Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

383 posts categorized "Poverty"

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)

David Beckmann: Our Loving God is Moving History

More than 30 years ago, Bread for the World president David Beckmann lived and worked in Bangladesh, and saw extreme poverty while in the country. A few years ago, he and his wife went back for a visit, traveling to the northwest region where they once lived, and saw something amazing.

"What was best about this experience was that although people are still extremely poor, they are dramatically less poor than they were 30 years ago," Beckmann said during a talk at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University on Feb. 9. "The changes have been spectacular."

Beckmann spoke about improvements to infrastructure, such as new roads and buildings, as well as how people's lives have changed—he saw children that looked better nourished, and met women who were taking advantage of new literacy education and microcredit programs. And these changes aren't unique to the country he once called home. "This same thing has happened in hundreds of thousands of communities in the world," he said. "The World Bank judges that the number of people in the world in extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 30 years."

At the Saint More Catholic Chapel and Center to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of its soup kitchen, Beckmann spread the message that the dramatic progress that has been made in alleviating extreme hunger and poverty is evidence that ending hunger is within reach.

"Those of us who believe in God and can read about and understand this huge change in the world, I think we have to understand this as our loving God moving history," he said. "I've come to see this as a great exodus in our own time; this is God answering prayers on a huge scale. And I think our loving God is asking us to get with the program. Because in our time, it is clearly possible to make much, much more progress—probably to virtually end extreme poverty and hunger within a couple decades."

Beckmann also talked about what it will take to accomplish this—namely, building the political will to move our leaders and "change big systems in ways that will move us toward the end of hunger in our country and around the world."

By connecting with members of Congress—through letter writing and participating in Offerings of Letters, in-person visits, and writing letters to the editor, people learn “that we have power, we can change things," Beckmann said. "Learn how you can be an active citizen and make the world more like how you think God wants it to be."

Watch the full video of the tlak above, and then learn more about conducting an Offering of Letters, and what you can do to help move history.

Could You Live on the Minimum Wage?

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A woman cleans an office in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

We know the hard facts about minimum wage: the federal rate is just $7.25 per hour, or about $14,500 in yearly income. But exactly how far does that amount stretch?

The New York Times has put together a "Can You Survive on the Minimum Wage?" calculator to help give a sense of just how difficult it is to get by when earning the lowest legal pay. It offers a look at the disheartening financial calculations that low-wage workers are forced to perform each day. Punch in how much you spend on food, transportation, rent, and utilities each month, and it quickly becomes apparent why minimum-wage workers often have to take on two jobs, acquire crushing debt, or do without many of life's essentials in order to survive. 

Maintaining a household while earning the minimum wage is so difficult, if not impossible, that some low-wage employers have taken to advising their workers to take second jobs or find impossibly cheap housing in order to make ends meet.

But the answer is not to tell low-wage earners to work more or spend less, it's to offer them a fair deal by raising the minimum wage. That's one of the key recommendations of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. This year's Hunger Report points out that 28 percent of U.S. workers earn poverty-level wages, and Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in the past 30 years.

 Infographic_RaiseMinWage(See the full version of the Hunger Report infographic "Raise the Minimum Wage") 

President Obama said in his State of the Union address last month that he intended to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. Today, he made good on that promise by signing an executive order that will do so, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Federal contract workers earning the minimum wage make up a small portion of this country's low-wage earners, but the order is an important first step toward ensuring that all Americans can earn a livable wage and care for themselves and their families.

Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families—it's time to raise the minimum wage and make sure that every full-time worker earns enough to keep a family out of poverty.

 

USAID's Raj Shah Says Ending Extreme Poverty Within Reach

During remarks given at yesterday's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said that ending extreme poverty around the world is very much within reach.

"This morning, I want to share an overarching purpose worthy of this room that has come together to follow the teachings of Jesus," he said. "Let us work together to end extreme poverty in our lifetime. Because this is now achievable, but only if all of us—from science, business, government, and faith—come together for the poor.

"We can end extreme poverty for the 1.1 billion people who live on a dollar-and-a-quarter a day,” he continued. “We can end it for the 860 million people who will go to sleep hungry tonight. And we can end it for the 6.6 million children who will die this year before their fifth birthday."

After citing those bleak statistics, Dr. Shah spoke of "good news" to report: "On continent after continent, a smaller share of people live this way than at any other time in our history. And today, we know that a condition that defined the state of humanity when Jesus walked the earth and only started getting better in the last 200 years can actually be nearly eliminated in the next 20."

