Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

383 posts categorized "Poverty"

Advocating for a Living Wage

'Change' photo (c) 2010, KnockOut_Photographs - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

By Traci Carlson

Despite the toll that the recession has taken on hungry and poor people, and the rising cost of food and other basic necessities, Congress hasn't raised the federal minimum wage for four years.

With the rate stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, workers earning the federal minimum wage find themselves struggling to make ends meet—even when holding down multiple full-time jobs, in some cases. An increase in wages would reduce hunger and poverty in the United States.

Today, as senators held a hearing on the 75th anniversary of the federal minimum wage, activists gathered at the Methodist Building, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, to pray for a living wage.

Those gatherered reflected on the fact that the federal minimum wage would be $10.74 today, had it kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years. They shared stories of real people struggling to feed their families and they prayed for political leaders to act justly on this issue and raise wages for millions of America's lowest-paid workers.

Please join them in praying for those who are hungry, those who have the political power to increase the minimum wage, and also for people of faith, who can help pressure this nation's leaders to change wage policy.

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32)

"[T]hat there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need." (Acts 4:34-35)

To learn more about how jobs that pay a living wage help fight hunger and poverty, click here.

Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.

Who Has Sequestration Harmed?

Head_start_classroomLast month, a Washington Post piece on sequestration maintained that most of the devastating consequences of those across-the-board budget cuts have failed to materialize. In "They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong," the authors wondered what exactly had happened to all of the ill effects Americans were supposed to feel? In some cases, they noted, Congress intervened, but in other instances, as a feature in yesterday's Post found, the cuts were heaped on the backs of people whose woes don't often make front-page news: the poor.

"Not everyone is sharing proportionally in the pain of these budget cuts," said Elizabeth Crocker, who directs a Head Start program in Oakland, Calif., in the piece. While, as the article points out, some federal agencies have figured out ways around the worst cuts, many programs were hit hard, and people who depend on this nation's safety net have felt this the most.

The story examines the ways in which Hispanic families who depend on social programs, Head Start in particular, have been stung by the sequester. Maireny Cammacho, 33, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, wonders what she will do now that the Head Start center in her Yonkers, N.Y., neighborhood has closed. The early childhood education program not only prepared her sons for kindergarten, it fed them and gave them a safe place to stay while she and her husband were at work, relieving them of the burden of an enormous day care bill.

It's a rare media report on the impact of the cuts. Although some outlets have done fine work on sequestration's impact on hungry and poor people (see the Atlantic's "The Sequester's Devastating Impact on America's Poor" and National Journal's "How the Sequester Hurts Poor People"), it's a narrative that has been largely absent from newspapers, magazines, and television news programs. As the Atlantic piece pointed out, it's “fashionable in political circles to say the mandatory budgets cuts haven't been the predicted disaster"—even if cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people prove otherwise.

Last week, during Bread's monthly grassroots conference call and webinar, policy analyst Amelia Kegan pointed out that the media has largely ignored the effects of sequestration on vulnerable people, and stressed how important it is that Bread members continue to push their members of Congress to replace these cuts with a balanced approach. “We know if it’s not front page news, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening and isn’t important—if Congress doesn’t hear from you, they won’t think it’s a problem,” she said. 

The bottom line is, if Congress doesn't hear about it, Congress won't fix it. And when an important issue isn't in the news, it becomes even more important for advocates to speak up and bring that issue to their senators and representative. A short-term sequester fix is still possible, but it's up to advocates to push for it, and make this nation doesn't solve its budgetary woes in a way that unfairly burdens hungry and poor people. 

Photo: Children in a Head Start class in Tucson, Ariz., eat a nutritious lunch (Jeffrey Austin).

Tell President Obama to Address Poverty

Petition to Presdient
As part of the 2013 Offering of Letters campaign, Bread for the World is petitioning the President to make ending hunger a priority. (Robin Stephenson).

Ignoring poverty won’t make it go away, but if one were to listen to our nation’s leaders, you might think that is their plan.

Allotting only 26 percent of his presidency addressing poverty—ranking last among all presidents since John F. Kennedy, according to the Washington Times—President Obama has not yet proposed a comprehensive strategy to alleviate growing poverty. We are petitioning the president to show leadership on this issue.

