Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

382 posts categorized "Poverty"

Second Chances: Reforming Policy for Returning Citizens

_E0A0223
Dominic Duren, assistant director of the HELP Program for returning citizens, poses with his son Dominic Jr. in Cincinnati, Ohio. Learn more about the HELP Program in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Collateral damage is not always the first thing one notices, but laws and rules regulating citizens returning to society after imprisonment have caused a national wound. It's time we start the healing process. Individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color – are paying the price for our broken justice system.

America has always valued the second chance. Our prison system was built on the principle that if you pay your debt to society, you can rejoin society with a fresh start. That is not how it works anymore. Even the smallest of infractions lead to lifelong exclusion.

The practice of mass incarceration – imprisonment of citizens at record levels – traps individuals and whole communities in cycles of hunger and poverty. And it should trouble us even more that it is disproportionality affecting black and brown communities. Civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, defines mass incarceration as a form of racialized social control that creates an undercaste.

In the past 40 years, the criminal justice system has expanded, and now includes 45,000 laws and rules that create barriers for returning citizens to rebuild their lives. The United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world, its state and federal goverments spend an estimated $74 billion a year on corrections. As prisons are privatized, the incentive to incarcerate citizens is driven by windfall profits and access to government dollars. The American Civil Liberties Union says the business model of for-profit prisons is dependent on high rates of incarceration.

A report by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers points out that lack of access to public resources creates barriers when the citizen returns home. Barred resources that are vital to reestablishment can include "employment and licensing, housing, education, public benefits, credit and loans, immigration status, parental rights, interstate travel, and even volunteer opportunities.” With 1 in 4 citizens estimated to have a criminal record, a large portion of American talent is being squandered due to exclusion.

Exclusion is addressed in Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Hunger becomes a byproduct of social exclusion when citizens are pushed to the margins of society. "Policies that make millions of returning citizens ineligible for nutrition assistance,” writes the Institute, “only exacerbate the problem." The report goes on to note that “studies show that access to public services that improve economic security, especially soon after people are released, reduces recidivism rates."

People of faith should be concerned with the dignity of returning citizens, as we are all made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Restorative justice for the returning citizen is supported by biblical tradition, and should be a matter for the faith community. Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, was subject to oppression at the hands of the Roman Empire and imprisoned. He paid the ultimate price for our second chance. It’s time to pay it forward. Grace is about redemption and reconciliation through God’s unwavering love for humanity. When society embodies that grace, we stop punishing people long after they have completed their sentences, and stop turning their families and communities into collateral damage.

Why Are So Many Seniors Hungry?


Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Senior years are supposed to be "golden" years—a time when people who've worked hard their entire lives can enjoy retirement, travel, indulge in new hobbies, and play with grandchildren. Unfortunately, for many elders, senior years are hungry years.

A new Bread analysis, "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," shows that from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 2.8 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity. That same year, 3.9 million adults age 65 and older lived below the poverty line.

Why? In part, the Great Recession. Most people in this country felt the pinch of the U.S. economic downturn, but vulnerable populations, including seniors, have been especially affected. Also, seniors are less likely to ask for help than other groups—either because they don't know they're eligible for assistance, or because of the stigma around asking for it, they may not access feeding programs, such as Meals on Wheels, or federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP). 

In one of the stories in the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on food stamps in America—"In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, focused on SNAP outreach to hungry seniors"— food stamp outreach worker Dillie Nerios bumps up against these issues in her work. The piece details one especially heartbreaking interaction between Nerios and a senior couple who lost their home and savings during the recession and are struggling to keep their heads above water, but still are hesitant to sign up for SNAP. Nerios tells them they've worked hard their entire lives, paid taxes that help fund safety net programs, and that there is no shame in asking for just a small amount of help so that they're able to afford food that will help keep them healthy and vibrant. Still, they hesitate. “It’s hard to accept,” the husband says.

While help may indeed be hard to accept, at a time when 30 percent of seniors who have worked their entire lives and contributed greatly to society now have to choose between feeding themselves or purchasing medication, something must change. We must work to strengthen programs that offer seniors assistance, and also erase the stigma that prevents them for asking for a helping hand, so that they can enjoy their golden years and not have to worry about putting food on the table.

Read more in Bread for the World's analysis "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," and view the infographic "Food Insecurity: A Harsh Reality for Many Seniors."

