Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Return from Recess

Capitol 2
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

As summer draws to a close, members of Congress return to Washington for a short work period before entering the final campaign stretch before the midterm elections. Here are hunger-related items before Congress this fall:

Food-Aid Reform

Over the August recess, Bread has been urging senators to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). This food-aid reform legislation will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people. Read more about the legislation at www.bread.org/indistrict. While this legislation may not become law this year, more co-sponsors will significantly help push the issue forward in the new Congress.

The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to mark up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill (S. 2444), but that mark-up was postponed before the August recess due to unrelated issues. There is no word on when the legislation will come back up in committee, but Bread will continue to encourage senators to omit the harmful cargo-preference provision that the House had. This harmful provision increases the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged carriers, costing the government an additional $75 million and would leave 2 million hungry people around the world without access to lifesaving food aid.

Immigration and Unaccompanied Children

In the weeks before the August recess, Congress was debating and crafting legislation to address the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Read Bread’s bill analysis on the pieces of legislation that Congress considered before its recess at www.bread.org/indistrict.

Until recently, the debate has lacked much attention to the root causes of the crisis: poverty, hunger, and violence. However, during July, Bread activists sent over 10,000 emails to their senators and representatives, urging them to include these root causes as part of any legislation addressing the child refugee crisis. In meetings with congressional offices over the past few weeks, Bread staff have noticed that members of Congress are starting to incorporate root causes into their thinking about the issue.

When Congress returns, there will be two opportunities for legislators to address the child refugee crisis. Congress could pass a separate emergency supplemental spending bill as both the House and Senate were attempting to do before the recess. Alternatively, Congress could include provisions to address the crisis in the regular spending, or appropriations, bill, which is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to keep the government open. Congress will pass a short-term measure in September to get through the mid-term elections and will then revisit these appropriations decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year in December. Both periods offer an opportunity for Congress to add language addressing the surge of refugee children in the U.S.

Budget and Appropriations

In September, Congress will have to pass some sort of budget as the government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month. Congress may pass a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The easiest route is to pass a clean CR that just extends current funding levels. However, both parties will push for certain spending add-ons, such as funding for the border or wildfires. Some Republicans could also press for additional spending cuts. Any CR is likely to last until mid-December to push any concerns over a shutdown beyond the mid-term elections.

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

World Prayers for Sept. 14-20: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania

Hungarian_Goulash
Hungry in Hungary? Why not have the goulash? Nothing is more Hungarian than that! (Photo by bucklava 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 14-20, we pray for: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania:

God of the north, south, east, and west, we thank you for the contributions of these countries and their peoples to the world. We thank you for the long history of Christianity there and the work of their churches. Continue to enliven the deep and abiding faith of Christians there. We pray for an end to corruption and organized crime, high unemployment, and limited supplies of food and housing. We ask you to bring healing for those who suffered under Marxist regimes. And we pray for the creation of stable economic and political systems that allow for the participation of all the peoples in these countries so that all may have enough to eat. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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

Bulgaria: 21.2
Hungary:
not available
Romania
: 22.6

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

Bread's Eric Mitchell Named to The Root 100

EmitchellBread for the World is extremely proud to announce Eric Mitchell, director of government relations, was listed in The Root 100, an annual list honoring the 100 most influential African-Americans.

Mitchell is listed with notable influencers such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J), basketball star Kevin Durant, and Beyoncé. The Root is a black news website and compiles a list of the top African-American influencers who are 45 years old and younger.

“This is humbling to be recognized for the great work that we do to end hunger both in the United States and around the world,” Mitchell says.

When he goes to Capitol Hill, Mitchell knows he carries with him the influence of Bread for the World members who call and write their members of Congress about hunger. “This is just a reflection of the strength of our activists around the country who care about issues related to hunger and poverty.”

Mitchell leads Bread for the World’s anti-hunger policy agenda on Capitol Hill. His leadership has been instrumental in protecting domestic nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC from devastating cuts. Just this summer, Mitchell led Bread’s efforts to protect $80 million in danger of being cut from the 2014 farm bill.

This is not the first time Mitchell has been honored for his work as an anti-hunger lobbyist.  For two years running, he has been named in The Hill newspaper as a top grassroots lobbyist.

Around Bread for the World’s offices, Mitchell’s cheerful demeanor is a joy and his passion for ending hunger a source of inspiration. 

Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, says, “Eric Mitchell is a super nice guy but dead serious about winning change for hungry people.”

Please join us in congratulating Eric!

 

On September 11th, Remember and Recommit

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Children in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan (USAID)

By Stephen Padre

Today, September 11, is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. While we solemnly remember the thousands of lives lost and the destruction of some of our national symbols and other property, we should also remember the other fallout from that day: years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where there is war and conflict, there is often hunger.

Our government took the lead in those wars in what it called a pursuit of justice and peace and a protection of Americans’ way of life. As a result, Afghanistan and Iraq are much different places politically than they were several years ago. Yet these countries still struggle mightily with poverty and hunger. The largest assistance program of the U.S. Agency for International Development, our government’s main anti-hunger agency, is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the U.S. government still has a large military, diplomatic, and humanitarian presence in Iraq, even with a drawdown of troops there.

In the same way that our government took decisive military action in these countries, our government can and should take the lead in addressing poverty and ending hunger there. This has been Bread for the World’s call for the world over – for the U.S. government to do its part, to make hunger a priority and to end it by 2030. When the way of life of an Afghan or Iraqi child is conflict and hunger every day, then our government and we as Americans must do our part to offer that child protection.

For Americans, September 11 was a day of catastrophe, a disaster in our homeland. Today is a day of remembrance. Let’s also make it a day to remember the ongoing “silent disaster” of hunger that will occur on September 12 and every day thereafter in Afghanistan and Iraq, in South Sudan and Central America. And let’s bring the disaster of hunger to an end one day soon.

Stephen Padre is managing editor at Bread for the World.

Ebola Crisis Expected to Become a Food Crisis

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Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. (David Benafel, USAID FED)

By Robin Stephenson

Rice farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County were celebrating a rice surplus earlier this year, helped by a U.S. funded program to increase agricultural productivity. The small-holder farmers, who previously produced just enough to consume themselves, were able to sell 125 bags of rice through their cooperative.

Front Page Africa wrote, “The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers.”

It may, but not because of a banner year for rice.

2014 will go down in the history books for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. More than 1,000 Liberians have been infected and more than half have died since May. The World Health Organization expects the number to increase by 12,000 in the next six months. But Ebola is only the beginning. The collateral damage from the outbreak is hunger, without increased interventions of food assistance. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone face a similar narrative. Now Nigeria and Senegal are also reporting cases of the virus.

Liberia is still struggling to recover from years of civil conflict. Rebuilding the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy economy as well as an effective public health care system takes time. Poverty rates in the West African country remain high and chronic malnutrition stands at 36 percent.

Rice harvests in Liberia, which occur September to December and are expected to be above average this year, will help mitigate hunger in the short term, but the outlook for the next hunger season is bleak. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is predicating increased food insecurity throughout March of 2015 due to market disruptions and labor shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that the majority of Ebola victims are between the ages of 15 and 45, which will reduce household incomes for hundreds of households.

Investments in projects focused on poverty before the outbreak will lessen the need for assistance later, but it won’t be enough. The WFP is bracing for more humanitarian need throughout the region.

Food insecurity in West Africa will just add to an already over-taxed food assistance system. Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and people threatened by looming famine in the Central African Republic and neighboring South Sudan are already in need of precious food aid resources.

It sounds overwhelming but we can do more with some of the resources we already have. By creating more flexibility in the U.S. food aid program, we can reach more people. Pilot reforms, such as those that buy food near a disaster instead of shipping commodities from the United States, have helped get food to millions more people and build resilience against future disasters.

If Congress passes the Food for Peace Reform Act (S.2421), we can reach 9 million more people and, during emergencies, deliver food two months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Smarter food aid can do more than reach more people. It can build on progress already made. Liberia has worked hard to make progress on hunger, with help from foreign donors like the United States. Sending commodities will help deal with hunger today, but buying locally will help strengthen their economy tomorrow.

When the last case of Ebola goes into the history books, smart food aid means Liberia can return to making progress on ending hunger.

The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill.

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

 

What Our Faith Can Bring to Our Country’s Political Discourse

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Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) meets with Margaret Edmondson (center) and Bread for the World President David Beckmann during Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Rick Reinhard)

By Mike McCurry

One ritual these days in Washington, D.C., is to bemoan the lack of civility in our national discourse and the breakdown in regular order when doing the nation's business. Ask any elected official or congressional staff member why things seem so broken, and you'll get some version of the same answer: No one trusts each other anymore.