A recent Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey foundation shows that child poverty is on the rise. In 2011, 23 percent of children lived in poverty—an increase of 3 million since 2005. Poverty, especially child poverty, impedes the future potential that can move our nation forward. As Christians we know that there is enough of everything to go around, from food to shelter, but what there is not enough of is political will. We are called to a vision where all have a place at the table.

We need to remind President Obama of his promise, made during the last election campaign, to earnestly address hunger and poverty. With enough pressure, we can show that there is a large constituency of people who want to take hunger out of the shadows. We can start the conversation.

Tell President Obama to make ending hunger a top priority of his administration. Add your name to this petition and ask others to join you and talk poverty.

"Easily distracted by other people eating"

Students eating school lunch at Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, Va., on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. (USDA photo by Lance Cheung)

Summer break can mean going months without free school meals and snacks for many hungry children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free summer meals, but with some school buildings closed and limited school bus service, it's hard to get the kids to the food. This weekend, the Washington Post ran a piece about a school bus "bread truck" in Tennessee, a USDA program that brings food to children in communities where the need is great during summer months.

The reporter meets many people while riding the bus, but spends a lot of time with one family in particular, the Laughrens.  The mom is struggling to make ends meet—she works 12-hour shifts as a cook at a nursing home, but risks being fired if she brings leftovers home to her kids. She receives SNAP benefits, but they don't stretch as far during the summer months, when her kids aren't receiving two free meals and snacks at school each day. 

Hunger and food insecurity has affected each family member in a different way, all of them equally heartbreaking.

"Desperation had become their permanent state, defining each of their lives in different ways," the author writes. Courtney, 13, is "rail thin," while Taylor, 14,  has been "stockpiling calories whenever food was available, ingesting enough processed sugar and salt to bring on a doctor’s lecture about obesity and early-onset diabetes." Anthony, 9, has decided to move out of the family's trailer and live with his grandparents. For Hannah, 7, hunger has "meant her report card had been sent home with a handwritten note of the teacher’s concerns, one of which read: 'Easily distracted by other people eating.'"

The comments section of the post is, as comments sections typically are, filled with poor-shaming and judgment, but there is also compassion, smart ideas about reducing hunger and poverty in America, and calls for lawmakers to strengthen, rather than snip, our country's safety net as so many families continue to struggle.

House farm bill negotiations continue, and while a version of the bill that included more than $21 billion in cuts to SNAP failed to pass last month, a current proposal to split the bill would leave vital nutrition assistance programs vulnerable to deep cuts.

Sadly, the Laughrens story isn't unique or even uncommon—50 million Americans are food insecure, one-third of them children. Now is not the time to slash programs that ensure that children don 't go to bed hungry and parents don't have to choose between providing their children with food or shelter. Now is the time to ensure a place at the table for all God’s people by using our  voices to oppose cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people.

Failure Is Not an Option: A Migration Story

Stephenson Family to AZ

The Stephenson family in 1938, somewhere in Arizona, where they lived for a while picking cotton on their way west.  (Family photo courtesy of Robin Stephenson).

By Robin Stephenson

My dad was a born a migrant. He likes to talk about the storm that was raging the night of his birth, but there was an even greater urgency than finding shelter from pounding rain that evening: hunger was pushing his family west. In an abandoned shack, having gone without food for several days, my grandmother gave birth. My dad was born on the migrant journey.

In the zeitgeist of the 1940s, migrants were considered lazy and shiftless. An exodus of the hungry fled one of the country’s greatest disasters—the Dust Bowl. Leaving all they knew behind, they were called “Oakies, ” often in hushed tones and with a contempt that implied their fate was their fault. Stirred by years of poor farm policy and practice, the dust storms left in their wake farms in Oklahoma and neighboring states that could no longer employ or support the population that once produced agricultural abundance. Having lost almost everything, families pulled together what little was left, piled into any transportation that could move them forward and headed west—not because they wanted to but because they had to. 