Shah also shared heartbreaking stories of those who've dealt with hunger and famine, and also the progress that has been made in eradicating poverty, through vaccines, clean energy, and improved nutrition that allows children to thrive.

"Those who lead partner countries will need to prioritize the poor, fight corruption, and work with businesses to solve problems,” Shah said. “Those who lead our great nation will need to make tough decisions that keep us committed to this mission and continue our nation’s proud history as the world’s humanitarian leader. And those who lead communities of faith need to do just as Pope Francis is teaching us—and shine a bright light on poverty."

Watch the full video of the National Prayer breakfast, which includes remarks from Dr. Shah and President Obama, and read more about the fight to end extreme poverty around the world in the 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on how smart reforms to U.S. food aid programs can help our nation better prevent hunger and starvation around the world. Learn more at www.bread.org/ol.

Hunger and Poverty in the State of the Union Address

Obama1During last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama focused on income inequality and the growing opportunity gap in America—a regular theme of his recent speeches. “Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success,” he said. “But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.”

While the president said the word “poverty" only three times, and made no mention of hunger, his speech still referenced several issues relevant to ending hunger and poverty—such as restoring unemployment insurance for those who’ve lost benefits since Jan. 1, and bolstering the earned income tax credit (EITC), one of our government’s most effective anti-poverty measures.

Much of the speech tracked closely with Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America, and Bread for the World's work to end hunger at home and abroad..

Below are five quotes from last night's State of the Union address that touched on hunger and poverty issues, and a brief look at how those remarks connect to Bread’s 2014 legislative agenda.

Unemployment Insurance

“I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy," said Obama. "But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

Bread for the World and its advocates are pushing Congress to immediately reinstate unemployment insurance, and help Americans who rely on their unemployment checks to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads while they continue to look for work. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

Minimum wage

“[I]f you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” said the president, after promising that he would give an estimated 560,000 federal contract workers a wage increase to $10.10. He then urged Congress to pass the Harkin-Miller bill and raise the federal minimum wage.

Bread for the World’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, outlines a plan to end hunger in America by 2030, and increasing minimum wage is a critical component. The report urged the president to reform federal contracting policies as an important first step. Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families, yet 28 percent of U.S. jobs pay poverty-level wages.

Earned Income Tax Credit

“There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the earned income tax credit," Obama said. "Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans, like Sen. [Marco] Rubio, that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids.  So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.”

Bread for the World supports strengthening the EITC, a refundable tax credit that helps low-income families.  Read more about EITC, and how it helps families.

Immigration

“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year."

Bread for the World firmly believes that immigration reform will reduce poverty and hunger, and is advocating for comprehensive, compassionate reform that includes a path to citizenship. Read more about Bread for the World’s immigration work, and our latest update on how Congress will address reform in 2014.

Food Aid

During the State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of work in Africa that would “help end extreme poverty,” and talked about the United States “extending a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines.” He did not, however, explicitly mention U.S. food aid or food aid reform.

Bread for the World is pushing for smart reforms to U.S. food aid, which does so much good around the world, but simple changes could ensure that the food aid does even more for people in—with no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on much-needed reform to U.S. food aid. Learn more about U.S. food aid and why reform is so critical.

Escaping Poverty: Looking at U.S. Economic Mobility

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During his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama is expected to talk about income inquality and economic mobility—issues that he has called “the defining challenge of our time.”

Indeed, the idea that the United States is a land of opportunity is becoming a myth, especially when this nation is compared to other rich countries. According to a new Harvard study, "the U.S. is better described as a collection of societies, some of which are 'lands of opportunity' with high rates of mobility across generations, and others in which few children escape poverty."

This morning, an NPR Morning Edition report examined the study, which shows that social mobility—the ability to climb the economic ladder through income-earning power—hasn't changed in the United States since the 1970s.  and that the consequences of not being able to climb the social ladder—such as limited job prospects and low-wage work—are far more dire than they were 40 years ago. 

“The notion that America is a special place where any kid can grow up to be president, is very important to the American psyche," David Wessel, a journalist and Brookings Institution analyst, told NPR. "But when you look at the data, it’s harder to rise from the bottom to the middle or from the middle to the top in the U.S. than in other rich countries around the world.”

Harvard economist Nathan Hendren, a co-author of the study, told NPR that data shows that a child born into the bottom fifth of wealth in the United States has only an 8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth, compared to a 16 percent chance if you are born in Denmark. 

The Washington Post recently used the Harvard study data to create an interactive map of economic mobility in the United States. While most children of lower-income parents make more money than their parents did, their ability to do varies substantially in this country. The map above gives an overview, but the full version allows you to see, down to the county, if children in your area have opportunity to earn more, and achieve more, than their parents. 

