Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Women: The Key to Ending Hunger

By Beth Ann Saracco

I recently traveled to East Africa to learn how international development policies in Washington, D.C., such as Feed the Future, impact and improve people’s lives on the ground in Uganda and Tanzania.

A powerful takeaway from the trip is that women are truly the chief agents the world relies on to fight hunger. But we need more women to be empowered.

That’s the message of our 2015 Hunger Report. And in celebration of Women's History Month, we’ve launched a new video that explains why. Watch the video.

Almost 60 percent of the world’s 805 million chronically malnourished people are women and girls. But if they are among the most vulnerable to hunger, they are also the best solution to the problem of hunger. The majority of the dramatic reduction in child malnutrition made in the developing world over the past few decades is due to improvements in the status of women. For instance, providing girls with just one extra year of schooling can increase individual wages by up to 20 percent.

Supporting Feed the Future can also empower women. It is a proven development program that can help the United States invest in women in agriculture worldwide. Contact your members of Congress and urge them to support upcoming Feed the Future legislation to improve global food security and better combat chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Learn more: Visit HungerReport.org to read the full report and explore interactive data tools that explain the crucial role of women in ending hunger.

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

When 'Reconciliation' Becomes a Bad Word


By Robin Stephenson

For Christians, the term reconciliation is a sacred calling to heal the broken world – a call for heaven on earth. However, in the hands of the 114th Congress, budget reconciliation could become a tool that widens the gap of inequality and pushes more people – especially children– into hunger.

Reconciliation, in the legislative sense of the word, is expected to be included in the 2016 budgets the House and Senate plan to release next week. Both chambers are likely to call for deep cuts in non-defense spending.

Budget reconciliation is a set of instructions sometimes added to the yearly budget resolution – the overall amount Congress decides the U.S. government will spend in one year. Once the budget is passed, each committee is given its share of the total to distribute between all of the programs in its jurisdiction. When budget reconciliation instructions are included, certain committees are instructed to meet spending and revenue criteria – even if it includes finding additional savings by changing policy.

Budget reconciliation makes it easy to slip controversial changes through Congress that are hard to reverse, which is all the more reason we must pay attention to the process. To learn more, read Budget Reconciliation 101.

Under reconciliation, committees could include deep cuts to program funding or pass harmful policy changes to anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit (EITC) - programs, we believe, that have giant targets on them. In this scenario, children will pay a hefty price.

3963295139_3351abd412_bOur 2015 Offering of Letters aims to feed our children. The child poverty rate is already unacceptably disproportionate to our resources, but has improved since the height of the recession–nationally, we stand at 18 percent.  Without government interventions, the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Deep cuts to a program like SNAP, in which half of the participants are children, would be a move in the wrong direction. The earned income tax credit and child tax credit moved 5 million children out of poverty in 2013 and must be protected to make further progress on reducing child hunger. Medicaid, another piece of the poverty-ending puzzle, provided healthcare to 32 million children in 2012.

Defending SNAP from the chopping block is becoming the new normal. Just last year, your faithful advocacy halted deep cuts to SNAP in the farm bill. Up to $40 billion in cuts were proposed during the two-year negotiations. Without SNAP, many families would go hungry. Food banks and pantries, already stretched thin, cannot make up the difference

Every time there is talk of fiscal belt-tightening, the most vulnerable in our society are targeted as notches. This is not the kind of reconciliation that God calls us to and not the kind of reconciliation people of faith should stand for from our leaders. We must speak up early and ensure these programs don't become a bull's-eye for lawmakers' cuts.

Christians across this nation must do the real work of God’s reconciliation--urging Congress to prioritize and protect critical anti-poverty initiatives in any budget reconciliation bill, especially programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and tax credits for families struggling to make ends meet. We have done it before, and we must do it again.

Find more resources to understand the budget process here.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior organizer at Bread for the World.

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:71-23:1


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

Then they said, “What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.” Then the whole assembly of them arose and brought Jesus before Pilate. (Luke 22:71- 23:1)

I can look back at the story of Jesus’ birth and see that earlier in his Gospel Luke gave me some hints of what is taking place in this scene.

