping 805 million people from having enough to eat.”
“Combating climate change can be economically beneficial,” by Bob Ward, The Hill. “A major international report published last week could be a game changer in the fierce political debate about climate change in the United States.”
“Despite Declines, Child Mortality and Hunger Persist in Developing Nations, U.N. Reports,” by Rick Gladstone and Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. “The United Nations on Tuesday reported significant declines in the rates of child mortality and hunger, but said those two scourges of the developing world stubbornly persist in parts of Africa and South Asia despite major health care advances and sharply higher global food production.”
“An essential guide to the midterm elections,” by John Harwood, CNBC. “Congress has done all that it will, which isn't much, before November's elections. Which means the venue for America's permanent partisan war for now shifts exclusively to the campaign trail.”
“New data shows Americans' incomes still stagnant after recession,” by Jason Lange, Reuters. “In what has become a recurring theme in America's long slog back from the 2007-09 recession, most U.S. households again saw no noticeable increase in their income last year.”
With little fanfare, Congress passed a continuing resolution this week to extend funding for the government through mid-December. Lawmakers now head home to campaign for midterm elections, leaving a pile of unfinished business in Washington, D.C.
Congress will not return to the capital until November 12. Bread for the World urges advocates to use the flurry of campaign activity as an opportunity to make hunger an elections issue.
“The more advocates lift up hunger as an election issue, the more Congress will act on legislation that can end hunger by 2030,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of Bread for the World’s government relations department.
The funding extension passed before Congress left on recess was modified to include additional funding to arm Syrian rebels, but did not include dollars to address the poverty that is driving children to flee Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Lawmakers did include instructions allowing certain federal agencies to spend at higher rates to address the surge of child refugees at the border.
Congress also returns home as the World Food Program (WFP) warns of unprecedented global food emergencies and dwindling resources. WFP will cut food rations to four million Syrian refugees by 40 percent in October because of shortages. Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq have all been designated as level-three (the highest) humanitarian crises by WFP, straining the food aid system.
As the world’s largest donor of food aid, the United States can free up even more food resources by increasing efficiencies without raising taxes. A bill in the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421), addresses reform, and we are urging senators to cosponsor the bill.
On the heels of the news that 45.3 million Americans live below the poverty line, Congress must address a jobs agenda that includes work that pays a living wage. Tax credits that help end hunger are also expiring before the end of the year.
One bright spot is that the passage of the continuing resolution yesterday to fund the government allows us to avoid a partisan showdown like we experienced last fall that shut the federal government down for more than two weeks. However, Congress left a lot of work undone.
“These are big issues they are leaving on the table, “says Kegan. “When lawmakers return, they need to address all these issues in budget decisions by December 11.”
Kegan stresses that advocacy efforts right now will reverberate long past December. She says the elections work will play a big role in ending hunger during the 2015 session if candidates hear from voters. “ The elections,” she says, “will set the tone for next year when Congress begins work on the 2016 budget.”
The national trends both globally and domestically have been very positive. World hunger declined in 2014, and a report from UNICEF released yesterday says that child deaths have been cut in half since 1990. As the U.S. economy rebounds, more people are returning to the labor market, and poverty rates here at home have decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006.
Now is not the time to let up on hunger. Engage the candidates and help make hunger history.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer
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 21-27, we pray for: Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine:
O God of all nations, we give thanks that you sustain your creation through good government and cultural diversity around the world. We pray especially for the people and leaders of Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. May the long history of Christianity in these countries and their beautiful places of worship be a source of peace and strength, as their societies seek to resolve political conflicts and overcome economic challenges. May harmony and prosperity replace violence and poverty, so that these countries may see an end to hunger. We pray in the name of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life of the world. Amen.
Percentage of the population of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):
Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the upcoming 2015 Hunger Report
By Robin Stephenson
A rising tide does not lift all boats —at least where poverty is concerned. Income gaps in America are widening. States are not experiencing economic recovery equally.