The migrant’s story, whether set in Oklahoma in 1938 or Oaxaca in 2013, shares a common thread:  lack of choice. The human drive to survive is unstoppable, even in the face of enormous odds. A journey fraught with danger and derision is no deterrent. 

In a recent interview with Truthout, U.C. Berkeley physician and anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes talks about the migrant journey he researched for Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farm Workers in the United States. For 18 months, Holmes traveled and lived with a group of families escaping poverty from Oaxaca, Mexico—another once-fertile land gone fallow because of bad policy. Asked how migrants see their options, Holmes says: 

"[W]hen you actually do interviews and do research with immigrants who are crossing from Mexico into the U.S., they do not experience this as a choice. There were several times, and in the book I write about someone telling me 'there’s no other option for us.'"

This week, the House of Representatives have a choice that migrants don’t: they can choose to move an immigration bill forward. If crafted with an understanding of the root causes that drive migration, this bill could be an important step in ending hunger both here and abroad. A special conference with House Republicans is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday July 10, and likely will mark a critical turning point in comprehensive immigration reform. 

Today, I think of the word “Oakie” as a badge of honor.  I come from survivors. Being born in a storm is a great story, but being born into hunger is not.

It’s time for a new narrative and your voice can urge your Representative to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.  As the House takes up this issue, it needs to know that a faithful constituency is paying attention. Call your representative at 800-826-3688, or email him or her today.

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and regional organizer, Western hub.

Immigrant Farm Workers and Hunger

Migrant workers load cucumbers into a truck in Blackwater, Virginia, on the farm of Ricky Horton and Sherilyn Shepard on Monday, July 25, 2011. Almost three-fourths of all U.S. hired farm workers are immigrants, most of them unauthorized. The U.S. food system—particularly fruit and vegetable production—depends on immigrants more than any other sector of the U.S. economy. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Kiara Ortiz

How can someone live and work on a farm and suffer from hunger? It doesn’t make sense. And yet this sad irony is a reality for many immigrant farm workers in the United States.

Nearly three-fourths of U.S. farm workers are immigrants, many working in the U.S. without authorization and filling low-wage jobs that citizens are reluctant to take. Yet immigrant farm workers, who are so vital to the U.S. food system, disproportionately suffer from hunger and poverty

Immigrants come to America in search of a better life, but are often exploited on farms. Pressure from immigration enforcement, low wages, inconsistent work schedules, and other inequalities can shatter their dreams.  These workers are vital to the economy of this nation—a path to citizenship allowing these workers and their families access to federal anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs,  such as SNAP and EITC, is an important first step in immigration reform.

During Bread for the World’s 2013 National Gathering, I had the privilege of sitting in on the Immigration as a Hunger and Poverty Issue workshop. I was lucky enough to hear Lucas Benitez tell his story. Benitez is originally from Mexico but lives in a small town in Florida called Immokalee, an area where many Mexican, Guatemalan, and Haitian immigrants live. As an activist in Florida, and the co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, he shared his experiences and struggles as an immigrant working in the fields of Immokalee.

“We live—no, we survive—off the work we do in the fields,” he said. “We work hard to put food on everyone’s table but our own. Why does it have to be that way?”

Why should immigrant farm workers be paid less money just because they are “desperate” for the wages? Wages should be based on work ethic and competency—immigrants, regardless of their status, should receive equal and fair pay for their hard work to provide food for our tables.

Our country stands against cruel and unusual punishment—it’s a value outlined in our Constitution. So, how can we stand by as  immigrants endure strenuous labor conditions, day in and day out, producing food, but not earning enough to feed themselves?

When advocates unite, we can change things. We live in a country built on the ideals of freedom and equality, yet we continue to allow immigrant farm workers to be dehumanized and mistreated. It’s time to stop being complacent about this. The current system that perpetuates hunger both here and abroad can, and must, change. We need to fight for fair and equal pay, better working conditions, a legal means of being in the United States for those who require it, and respect for all farm workers.

Kiara Ortiz is a sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. She is a media relations intern at Bread for the World.