Senate to Vote on Minimum Wage Increase

Infographic_RaiseMinWage2
View the full "Raise the Minimum Wage" infographic from the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Update, 12:40 p.m. The Senate bill to raise the federal minimum wage failed on a 54-42 vote; 60 votes were needed to move forward with the legislation. The bill will likely come up again for a vote, so continue to contact your members of Congress and tell them to pass the bill. 

Ending hunger in America is possible, but jobs—and jobs that pay a decent wage—are key to making it happen. “The most important antipoverty policy is maintaining high rates of employment,” writes Todd Post, senior editor of Bread for the World Institute’s annual Hunger Report, in the briefing paper, Ending Hunger in America. “In addition, low-wage jobs have to pay enough so that no full-time worker is living in poverty with his/her family.”

As early as today, the Senate is expected to vote on Senate bill 1737, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, index it for inflation, and raise the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the general minimum wage. Passing the bill will be no easy task. It will require a sustained and loud effort by faithful advocates, who must use every opportunity to let Congress know that workers deserve a fair deal. 

Several states have passed minimum wage increases, with some getting closer to the $10.10 mark.  Bread for the World recommends a $12 minimum wage in the 2014 Hunger Report.  That is the amount it would take for a single breadwinner in a family of four, working full-time, year-round, to pull his or her family just over the federal poverty line.

Earlier this year, President Obama raised the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors by executive order, which is a good first step. In a press release, Bread for the World President David Beckmann praised the action, and added, “Now is the time for Congress to do its part.”

Income inequality in 21st century America is one of the great scourges of our time. Productivity has steadily risen since the 1950s, but the real value of the minimum wage has declined, leaving working families that depend on the minimum wage struggling to put food on their tables. In a report released earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office said that wage increases would have an overall positive affect on the economy. Raising the wage is not just smart economically, but is morally necessary when a few have more than enough and too many struggle to make ends meet.

“Too many workers in this country face hard times as a result of insufficient wages,” said Beckmann. “There is no reason that full-time workers should struggle to provide for their families.”

*

Take Action: Call your Senators with this toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) and let them know you support a minimum wage increase. Tell them to pass S. 1737 today because it is time to give American workers a fair deal.

Bread for the World Letter to U.S. Senate on Smarter Sentencing Act

Nate_work
Photo: Nate, a returning citizen in Ohio, who has been able to overcome the employment barrier, and now works to feed his family. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Today, Bread for the World President David Beckmann sent the following letter to U.S. senators, asking them to support the Smart Sentencing Act, which would alleviate costly prison overcrowding, reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses, and those resentence cases subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing.

As stated in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, we cannot end hunger without confronting knottier social issues—and hunger and poverty often result from social exclusion and discrimination. Men and women who have spent time in prison often face difficulty finding jobs and feeding their families—and they are less likely to have access to social safety net programs. For example, most states restrict or ban certain returning citizens from using food stamps (SNAP).

Read the full text of the letter below.

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Senator:

 

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA), sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).  This bipartisan legislation, which will soon see a vote in the Senate, alleviates the costly overcrowding crisis in our prisons. It would reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses and authorize judicial review for possible resentencing of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity. Bread for the World calls on you to vote in favor of the bill and asks you to consider co-sponsoring the SSA. Additionally, we hope you will oppose any additional amendments that harm the bill’s integrity, such ascreating mandatory sentences for other offenses.

As a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization, we view federal policy through the lens of its impact on hunger and poverty.  Hunger is often a byproduct of social exclusion and discrimination. People who have spent time in prison are more likely to face barriers to work and thus less likely to have the resources to put food on the table. The toll on families and their economic security is significant. Furthermore, outdated, overly punitive, and unnecessarily restrictive drug sentencing disproportionately and unfairly incarcerates people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by an astounding 800 percent even though crime rates are lower. Half of the people in prison are there for a drug offense. Fewer people incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug cases would have a marked improvement on hunger in America.

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, protect it from additional harmful amendments, and consider co-sponsoring the legislation.

 

Sincerely,

 

David Beckmann

President

What Does Food Insecurity Look Like in Your Community?


A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

“I just want my kids to be fed," Jaime Grimes of Lincoln, Neb., recently told NBC News. The former teacher and mother of four visits food pantries, grows food in a community garden, and receives food stamps (SNAP); her children participate in a variety of nutrition programs, from school lunches to a backpack program that sends them home with food once a week. Still, it's not enough. 

