Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

386 posts categorized "Poverty"

Justice Work is Hard. Poverty is Harder.

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(Bread for the World)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Justice work is hard. Those who desire their government to work for all its citizens are up against some mighty forces that seek to maintain the status quo. There are those who benefit from others’ poverty, vulnerability, and voicelessness. These people are few in number in a society, but their power runs deep and wide, because they have the funds and know-how to spread misinformation and buy influence. There is a general attitude of indifference among many who are comfortable and refuse to see the root causes of the suffering of people who are poor. 

Justice workers are also up against fear. People are often afraid to use their power. They are afraid of retribution by those who want everything to remain the same, a fear not always unfounded. They are also up against a certain kind of powerlessness that comes with poverty.

Their most natural allies—people who struggle to support themselves and their families—have little time for the actions necessary to alleviate the state of their existence: to go to city hall to protest a law that infringes on their rights, to visit their representatives in Washington to advocate for a law that would benefit them, or to study policies that hold them back. Most of their time is used on actions necessary to survive. To walk their children to day care before hopping a bus to a job that barely sustains them. To spend most of their free time visiting clothes closets, food pantries, and community meals in order to make ends meet and feed their children. To keep seemingly endless appointments with government bureaucrats in order to turn in applications, proofs, and justifications of their needs.

Poverty is stressful. When a person is losing sleep over how to come up with the rent, there is little to no extra energy left over to organize around the issue of a living wage. That’s why I do my best to raise my voice with our nation’s leaders, to make the lives of people who struggle a little bit easier.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member and former coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries in Minneapolis.  

Waiting

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From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. (photo courtesy Meals on Wheels)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Mary (not her real name) is intelligent and gifted with many skills. She is in her seventies, has a number of health problems and disabilities, and lives on Social Security. Poverty has made her life difficult. 

I live four blocks from her in a culturally and racially diverse, low-income, inner-city neighborhood. In my own retirement I have taken on the task of picking her up two days a month at her house, which is rotting and falling apart all around her, in order to bring her to one of three food pantries she visits. She hobbles to my car with the help of her cane.

If it is a certain Friday in the month, we will go to two food shelves in one day. That day will look like this: In the morning I will give her a lift to a faith based organization that feeds their guests breakfast and then hands out groceries. Mary wants to be there early so she has time to go to another organization in the neighborhood that will provide her with produce, donated by local supermarkets after the items are beyond their peak of freshness. These two trips will take up most of her day. 

At both locations she will wait in line for at least an hour before she even gets in the door. Then she will wait another hour or more before her number is called and she is able to “shop” for her groceries. When she is finished, she calls me and waits to be picked up. I realized how hard it must be for someone who can hardly walk to stand in line for so long. So last month, I put a light-weight, folding lawn chair in the trunk of my car for her to use. Though Mary buys some of her food, most of her nourishment comes from her three monthly food shelf visits. She can’t afford the luxury of breezing into her local supermarket to pick up a few things as needed.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for even the most basic necessities is the plight of people who are poor. The neighborhood in which I live has many poor people and many agencies that help with their needs. It is not unusual to see a long line of young moms with babies in cheap strollers holding the hand of their toddlers to keep them from running into the street. Elders shuffle forward with their walkers. Homeless people stand silently with their bundles under their arms. Everyone waiting in front of one of those many agencies for the doors to open. 

Learn more:  Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

 

 

Feeding America Report: Reliance on Emergency Food Increasing

By Robin Stephenson

Electricity, rent, or food on the table to feed your kids? This choice is a game of poverty roulette that families like Jim and Christina Dreier grapple with each month and it isn’t fun.

The Dreiers and their three children live in Mitchel County, Iowa. Like many families, they use a patchwork of assistance – WIC, SNAP (food stamps), and the food bank – to make it through the month. Jim Dreier works two jobs, but that is not enough.

“It’s rough every day.  Where’s my next meal going to come from?” asks Christina.

Reading the Dreier’s story in a National Geographic article, “The New Face of Hunger,” one gets the impression that this is a family that lives on the edge of catastrophe.  It’s a life of fear and worry as they are always one step behind.  

“Moneywise,” says Christina, “coming in is a lot less than what has to go out every month.”

The Dreiers are food insecure – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. And they are not an anomaly. The shocking truth is food insecurity is epidemic in America. A job is no longer insulation from poverty and hunger.

According to a report released this week by Feeding America, one of Bread for the World’s partner organizations, one in seven people - 46.5 million Americans a year- rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. Over half of the households included at least one person who was employed.

In the past, a trip to the food bank was an emergency situation that followed a job loss or financial crisis. Today, food insecurity is a chronic condition for too many Americans. But instead of helping low-income families, policy proposals in Congress appear to be working against them.

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States, including cutting food stamps by $125 billion. Just last month, the House voted to reduce the child tax credit to the most vulnerable families, which would push an estimated 12 million people into deeper poverty.

A job that pays a living wage, not an emergency food box, is the only real buffer against hunger. Yet wages have not kept pace with economic productivity since 1950. Today, 28 percent of Americans make poverty level wages. A vote to raise the minimum wage failed earlier this year in the Senate.

It is time for Congress and the administration to set a plan to end hunger in the United States. Churches and charities can only provide a fraction of what is needed and cannot adequately address the root causes of poverty. The status quo is not ending hunger in America; policy targeted at ending hunger needs an overhaul.

We will never food bank our way out of hunger, so let’s stop trying. We also need the government to do its part.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

 

Charting a Bipartisan Path Out of Hunger

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Philadelphia, Penn. resident Nadine Blackwell lost everything after a medical emergency. She tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

An unfortunate trend in the United States is that living costs are increasing but incomes are not – and it’s increasing hunger in America. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived below the poverty line.

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat—let’s all agree that America deserves better,” said Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan unveiled a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

“We want to start a discussion,” said Ryan this morning. The discussion draft Expanding Opportunity in America is an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.

"We are pleased to see such a high-ranking member of Congress take poverty seriously and offer his own plan to address it," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "We may have disagreements with some of his proposals, but we hope others in Congress will take note and offer their own plans."

Bread for the World supports some of the proposal's recommendations.

  • Bread believes sentencing reform is necessary, starting with reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
  • Bread supports expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for adults without children.

However, Bread for the World strongly disagrees with other recommendations.

  • Turning SNAP (formerly food stamps) into a block grant would increase food insecurity when there are spikes in need.
  • Job creation and economic growth are critical to ending hunger and poverty, but work requirements are not effective if there are no jobs available.

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Read Bread for the World’s full press release, “Bread for the World Encouraged by Paul Ryan’s Plan for Poverty”.

Second Chances: Reforming Policy for Returning Citizens

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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

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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.”

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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

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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

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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.

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