The Census Bureau followed Tuesday’s report, which showed a slight decline nationally in the poverty rate for the first time since 2006, with today’s state-by-state data. The national poverty rate is 14.5 percent, but five states still have rates over 20 percent. Mississippi tops the list with the highest poverty rate at 22.5 percent, followed closely by New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Arizona, and Kentucky.
The poverty rate should be more than a snapshot to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and should encourage voters to make hunger an elections issue.
“The poverty numbers are encouraging,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of government relations at Bread for the World. However, Kegan says a cut of two percentage points is not enough and that our call as Christians is to advocate for a world without poverty and hunger.
“The pace of this economic recovery is far too slow, particularly for those at the economic margins,” Kegan continues. “It’s time our elected leaders make ending hunger and poverty a top priority, and the midterm elections provide a prime opportunity for people of faith to demand this of candidates running for office.”
The poverty rate is based on income. Although the cost of living varies geographically, the poverty threshold used by the Census Bureau does not. A family of four is classified as poor if their gross income is less than $23,830 last year, and for one person, the poverty threshold was $11,890.
The Census Bureau data comes on the heels of a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on food insecurity – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. Not surprisingly, there is overlap between state food-insecurity and the poverty rate.
The ten states with the highest poverty rates:
- Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 22.5 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.1 percent.
- New Mexico, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 13.2 percent.
- Arizona, with a poverty rate of 20.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
- Kentucky, with a poverty rate of 20 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.4 percent.
- Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 19.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
- North Carolina, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.3 percent.
- Tennessee, with a poverty rate of 18.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.4 percent.
- Nevada, with a poverty rate of 17.4 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.2 percent.
- West Virginia, with a poverty rate of 17.3 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 14.4 percent.
- Arkansas, with a poverty rate of 17.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
Engage the candidates! Go to www.bread.org/elections to make hunger an issue in the elections!
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior reigonal organizer at Bread for the World.
Nicholas Kristof, a well-known columnist for The New York Times, is making the rounds of talk shows promoting his new book, written with his wife, journalist Sheryl WuDunn. A Path Appears explores the question of how people can best make a difference in the world with the overwhelming array of charitable causes and organizations.
In an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday on Sept. 14, Kristof made the argument for supporting well-established organizations. “It's incredibly glamorous to start your own organization, and it looks great on your resume. But we have this flowering of thousands or millions of tiny organizations that never gain scale and, often, after five years or so, they kind of disappear because the founder loses their initiative and enthusiasm,” he explains. “We also have to join existing enterprises and grow them.”
While existing organizations may be big bureaucracies and still aren’t able to solve enormous problems like access to water for all or the Israel-Palestine conflict, Kristoff argues that there are still advantages to working with well-established organizations.
This year, Bread for the World is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Some may think that reaching 40 is entering middle age, when we realize we’re no longer young and full of energy. But Bread has more energy than ever these days. There is new vitality as we pass the 40-year mark and set our sights on an ambitious goal – helping to end hunger by 2030 – through our new Bread Rising campaign.
What better time to set a huge goal than with 40 years of advocacy experience behind us? It’s only because we have several decades of experience in advocacy to end hunger that we’re able to set this goal, to believe that we can actually end hunger within our lifetime. We’ve built a strong foundation of legislative victories and have built up years of expertise to convince us that ending hunger is do-able.
Of course, it’s important to support startups or small organizations—the new food pantry at your church or the nonprofit trying to establish green spaces in your neighborhood. These enterprises often target local concerns and alleviate immediate needs. But nobody else is doing what Bread for the World is doing in such a big and powerful way. As with Moses, our first 40 years were only the preparation. And now we’re ready to move the mountain – Capitol Hill -- to get our government serious about ending hunger.
We’re not getting old—we’re hitting our stride! Now is the perfect time to support Bread and to be part of this 2030 goal of ending hunger.
Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
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