Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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Pope Francis and Obama: When Faith and Government Meet

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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. 

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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)

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).

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