To learn more about income inequality, economic mobility, and what the United States can do to close the gap, read Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Waiting for the 8th: Family Feels the Sting of Recent SNAP Cuts

Food_distrubutionMuch has been written about the Nov. 1 cuts to food stamps (SNAP), and how the abrupt reduction in benefits has affected struggling families across the country. But few articles have been as moving as the Washington Post's "Waiting for the 8th," a profile of Raphael Richmond, a Washington D.C.-area mother who is attempting to feed herself and her children in the wake of the biggest cut to the food stamp program in 50 years.

The reporter follows Richmond, and her daughter Tiara, to a local food pantry. Since the cuts took effect, the family members have compiled a list of various food giveaways around the city, visiting those places to help them stretch their SNAP dollars. The service providers, as valuable as they are, clearly are having difficulty meeting the increased demand. This is most evident during Richmond’s visit to Bread for the City, a wonderful D.C.-based non-profit that helps provide food, medical care, and other vital services to vulnerable populations.

They walked into Bread for the City, where 40 people were crowded into the waiting room, and where the food line was a steady procession toward disappointment."No more deer meat," read one sign. "Pick a holiday bag OR a regular bag. You cannot receive both," read the next. "Only one visit per month," read another. "Food is intended to last for three days," read the last notice, right by the counter, where Raphael handed over her number to a volunteer and waited for her bag of food."

"Thank you," she said when the bag came back three minutes later, filled with turkey, applesauce, yams and five cans of greens. Raphael turned away from the counter, doing the math in her head.

"So that's three days," she said to Tiara on their way out the door. "What are we supposed to do about the rest?"

Charity alone can’t feed everyone who’s hungry. Churches, food banks, and private food charities have all been stretched thin by our economic downturn—food bank demand has increased nearly 50 percent since 2006. The role of federal nutrition programs, including SNAP, is more crucial than ever.

Congress will soon leave town for the year without passing a new farm bill, which determines funding levels for SNAP. We ask that you continue to pray for hungry families and urge members of Congress to protect SNAP.

Photo: People in Baltimore, Md., line up to receive donated food (Mark Fenton).

Why Are 1.3 Million Americans Losing Their Unemployment Benefits?

Alicia Nesbitt, a 56-year-old former financial aid administrator from Connecticut, has just two more unemployment checks ($348 total) coming to her before the end of the year. "If anyone had told me I would be unemployed and uncertain as to my future at my age, I would not have believed it," she recently told NBC News.  Mary Helen Gillespie of New Hampshire told the New York Times that, since being laid off in April, she has been living on unemployment insurance payments of $384 a week—which she will soon lose. Casey O'Connell, who lives outside of Philadelphia, Pa., has used her unemployment benefits to keep her family from falling too far behind in their bills, and isn't sure what she'd do without the weekly $270 payment she receives.

Alicia, Mary, and Casey have all managed to stay afloat after being laid off because of emergency federal unemployment benefits, which can offer as many as 73 additional weeks of payments to individuals who have maxed out their state unemployment benefits. But yesterday evening, the House of Representatives passed a long-awaited budget deal that failed to extend the those emergency benefits, called the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Now, the program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, and, without an extension, 1.3 million people will lose their benefits the week after Christmas—and millions more will be denied those benefits altogether next year.

This is a major failing, but the budget deal is a move in the right direction. It replaces some of the harmful cuts of the sequester, ends the threat of additional government shutdowns and fiscal cliffs, and perhaps even signals that the political gridlock that has defined this Congress is easing. And, Congress can still "fix" EUC after they return to Washington in January. Still, that may be of little comfort to those who will see their benefits abruptly cut off at the end of the year.

In a statement given before the House voted on the deal, Bread for the World President David Beckmann called it "a good first step," but one that is "not perfect," in large part because it doesn't include a provision to extend EUC.  "It leaves more than 1 million unemployed workers without benefits just after Christmas," he said. "Congress should address this immediately."

Read Bread for the World President David Beckmann's full statement on the budget compromise, and see this analysis from the Center on Budget Priorities and Policy for more on how failing to extend federal emergency unemployment will affect each state.

Bread with Your Coffee, Senator?

'Coffee' photo (c) 2012, Steven Lilley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/This is a story of how Bread for the World advocacy methods work. The elements of our story include a Republican senator, a barista, prayer, worship, an Offering of Letters, and a wealthy fundraiser, but this isn't a tale of inside-the-Beltway intrigue.