When I worked in the White House in the 1990s under President Clinton, we certainly had sharp disagreements with the Republican leaders of Congress. I probably said some things about Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that went over the top, but when I used vocabulary that was too pointed, either Leon Panetta (our chief of staff) or the president himself took me aside for a scolding and told me to dull the sword. At the end of the day, we – Republicans and Democrats and members of the administration and Congress – had to sit down and come to terms with each other.

I'm not sure there is anyone in official Washington these days telling their hot-shot press secretaries to tone it down. The language gets even more bitter and personal, and the atmosphere for problem-solving and serious legislation gets more poisonous.

I thought of this recently as Democrats responded to a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to fundamentally change our national programs that help the poor.  There are ample reasons to worry about Ryan's concept. Turning many of the federal programs critical for those at the economic margin – SNAP (formerly food stamps), housing benefits, temporary assistance for the needy – to the states in one giant block grant might put at risk people who live in states that take a dim view of helping those less fortunate. And given enormous budget pressures at the federal level, some in Congress might be tempted to gut funding for these programs altogether, although Ryan made clear his proposals were not being put forward to reduce deficits.

Whatever the substantive merits of his ideas, Ryan immediately came under criticism about his motives, his ambitions, his authenticity as someone who "claimed" to care about the poor. The attacks were political and personal, not directed at policy.

I kept thinking: Here is a true conservative who has spent time learning these programs, who has spent hours and hours visiting with those in need to hear their stories, and who is the first Republican leader in a long time to proclaim that government has an important role in dealing with shortcomings in our society that markets and individual effort cannot solve. Instead of "Hurray, let's talk," it was "let's demonize and ignore."

We are making such progress in fighting hunger, both here in the United States and around the world. We now have strategies for ending childhood hunger as states use school-based food programs combined with the private efforts of the faith community and other local organizations to make sure kids are surrounded by better nutrition and information about healthy eating. Groups like Share Our Strength (which I serve as a board member) are helping enlist governors and other state officials in campaigns called "No Kid Hungry."

Meanwhile, we are seeing serious progress in combating malnutrition and famine globally with strong leadership from Bread for the World. We won't quite meet the ambitious targets set out in the original Millennium Development Goals, but as work begins on the next round of targets for global development, hunger and malnutrition seem to be at the top of the list for world leaders.

Those are things to celebrate. When there are moments when the political right and left come together on an agenda, the church should be there to say, "Amen!"  And people of faith can help build trusting relationships that will allow leaders work through their differences on the way to real progress and solutions. That's what public theology can bring to a dispirited national government.

Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton, is a distinguished professor of public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary and a supporter of Bread for the World.

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

Quote of the Day: 1 John

Forbes with Bible
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

Hunger in the News: Job Market, Immigration Reform, Food Aid, Ebola Aid

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

In 2013, Workers’ Share of Income in the Corporate Sector Fell to its Lowest Point since 1950,” by Josh Bivens, Economic Policy Institute. “Labor’s share of corporate sector income seemed to be trending downward for at least a decade before the Great Recession hit.”

Job Market Continues to Grind out Gains, but at a Slower Pace,” by Gary Burtless, Brookings. The number of Americans reporting an unemployment spell lasting longer than 6 months shrank by 192,000 in August, bringing the number down to 2.96 million.

Obama aims to clarify reforms on immigration,” by Richard McGregor, The Financial Times. “Barack Obama has admitted he must convince the public of the need for immigration reform after abruptly delaying the most far-reaching changes in US policy in a quarter of a century ahead of November’s congressional elections.”

As border crisis fades, so does need for new funds,” by Seung Min Kim, Politico. “But for all the border-crisis drama that engulfed Washington this summer, lawmakers are returning to the Capitol this week from their five-week break having done nothing.”

U.S. Agency Pledges Nearly $100 Million in Ebola Aid,” by Betsy McKay, The Wall Street Journal. “The U.S. Agency for International Development said Thursday it will spend nearly $100 million in aid for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, in what is believed to be one of the largest donations yet to combat an escalating humanitarian crisis.”