Although the effects of the Great Recession are fading for some, many families are still struggling to put food on the table. Feeding America's 2014 Map the Meal Gap report, released earlier this week, shows that food insecurity continues to touch every county in the nation, and that children are at especially great risk of experiencing hunger.

According to the report, even in the most food-secure state—which is Nebraska, where Grimes and her children live—more than 1 in 10 children struggles with hunger.

(View the map, and see the food insecurity rate in your state and county.)

“We haven’t really seen increases in food insecurity [since the recession], which is a good thing. The downside of that is there are still way too many food insecure people," said Bread for the World policy analyst Christine Melendez Ashley, in the same NBC News piece.

The Map the Meal Gap report does note that federal nutrition programs and the emergency food system "weave a comprehensive nutrition safety net, reaching food-insecure individuals at different levels of poverty," Still, there is a need to "strengthen anti-hunger programs and policies to ensure food-insecure individuals are eligible and have access to adequate levels of assistance." 

Some key finding from Map the Meal Gap include:

  • 324 counties in the United States are high food-insecurity counties; minorities are disproportionately affected
  • In every state, children are at a higher risk of food insecurity compared to the overall population.
  • Of the counties with food insecurity rates in the highest 10 percent, 51.5 percent were rural, even though rural counties represent only 42.5 percent of all counties in the United States.

What does hunger look like in your community? How many people live below the SNAP threshold? What is the average cost of a meal? Whether you live in Nebraska, with its low rate of food insecurity, or Mississippi—the state with the highest number of people struggling with hunger—viewing the map reminds us of the need to advocate to strengthen our country's safety net and ensure that all are fed.

Ryan Budget Threatens International Programs that Save Lives

Refugee_camp_classroom
Children inside a classroom at Za’atri refugee camp, host to tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by conflict, near Mafraq, Jordan. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

By Alyssa Casey

Since the crisis in Syria began more than three years ago, nearly 9.5 million people—almost half of Syria's population—have fled their homes. More than 2.5 million Syrian refugees have relocated to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. Their needs—for shelter, food, medical care, education, and employment opportunities—are great. At this critical time, what Syrians do not need is reduced support and assistance from the international community, including the United States. Unfortunately, under the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), this would likely be the case.   

Ryan’s fiscal year 2015 budget resolution, released this week, proposes deep cuts to programs that provide relief to those affected by conflict in Syria, and other parts of the world. Ryan’s proposal cuts the International Affairs budget by a devastating 11 percent. As the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition points out, this funding level would mean a 24 percent decrease in the total International Affairs budget since 2010.

We all acknowledge the current tough fiscal environment, but we cannot let the poor and hungry bear the largest burden during these difficult times, as they so often do. As Bread for the World has previously noted, sequestration has already cut funding for life-saving international efforts, such as child and maternal health and international food aid. Now is not the time for additional cuts.

The International Affairs budget funds poverty-focused development assistance programs that provide emergency relief to those affected by conflict and disasters, saving countless lives. Last month, the World Food Program reported that food aid is now reaching previously inaccessible areas of Syria, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands.  The U.S. Agency for International Development helps fund critical programs that provide immediate needs such as food, water, shelter, and vaccinations to Syrian refugees.  This funding also achieves longer-term goals such as education, psychological care, and job training to help refugees rebuild their lives.

Unfortunately, Syria is not unique. Crisis and conflict continue to fan the flames of hunger and poverty in South Sudan, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other countries across the globe. Fortunately, we can help. As a nation, we must continue to offer life-saving assistance, and as individuals, we must continue to urge our members of Congress to support robust funding levels for international humanitarian and poverty-focused development accounts.

At a time when U.S. foreign assistance is saving lives every day, we cannot risk the progress that has been made by abandoning the funding that makes it possible. Rep. Ryan’s budget resolution is not the solution.

Alyssa Casey is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.

Pope Francis and Obama: When Faith and Government Meet

Pope_francis_president_obama
Pope Francis meets President Barack Obama at the Vatican on Thursday, March 27. (Getty)

By Billy Kangas

For President Obama, leader of the one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, to come together to discuss the need to address poverty and income inequality is historic. But what exactly does last Thursday’s meeting at the Vatican mean for hungry and poor people? Will it help shift Obama’s narrative on income equality from a focus on the struggling middle class to one on the hungry and impoverished in the United States and around the world? Does the fact that the two men were able to set aside any differences in opinion and find common ground in a desire to help the poor hint at a larger sea change?