The senator is Dr. John Barrasso of Wyoming. He is not an ordinary senator, but he is chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC) and fourth ranking member of Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate. The RPC advances Republican policies by providing positions on legislation, floor debate, and votes.

The barista is Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus of First Church of the Nazarene in Casper, Wyo. She was a barista at a Starbucks in Casper frequented by Sen. Barrasso and his wife, Bobbi.

In summer 2012, Hugus came to Washington, D.C., for training as one of Bread for the World's Hunger Justice Leaders. On Lobby Day during the event, she paid a visit to Sen. Barrasso's office on Capitol Hill. Nervously, she introduced herself as his barista in Casper. He then offered her coffee, apologizing that it was not as good as the one she brews for her.

"What others might consider ironic, I consider the imaginative humor of our Creator-God. I had travelled all the way from serving coffee to Sen. Barrasso in our Wyoming hometown to being served coffee by the senator in his office of power in Washington, D.C.," she writes on Bread Blog. "As I shared my story with Sen. Barrasso and used my voice to ask that he consider poor and hungry people while making vital legislative decisions, my jitters were swept away by God's spirit."

In October of this year, a group of ten churches in St. Louis all wrote letters about hunger and the budget debate to their members of Congress. They brought all of their letters to an event where Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, preached. They offered the letters up to God before sending them off to Washington, D.C.

After the event, a leader of one of the churches, Roy Pfautch, approached Beckmann to set up meetings for him with several senators, including Sen. Barasso. Pfaustch contributes and raises money for Republican politicians.

Upon returning to Washington, Beckmann almost immediately got an appointment to meet with Sen. Barrasso.  The senator told Beckmann right away that he knows all about Bread for the World. 

"I went to church in Casper last Sunday, and the preacher was Libby Tedder Hugus," Sen. Barrasso recounted. "She got everybody in churches to write letters to their members of Congress about hunger and poverty. She didn't see me in the back of the church, but the senior pastor did, and he said, 'You know, I think we could save some money on stamps here.'"

In their meeting, Beckmann and Barrasso focused specifically on food stamps and international food aid. Beckmann said Bread is working for reforms in international food aid that would allow the United States to help an additional 2 to 4 million of the world's most desperate people every year at no additional cost — mainly by buying more of the food from local farmers. 

Sen. Barrasso was already convinced that reform would be good policy. He was, however, against it because of a sense that Wyoming farmers would be against it.

"Overall, I think Senator Barrasso changed his judgment about the politics around this issue," said Beckmann. "All because Roy Pfautch used a chit to set up the meeting and, even more, because of Libby Tedder Hugus' activism and the constituents' concern about hungry people that he experienced at that church in Casper."

It's proof that Bread-style advocacy can work — or that God can work among us in surprising but wonderful ways.

Rev. David Beckmann Joins Fasts for Families

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Rev. David Beckmann talks to a Fast for Families activist on Dec. 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Allie Gardner  

Today, in a small tent on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann prayed and fasted with a group of Fast for Families advocates.

Fast for Families is an effort, by faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders, to move Congress to pass compassionate immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Some of the participants have been fasting since the campaign launched on Nov. 12, while others have chosen to fast for shorter periods of time—one week, one day, or one meal. The fasters have received an outpouring of support: both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have visited the tent, as have several members of Congress.

Beckmann is fasting today, and during his time with the other Fast for Families activists, he talked about the importance of working together to achieve immigration reform. “Immigration reform will allow people to work their way out of poverty,” Beckmann said.  He later added that “immigration is part of the great exodus from poverty that is going on today,” and said that nations with comprehensive immigration policies have been able to more efficiently combat poverty than the United States. 

Granting legal status or citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States will reduce poverty by giving them access to additional education and employment opportunities. Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform would not only decrease poverty levels, but boost the strength of the U.S. economy.

In the Fast for Families tent, the group’s organizers said that they normally ask a few things of those who visit their site. First, they ask that people fast. Whether it’s for one meal or one day, there is power in standing in solidarity with those who regularly go hungry. Second, they ask that all visitors take action. Taking action can take a variety of forms—sharing your story, contacting members of Congress, or supporting immigration reform campaigns with your time or monetary gifts. Finally, the group asks that everyone pray. Prayer is powerful, and Scripture tell us that people who come together in prayer can achieve amazing things. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  (Bread for the World is hosting evening prayers at the tent on Wednesday, Dec. 11.)

We ask that you join us in fasting, taking action, and praying. If you're able, please sign up to fast, participate in an action in your area, and be sure to contact your representative and tell him or her that it's time for the House of Representatives to move immigration reform forward.

Allie Gardner is a media intern at Bread for the World.

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