• At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her child would be given the “throne of David” (he would be the royal messiah) and would be called “the Son of God.” Now, at his trial, Jesus is convicted for allowing himself to be called by these titles.

• At the presentation in the Temple, Simeon took the child in his arms and said that he was destined “to be a sign that will be rejected.” I am watching this rejection happen here.

From Jesus’ own mouth the Sanhedrin heard what they were looking for. Now, off to Pilate to get the death penalty.

Once Jesus enters my life, I have to accept him or “kill him.” He is never just a neutral bystander.

It’s like the sun. I either let it affect me, or block it out.

Sometimes, except for my religious practices, I block Jesus out of my life, or parts of my life.

If it’s being done unconsciously, it’s going to require some soul-searching, and some help from the Lord.

Scriptural Manna: 'Give The King Your Justice'


Editor's note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.

"Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice." (Psalms 72:1, 2)

God expects those in government to look after the well-being of all its citizens. And special attention should be paid to people struggling with poverty, God says.  In other words, the civil authority has the power and means to help people who are poor and marginalized in society, and it should do so. The Bible is clear that all authority has been given by God and those in authority are God’s servants. However, some in civil authority today do not acknowledge that. The fact is that God holds them and us accountable for the manner in which we exercise the stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to us. Good governance is one of the many gifts given to us for the common good, and it should be exercised with equality and righteousness to all.

Genesis tells us that God gave Adam and Eve the power to subdue the earth. In doing so, man and woman have been given the ability to develop government systems and structures to care for one another and for the house in which they live, planet earth. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28 demonstrates that God will hold us individually accountable for our stewardship.  Nations will also be judged based on how they care for poor, the stranger, and marginalized, according to Matthew.

Every individual is responsible for making sound choices that can help him/her become contributing members of society. However, once sin enters humanity and its structures and systems, it brings forth greed, covetousness, oppression, and abuse of power. Therefore, many among the poor and marginalized “have been robbed of the ability to make choices for themselves” (The Poverty & Justice Bible, commentary, pg. 3).

We live in a democratic society in which free speech empowers us to be a prophetic voice to those in authority and “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8, 9). Let our prayer be like that of the Psalmist in Psalm 72 where our government officials may “judge all people with righteousness, defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy, crush the oppressor, and has pity on the weak and the needy.”

BISHOP JOSE GARCIA is the church relations director at Bread for the World. He is a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, a worldwide Pentecostal denomination with thousands of churches.

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:66-70


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought Jesus before their Sanhedrin. They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us,” but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.” (Luke 22:66-70)

This is high drama.

Jesus stands before the highest religious authorities who want to know two things: (1) Does he claim to be the Christ (Messiah)? (2) Does he claim to be the Son of God?

Jesus’ first answer is non-committal – he knew their image of the Messiah was more of a political leader.

His answer to the second question is more direct: “You say that I am.” The words on their own lips are true.

The identity of Jesus. Is Jesus really God, or simply a good person whom God adopted as his “son”? In 325 A.D., the first General Council of the Church centered on this question . . . as did the second in 381 . . . and the third in 431. Jesus is truly God.

The constant affirmation of the Church has been clear, enshrined in the former words of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ . . . true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.”

The identity of Jesus. Imagine him looking to me and asking, “Who do you say that I am?” To which I respond . . .

Growing Up Poor in Rural America


By Robin Stephenson

Clark Fork, Idaho is an idyllic rural community nestled near the northern tip of the state. The town has a median income of just under $28,000 a year and a population of 530. In November, the school district said it could no longer afford to serve hot meals at Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School.

Chris Riggins, the town's mayor, is concerned about food-insecure students. "The hot lunch that they receive here at school, a lot of them, this is the only hot meal they get during the day," Riggins told a local news station. 

Roughly 35 percent of rural populations live in high poverty, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural areas are defined as having populations of fewer than 2,500 and not adjacent to a metro area. More than 25 percent of all rural children live in poverty – significantly higher than their urban counterparts.