The meeting raises many questions, but it also underscores the pope’s enormous potential to impact global politics, global leadership, and global priorities—including hunger and poverty. Exactly what does the so-called "Francis factor" contribute? Here are some observations to put Francis in perspective, and give some context to the life and ministry of this cleric, who is changing the world through small acts done with great love.

He's a leader from the developing world

This point is so key to understanding Francis. His voice has continually reminded me to look beyond my own cultural concerns and obsessions to see who the truly marginalized in this world are. As much as disparity and inequality remain significant and heart-wrenching issues in the United States, the inequality that ravages so many U.S. communities is often more acutely felt in the communities of the developing world. It is from these places that Francis emerged; it is in these places that he has spent his life of ministry. He reminds us to take our gaze away from our navels and to look into the pleading eyes of those who suffer under our indifference. 

He brings a different narrative 

Our political system often only gives us two stories to choose from: the narrative from the left, and the narrative from the right. The stories from these two sides can become all-consuming, blotting out all else and creating an environment in which one is judged solely on where they fall on the continuum of conservative to liberal. Francis emerges with a different kind of story—it is not one driven by politics, wealth, or power, but humility, grace, joy, and sacrifice. It cuts us to the heart, and brings a challenge. His message is simple: God's glory; neighbor's good. There is little room for self-aggrandizement in that equation, and I have been convicted time and time again of my own sin and of my need for the transforming Grace of God in my life.

He has a different kind of power

Francis wields a significant amount of power, but it is not the kind of power that we have grown accustomed to in our contemporary world. He does not have the power of the nation-state, he does not have the power of a global corporation, he does not even have the power of a radical revolutionary. His power lies in his ability to remind millions that their allegiance is to the God who demonstrates love in Christ laying down his life. Francis has been a great communicator of that message. He has been an example of what Christ looks like, and that is a power we have rarely had to contend with in this modern age.

He is bringing to bear a tradition

Another reason the “Francis factor” must be taken seriously is that he is more than just a prophet, he is a pope. As a pope, he brings with him a tradition that is deep and rich and beautiful. He does not bring ideas that are his alone, which will flash in the pan of world history and be forgotten, but represents a movement grounded in 2000 years of theology, philosophy, and social teaching, from which countless others have given their lives to demonstrate the radical love of God in Christ. Francis will not be pope forever, but we can be sure he will not be the last to bear this radical call. The message Francis preaches is not his own, and it will continue long after he has gone. It is the message that continues to sustain us.

It remains to be seen exactly how the “Francis factor” might influence the agenda of Obama—and vice versa. But hopefully, at the very least, last week’s meeting signaled to the world the importance of coming together to address issues of hunger and poverty in our world. 

*

Living out the mandate to work for God’s glory and neighbor’s good includes ensuring that all are fed. Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, “Reforming U.S. Food Aid,” seeks smart forms to U.S. food aid programs—changes that would help feed millions more each year, at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Visit http://www.bread.org/ol to learn more.

Billy Kangas is Bread for the World's Catholic Relations fellow.

Working to End Maternal and Child Hunger Year-round

Mother_daughterBy Kristen Youngblood Archer

“I fall, I stand still… I trudge on. I gain a little… I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory.” – Helen Keller

Today is March 31, the official end to National Women’s History Month. Like so many other months that have been assigned an issue of national or international importance, this month was dedicated in the late 1970s, around International Women’s Day, for the purpose of celebrating the achievements and contributions women have made to society, science, government, and our world at large.

The trouble with these months is that, well, they end. Once they’re over, we’re on to the next month or issue, and have forgotten all of the great things we learned, celebrated, and promised to do in the month prior.

At Bread for the World, we like to look at these important months as a time not only to celebrate, but to reflect on what has been done among specific communities of people to end hunger, and what more there is to accomplish. While these designated months (African-American History Month, Older Americans Month, Hispanic Heritage Month) serve as official rallying cries, we must pursue relevant issues and challenges throughout the year if we are to effect lasting change.

While Women’s History Month ends today, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger among women and children around the world continues. There’s still work to do.

With this in mind, Bread for the World has just completed two new “Hunger by the Numbers’ analyses on women and children.

The international analysis takes a look at the important role women play in development and ending hunger worldwide, particularly with regards to nutrition in the first 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. The domestic analysis highlights some key issues brought to light in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. From wages to childcare, this document evaluates some of the main factors that contribute to the hardships of workers in the United States.