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Act Now! The Senate is expected to vote on a bipartisan immigration reform bill this week! Tell your U.S. senators to  1) support any amendment that addresses the root causes of undocumented immigration, such as extreme poverty in countries of origin; and 2) oppose any amendments that would make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to earn a path to citizenship or would prohibit authorized immigrants and their citizen family members from receiving needed assistance such as WIC, SNAP, and EITC benefits. Call toll-free at 800-826-3688, or send an email today.

Pushing Immigration Reform Into the 21st Century

Santiago Cruz

Santiago Cruz, in the Mexico countryside, December 12, 2010.  (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

In the short documentary Stay, Santiago Cruz and his wife, Victoria, talk about being pushed into a difficult decision: continue to languish in deep poverty or migrate.

Deciding to escape hunger and poverty is not difficult, but the price is often painful. Santiago left Victoria and his children behind in Oaxaca, Mexico, and faced the uncertainty and peril of migration—their only hope for a better life. Most undocumented immigrants live precarious and vulnerable lives.

Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters aims for the political will to ensure a place at the table for all God's children. This mandate provides important guidance about immigration. As the Senate debates, and perhaps votes, on comprehensive immigration reform this week (S 744), we see an opportunity to alleviate hunger, both in this country and abroad. 

Simply put, immigration is a hunger issue. And hunger is an immigration issue.

Half of all laborers harvesting U.S. crops are undocumented; they are often exploited and face some of the highest rates of poverty in the United States—as much as 35 percent, far above the national rate. It is important to remember that these are working individuals who contribute to the economy of this nation. Immigration reform should provide a path to citizenship for these individuals, and it should allow their families to access programs like SNAP and EITC.

The current system, which perpetuates hunger here and abroad can, and must, change.

A holistic approach to immigration would also alleviate the poverty abroad that pushes families like Santiago’s to choose migration. The Senate debate and bill have thus far failed to consider why people leave their homelands. Fewer people will feel compelled to migrate if poverty were reduced in their home countries.

Santiago was eventually able to return and stay in Oaxaca after he and Victoria were given a hand up by a Mexican nonprofit partnered with Catholic Relief Services. CEDICAM helped them with sustainable farming techniques, which provided enough food and money for them to stay together.

Bread for the World Institute has extensively researched the relationship between poverty and immigration, and we will urge Congress to craft legislation that reforms our immigration system in ways that help end hunger.

Watch the award winning documentary Stay on YouTube and share it with your friends.

Hunger in the News: SNAP Cuts, Farm Bill, Suburban Poverty

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

"From the Mouths of Babes," by Paul Krugman, New York Times (op-ed). "[A]s millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by—and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line."

"Off food stamps and employed — with taxpayers’ help," by Kyung M. Song, Seattle Times. "Dede O’Loughlin’s mother dropped out of high school and got by on food stamps. Then O’Loughlin herself became that mother to her three sons. O’Loughlin, a 40-year-old single parent from North Seattle, wanted to break the pattern for her children. And thanks to that very food-stamp program, she likely will."

"Poverty finds the suburbs," by Sarah Laskow, Boston Globe. "Moving to the suburbs used to mean having made it—having earned the house, the car, the lawn—and being set for the long haul. But over the past decades, the suburbs have changed. Dream houses have fallen into disrepair; dream jobs have disappeared."

"Poverty as a Childhood Disease," by Perri Klass, M.D., New York Times' Well blog. "At the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies last week, there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case by case in the exam room. Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains. We’ve seen articles about the language deficit in poorer homes and the gaps in school achievement. These remind us that...poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness."

Mobilizing for Justice: Future Pastors Respond to Poverty

John_from_the_line

Photo: John, a former banker who is one of the subjects of The Line, shops for himself and his three children at a food pantry. (Film still from The Line, courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

By Alicia Vela

Recently, I worked with Bread for the World regional organizer Zach Schmidt and a few of my seminary classmates to organize a viewing of The Line--a documentary that takes a look at poverty in America. The event was part of a class called “Mobilizing for Justice,” taught by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary, and Dr. Dennis Edwards, senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.