16160848070_43f57f9ce4_kThe National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a nutrition intervention tool that provides food to children who need it – food that gives them the fuel to learn. But a growing number of rural schools are struggling to make the program work for them.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that the numbers don't add up for Clark Fork. The school averages about 100 enrolled students a year and nearly half qualify for the federal government free and reduced-lunch program (available to students in a family of four that earn roughly $44,000 annually). About 20 students opt into the program on a regular basis. The federal government reimburses the school $2.58 for reduced lunch and $2.98 for free lunches. The $70 in revenue, however, is not enough to cover the $395 a day it takes to run the program.

Volume helps cut costs in schools with larger student populations.

Community eligibility, a provision in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bill, has the potential to help many struggling schools. If over 40 percent of students qualify for free lunch, all students get free lunch for schools that opt in. By eliminating application and fees, the streamlined process eases the burden on schools and increases the total reimbursement. Unfortunately, for a small school like Clark Fork, the numbers are not in their favor: Only 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free lunch.

The obvious solution to child poverty is stable, living-wage employment for parents. In the absence of adequate work, safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the earned income tax credit, and child nutrition programs increasingly bridge the gap between income and cost of living. Nationally, the child poverty rate stands at 18 percent. Without government interventions the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Kids deserve the chance to reach their potential no matter where they live. Anti-poverty programs like SNAP and school lunch, which keep hunger at bay, must be strengthened and protected for the sake of our children.

Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs from harmful budget and funding cuts. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.

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

Lent Devotions: Luke 22:63-65


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

The men who held Jesus in custody were ridiculing and beating him. They blindfolded him and questioned him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they reviled him in saying many other things against him. (Luke 22:63-65)

There is a child’s game that has been played around the world for over 2,000 years. A player is blindfolded, spun around, and others touch or call out while the blinded person tries to grab or identify the taunter. (In earlier times the “touching” could be violent.) If caught, a person has to take the “blind man’s” place. Many of us knew this child’s game as “blind man’s bluff.”

Jesus had been hailed as a prophet, and the men holding him in the courtyard were having a great time with this. Could this “great prophet” do what even a child could do? “Here, let me hit you a good one and see if you can guess who it is.” He was at their mercy, and they knew it.

There is irony here. Jesus had correctly prophesied the betrayal of Judas, the flight of the disciples, and the denials of Peter. Four chapters earlier in Luke, he had prophesied that he would be “mocked and insulted.” The guards, ridiculing him as a prophet, are now fulfilling this prophecy.

Luke presents Jesus as a model for all Christians. Through it all, Jesus says not a word in retaliation.

Perhaps some of my Lenten “fasting” could be from the snide remarks I sling now and then.

On this, the 21st day of Lent 2015, may I use mytongue to lift up, not tear down, for good, not for evil.

Hunger in the News: Poverty in Latin America, Michelle Alexander, and Food Stamps


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

How Incarceration Infects a Community,” by Emily Von Hoffman, The Atlantic. "'I know a lot of people that’s been in jail. My dad, my uncle ... well, all my uncles. My cousins. But I’m my own person.’ Fifteen-year-old Christel is one of several individuals featured in the Frontline documentary Prison State, offering a compelling personal account of incarceration’s typically anonymous collateral damage. The documentary centers on Beecher Terrace, a majority African American neighborhood in east Louisville. Kentucky pays roughly $15 million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of Beecher Terrace and the immediately surrounding neighborhoods, according to Frontline.”

Four Facts About Poverty in Latin America you Probably Didn't Know,” by Jamele Rigolini and Renos Vakis, The Huffington Post. “In 2010, Latin America set a new record: for the first time ever the region had more middle class people than poor. Historically deemed unequal and saddled with deeply-rooted pockets of poverty, a booming economy and shrinking income gap over the past decade pushed over 70 million people out of poverty -- twice the population of Canada. At the same time the middle class swelled to almost one-third of the total population. Fast forward four years and despite these dramatic advances, a fifth of five Latin Americans never left poverty, as we discovered in a recent study.”