We hope these analyses will not only provide valuable information, but that they will encourage us to keep working to end hunger among women and children all year long.

Kristen Youngblood Archer is Bread for the World's media relations manager.

Photo: A mother and daughter in Nicaragua shell peas from their garden. (Margaret W. Nea)

You Might Live in Public Housing, Even If You Don't Know It

Ananya Roy is professor of City and Regional Planning and distinguished chair in Global Poverty and Practice at the University of California, Berkeley. And she lives in public housing.

In the video "Who is Dependent on Welfare?" Roy explains that her work affords her a comfortable home in the California hills, with a view of Golden Gate Bridge—but she still calls it public housing. 

"The public housing I live in is not the American stereotype...but my home is public housing, because the tax deduction I enjoy on my mortgage is a more substantial handout than any money spent by the U.S. government," she says.

Roy has heard her students speak against government help for the poor and talk of so-called welfare "dependency," so she challenges them to examine the subsidies that they themselves—and many middle-class and wealthy citizens of this country—receive.

"In 1999, the U.S. government spent $24 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for the poor," Roy says in the video. "That same year, it spent $72 billion on homeownership subsidies for the middle class and the wealthy--subsidies that are never considered to be welfare, and there is no stigma attached to this dependency. In fact, it is seen as an entitlement."

"My students enjoy a host of hidden government subsidies that buttress opportunity and mobility, but they do not think that such subsidies should be available to the poor," she says.

It's just one of the compelling points in this video from the #GlobalPOV project at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at U.C. Berkeley. The goal of the project is to prompt people to examine their thinking about poverty, both in the United States and around the world.

The video also details how the global south is leading the world in addressing income equality and rewriting the social contract that governments have with those living below the poverty line by doing things such as legislating a livable minimum wage. It also digs into the myth of the "welfare queen," and shows how large corporations that pay their workers sub-standard wages are more dependent on federal aid than poor individuals could ever be. For those who don't quite buy the analysis of the video, the producers offer a list of their source materials, and encourage viewers to do their own learning and digging on the topics they present. And to learn more about how wages are essential to combatting poverty, read the 2014 Hunger Report, “Ending Hunger in America.”

SNAP: Fueling Strong Minds and Bodies

AlliWhat do WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, choreographer and MacArthur genius grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and Olympic speed skater Emily Scott have in common? These recent newsmakers are all at the top of their respective fields, and they are all former recipients of food stamps.

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is one of our nation's most effective anti-hunger programs. It feeds people and also helps them escape poverty and realize their dreams. From musician Moby to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), many prominent Americans have benefitted from this vital form of assistance.

Koum made headlines last week not only for selling his company to Facebook for $19 billion, but for signing the paperwork for the deal on the door of his old social services office. The tech whiz's journey, from barely making it to becoming a billionaire through hard work and ingenuity, is the sort of feel-good narrative that everyone loves. But not everyone will acknoweldge that the federal safety net is an important part of that story—many are under the false impression that the program is growing too large, or wrongly believe that it fosters lifelong dependency. 

Not everyone who is on food stamps will become a billionaire, but SNAP and other safety net programs produce success stories every day. Barbie Izquierdo is a former SNAP receipient and anti-hunger advocate who appeared in the documentary A Place at the Table, and is using her platform to spread the word about hunger in America. Dawn Phipps is a registered nurse who once received SNAP benefits for herself and her children; not only does she spend her working hours caring for others, much of her free time is devoted to volunteering at her local food bank and advocating with Bread for the World, to make sure others continue to have access to the assistance she once relied on for help.

Both Barbie and Dawn are featured on Faces and Facts, a new website from Bread for the World and our Circle of Protection partners. The site compiles stories of people whose lives have been changed by safety net programs, as well as those who have been negatively affected by recent budget cuts to some of those same programs.

Each story reminds us that behind every fact or statistic about hunger is a person, and that it doesn't make sense for Congress to balance our nation's budget by making cuts to programs that help struggling families. Every dollar cut from a safety net program means one less dollar being used to help someone grow, thrive, or maybe even come up with the next big idea that will change our world.

If you'd like to add your story to Faces and Facts, fill out the submission form or send an email to stories@circleofprotection.us.

Photo: Alex Morris, who is featured on the Faces and Facts site,  feeds her son, André, in their Bend, Ore., home. (Brad Horn)

Stay Connected

Bread for the World