After watching the documentary, which follows four highly-relatable stories of Americans living in poverty, we participated in an exercise that shows how poverty cuts across all demographics. We then entered a period of small- and large-group discussion, reflecting on issues surrounding poverty in America and the ways in which the church can and should respond. The night ended with a plea for those present, as future pastors and leaders, to use our power—our pulpit, our congregation members, and our voices—to impact the issue of poverty in our communities and across the country.

During the event, we discussed different ways of responding to poverty, from helping local food pantries and soup kitchens to advocating for policy changes. We had an opportunity to sign Bread’s petition to President Obama, urging him to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger. The conversation was productive in raising awareness as well allowing us to brainstorm more ways to be involved in addressing poverty. We also collected canned food for the North Park Friendship Center, an organization fighting hunger on Chicago’s North Side.

There are several pieces that I personally took away from my experience with Bread for the World, but the idea of using my voice for advocacy really stood out. I had always thought that as a pastor, I shouldn’t get involved in politics. Being an advocate seemed too divisive in my mind. I have always hidden my political affiliation while working in the church because I thought people would try to argue with me if they had different views. Then I realized that fighting for the hungry is not a political opinion or side, but rather a biblical mandate.

If we take seriously Jesus’s call to love the orphan, fight on behalf the defenseless and care for the weak, we begin to see advocacy as an essential response. As Christians we cannot stand alongside and watch those around us hurt because of the broken systems we have created. We are called to fight for them, to call or write our government leaders and ask for better laws and more care for those who are most vulnerable.

Alicia Vela earned her B.A. in psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and recently completed her Master of Divinity coursework at North Park Theological Seminary. A Colorado native, she is currently interning at Deer Grove Covenant Church in Palatine, Ill.

What Does Your Safety Net Look Like?

DeEtte_Peck_at_store

DeEtte Peck uses her Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in Portland, Ore., to purchase food. The card helps people with low incomes purchase food through SNAP. (Brian Duss for Bread for the World)

If you were to lose your job or source of income tomorrow, how would you get by? Would you rely on savings? Friends and family members? Government safety net programs?

Marketplace is asking these questions of its readers in a new feature called "Show Us Your Safety Net." The answers are interesting, and surprisingly similar. When it comes to federal safety net programs, it's not so much a question of whether people who fall on hard times will need them or not, but rather how soon they will need them.

Some of the people who responded to the Marketplace survey said they sought out benefits such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) right away. Others drained retirement funds, savings accounts, or the savings accounts of their loved ones before seeking out government assistance. Most people ended up needing a combination of unemployment benefits, federal food programs, and direct service help. Although the user-submitted stories are anecdotal, it doesn't seem that many Americans—regardless of income bracket—are able to scrape by on savings alone when faced with job loss, illness, or other major life events that affects income.

Here are just a few of the stories:

Used up savings, sold assets, got food stamps, got prescription assistance, applied for (but have not yet) received housing assistance.” —Deborah,Tigard, Oregon

I lost my 10-year job in March 2011. I was old enough to take social security but did not take that option right away. I have a child to support and a wife who was also jobless who had run out of unemployment benefits. What kept us going was my unemployment benefits and food stamps, although these did not come to enough to pay rent and COBRA premiums, let alone our food and utilities. So I tapped my savings.” —Geoff, Belmont, Massachusetts

I was in a terrible car accident last December getting ready to start back at university after a 13-year gap. I lost both my jobs related to the accident, couldn't work due to a broken shoulder (still can't). I applied for every program I could as soon as I could. Was able to get free medical from the county. Qualified for food stamps and short-term disability, but went with no income for two months. Had some help from friends, relatives, and church. Not sure what's next, hopefully the disability extension is approved.” —Valerie, Canoga Park, California

Federal safety net programs work to keep hunger at bay even as unemployment and poverty remain high. More of us need help right now, and federal safety net programs are there to catch us when we fall. 

Right now, Congress is writing the farm bill, and SNAP, one of our country's most important safety net programs, is at risk of cuts, as is international food aid. Your lawmakers need to hear from you. Tell your senators and representative that any farm bill must not increase hunger in the United States or around the world.

Call or email your members of Congress and tell them to ensure a place at the table for all people by protecting and strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and international food aid in the farm bill.

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