World Prayers for Sept. 7-13: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia

Serbian_Christmas_meal
A typical Christmas table in Serbia - grilled pork, Olivie salad (also called Russian salade), dzadziki salade, red wine, and Bajadera sweets. Photo by Petar Milošević 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 7-13, we pray for: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia:

Lord, we lift up our voices in prayer – remembering the needs of our brothers and sisters in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. May the words of our mouths and the intentions of our hearts extend to places we  have never been and to people we have never met.

We give thanks and praise for those who use their hands and hearts, care and creativity
to build bridges between ethnic groups within their communities. We ask that, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, you would strengthen bonds and relationships between those who hold differing views. Give your people eyes to see one another as a part of the same divine family.

Lord, we offer prayers for those who are working to rebuild that which has fallen to the destructive forces of war. We pray for economic opportunities where there are none. We pray for resources to reconstruct where there seems to be nothing left. We pray for fresh vision — for the energy of younger generations to help cast new visions of reconciliation and peace for these nations.

We give you thanks, Lord God, for the natural beauty of these lands — the hills, the rivers, the trees, the seasons – all of the richness that sustains rural life.

Lord, remember your people — those who live still as displaced persons and refugees. For women, whose bodies lay victim to war. For children, who cannot forget what they’ve seen and heard. For men, who fight and struggle against pressures to hate. For those who experience hunger as a part of daily life. Give them daily bread. Be their Daily Bread. Lift us up, together and for one another, and lead us “to the rock that is higher.” (Psalm 61:2)  And for those who mourn – cover them with the comfort of your enduring love.

We praise you for the ways you are already at work in this region of the world. God, we pray that you will work, in us and through us, for the establishment of human rights for all, for the healing and restoration of your holy church, and for the equipping of leaders who will lead well – in unity, with hope, and for the benefit of all whom they serve.

Lord, we pray for the end of economic instability, warfare, and changes in climate that perpetuate hunger in these countries. Free us all from the burdens of scarcity and the threat of hunger and malnutrition.

In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

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

Albania:14.3
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 17.9
FYR of Macedonia: 27.1
Kosovo: 29.7
Montenegro: 11.3
Serbia: 24.6

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

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

Capitol
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

An expiring budget, food aid reform, and a humanitarian crisis at the border await Congress. After hearing from the voters, will Congress return from a five-week recess on September 8 ready to act on these connected issues?

Asked if it is possible, Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World’s deputy director of government relations, answers emphatically. “Absolutely. If they have the political will and make ending hunger a priority, they will work together.”

“These issues are too important for Congress to sit on any longer.”

The 2014 budget expires October 1. Congress has only 11 working days to pass a temporary extension before going on another break or face a government shutdown.

In addition to simply extending the budget, Congress should protect funding for WIC and maintain a strong safety net as the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession. As the economy slowly improves, further cuts could sink more Americans into deeper poverty.

Looming famine in South Sudan, drought in Latin America, and Ebola in West Africa are wreaking havoc with global food security – not to mention the millions of conflict-displaced families needing help in the Middle East. Efforts to address global hunger today mitigate food prices and global security concerns in the future.

Boosting poverty-focused development assistance is an investment that will decrease hunger in future food emergencies. Programs like Feed the Future, which take a long-term approach to building food security, are saving lives and building resilience in countries like Tanzania.

There is an opportunity to make our U.S. food aid—programs that respond to global disasters—do more with reform. Senators can build momentum for even more flexible and efficient food aid by cosponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) and holding a hearing during this session.

Funding smaller reforms passed in the farm bill will free up the funds needed to help more people now and expand programs that are already working. For example, Guatemala has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the countries children are fleeing for the U.S. southern border. Catherine Pascal Jiménez, who is featured in the 2014 Offering of Letters, can keep her children at home thanks to a U.S.-funded food-aid program.

Ignoring the humanitarian crisis at the border or criminalizing children who flee poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America will not stop the flow of migrants. Funding global anti-hunger programs that can address economic stability in the sending countries is a first step in stemming the tide of hungry people seeking refuge. Congress must act quickly with emergency funding on its return to Washington.

Swift action may be a tall order, and there is certainly a reason to be pessimistic with this unproductive Congress. However, this is a democracy, and as Kegan points out, “Members who don’t listen to voters don’t stay in Washington.”

Kegan says faithful advocates need to make a lot of noise as Congress returns to the nation’s capitol next week. “If enough people demand action, they will act.” 

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

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