Michelle Alexander: Roots of Today’s Mass Incarceration Crisis Date to Slavery, Jim Crow,” by Democracy Now! “As the Justice Department sheds new light on the racist criminal justice system in Ferguson, legal scholar Michelle Alexander looks at the historical roots of what she describes as "the new Jim Crow." From mass incarceration to police killings to the drug war, Alexander explores how the crisis is a nationwide issue facing communities of color.”

The terrible loneliness of growing up poor in Robert Putnam’s America,” by Emily Badger, The Washington Post. “Robert Putnam wants a show of hands of everyone in the room with a parent who graduated from college. In a packed Swarthmore College auditorium where the students have spilled onto the floor next to their backpacks, about 200 arms rise.”

Schools combat hunger by serving breakfast in class” by Benjamin Wood, The Salt Lake Tribune. “Shortly after 8:50 a.m. on March 3, 2015, students started trickling into Michele Brees' fifth-grade classroom at Copperview Elementary. They hung up their wet coats and lined up to grab a cereal bar, string cheese and juice out of a blue cooler placed by the door.”

This tool lets you try to end mass incarceration. But you'll have to focus on violent offenders,” by Dara Lind, Vox. “The US leads the world in incarceration, but most of its prisoners are in state prison. And a majority of state prisoners are serving sentences for violent crimes. That means that while states have made some progress in recent years in reducing their prison populations, it's going to be extremely difficult for that trend to continue indefinitely.”

Food stamp cuts pay for new policies to combat child hunger,” by Ned Resnikoff, AlJazeera America. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide more than $27 million to states and tribal nations to reduce child hunger, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday.”



Women's History Month: 'Poverty Is Not A Character Failing'


By Jennifer Gonzalez

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Bread Blog, Institute Notes, and Bread for the World’s social media platforms are celebrating the ingenuity, fortitude, and spirit of women during the month of March.

Among Barbara Ehrenreich's notable books is the bestseller “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.” Working as an undercover journalist, Ehrenreich took on various jobs as a low-wage worker in order to investigate how non-skilled workers make ends meet in the United States.

Today, low wages continue to keep many women in a cycle of poverty. Women’s equality, or the lack thereof, is the subject of the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger.  For instance, women now earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, up from 77 cents in 2012. 

The gender wage gap is very slowly eroding, but there is much more work to be done. Women are also at a disadvantage when it comes to the types of jobs they hold. “The majority of minimum-wage workers are women, and women hold 76 percent of the 10 low-wage jobs that employ the most people,” the report points out.

In fact, poverty would be reduced by half for families with a working woman if we closed the gender wage gap.

For more information on the integral role women play in ending hunger and poverty, make sure to read When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger and also visit Bread Blog.

Jennifer Gonzalez is the associate online editor at Bread for the World.




Lent Devotions: 22:60-62


Editor’s note: This Lenten season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals from the Little Black Book, which was first created by Bishop Ken Untener of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, Mich. The devotionals are in the prayer tradition of Lectio Divina to help people pray the Passion of Our Lord. 

Just as Peter was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. (Luke 22:60-62)

The presence of Jesus always brings healing. Earlier at his arrest, it was the servant’s ear. Here it’s Peter’s soul. After the third denial Jesus looks at Peter to remind him of what he had said earlier: “I’m praying for you.”

As Luke describes it, Jesus saw and heard all three denials. Remember the feeling when, after I’ve said something not complimentary about someone, I realize that they overheard it? That’s how Peter felt when he saw Jesus across the way. He was crushed.

But Peter, unlike Judas, did not commit suicide. I don’t know what happened next (Peter is not seen again until after the resurrection) but he must have poured out the awful truth to the other disciples. They must have done what we all must do when someone tells us of their failures: Acknowledge the evil, and open our arms wide in mercy. One without the other will not work.

The Lord is with me, in the courtyard of my life, not off somewhere else. And he looks at me, not as a spectator, but with love. He’s pulling for me. To remember he’s with me as I go through a day might change a few things. Maybe a lot of things.

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