21 posts categorized "Sequestration"
Coverage of the government shutdown is dominating the news right now, but, as budget fights go, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, without finger-pointing or hollow rhetoric, here is what anti-hunger advocates need to know about current, and upcoming, budget fights on Capitol Hill.
1. What does the government shutdown mean for families struggling with hunger and living in poverty?
A government shutdown means there are no additional federal funds to support programs such as WIC, SNAP (formerly food stamps), Head Start, low-income housing assistance, and international poverty-focused development assistance. In the short term, a shutdown doesn’t have disastrous consequences for most anti-hunger programs. However, the longer the shutdown continues, the more harm is done to vulnerable populations, both in the United States and abroad. For example:
- The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): Continued services, food benefits, and program administration depends on how individual states react and how long the shutdown lasts. Most WIC centers appear able to continue to operate through the end of October, but as the shutdown continues, the consequences become more dramatic.
- Head Start: A small number of Head Start centers are feeling the impact of a government shutdown immediately, primarily those with grants that expired on Oct. 1.
- SNAP: Households will continue to receive benefits through October. There is some contingency funding available to support the program, but it is unclear what will happen if the shutdown lasts more than a month.
- International Poverty-Focused Development Assistance Programs: For the time being, some programs within USAID will continue to operate using residual funds. However, uncertainly about funding will eventually hinder diplomacy and development and deplete U.S. flexibility to respond to national security imperatives.
- The Economy and Jobs: The shutdown will drag down an already-weakened economy. Furloughed workers, halted contracts, cut services—the economic consequences are serious. More than 800,000 federal employees are on unpaid leave and lost wages are estimated to cost the economy $1 billion per week.
2. What exactly is on the table in these congressional negotiations? And why can’t members of Congress agree?
A few things stand out about the current situation.
- The stalemate around passing a short-term budget, or continuing resolution (CR), does not concern spending levels. Both the House and the Senate have passed a budget and, although there are vast differences in totals for fiscal year 2014 between the two chambers, a short-term budget would simply extend current funding levels for a few months as Congress negotiates the final budget. Some members in the House are refusing to pass an extension and are taking the negotiations hostage because of the Affordable Care Act.
- A short-term budget would buy Congress some time as they work to come to agreement on a bigger budget bill. A final budget must take a balanced approach, address sequestration, and include further deficit reduction to address long-term solutions to hunger.
- Partisanship over a short-term budget does not bode well for the October debt ceiling negotiations. Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17 to prevent the country from defaulting on its obligations. The U.S Treasury Department released a report today predicting that a debt crisis in mid-October could send the nation into a recession comparable to the one we experienced in 2008 or worse.
If the shutdown fight gets wrapped up into a larger budget deal involving the debt ceiling, the seriousness of the situation grows exponentially.
3.Why are debt ceiling negotiations so important?
The government shutdown is serious, but failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic.
- The United States is expected to hit its credit limit (debt ceiling) on Oct.17. If Congress doesn’t act, our country won’t be able to pay its bills and will default. The economic consequences would be catastrophic. The U.S Treasury Department released a report today predicting that a debt crisis in mid-October could send the nation into a recession comparable to the one we experienced in 2008 or worse.
- We’re likely to see proposals that call for cutting programs such as SNAP and Medicaid in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. This is deeply troubling. A bad deal means backpedalling on years of work reducing hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
Our country cannot afford to see political games played around the debt ceiling. The creditworthiness of the United States is not a bargaining chip.
4. What can faithful advocates do?
First, you should email Congress today. Your calls may not go through to your members of Congress during the shutdown, but you can email. Second, you can influence the public debate around these issues by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper.
Congress has to resolve these issues. This government shutdown is unaffordable, sequestration remains unsustainable, and a bad deal that further hurts the poor is unconscionable.
Passing a responsible budget that includes revenue would begin to reverse the trend of U.S. income and wealth inequality, which is the greatest threat to food insecurity. Photo: The London transit system, May 2013. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
Sound bites from members of Congress these days are more like clips from The Jerry Springer Show than a transcript of moral leadership. Blame and shame should not pass for governance. This approach to policy-making is myopic, increases hunger, and camouflages a real crisis in America – growing income inequality.
The United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any developed nation and the gap is widening. The documentary Inequality for All hits theaters this week and is the basis of a recent interview with U.C. Berkeley professor of economics, Robert Reich, on the Sept. 20 edition of Moyers and Company.
Reich argues that as globalization and technology have changed the structure of the economy and displaced workers, our policies have not adapted to the new rules. The economist says that shared prosperity, a concept previously valued by society, is replaced by an ambition cycle; gains are now channeled to a small group at the top and not reinvested in the economy. “The government can no longer afford to do what the government was doing because they aren’t getting tax receipts,” says Reich. When 70 percent of the economy is based on consumer spending, but consumers don’t have purchasing power, the economy weakens. He points out there is danger in looking at one piece of the economy and not looking at the connections.
Our faith in Christ moves us to advocate for sound policy that invests in programs addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger. In order to end hunger, income inequality – one the biggest threats to food security – must be addressed. We are calling on Congress to pass a responsible budget that includes revenue, replaces sequestration, and assures that all everyone will have a place at the table and economic opportunity.
The richest 400 individuals in this country now have more wealth than the 150 million poorest, a fact that should alarm our leaders. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rev. Gary Cook, director of church relations at Bread for the World, points out that through tithing, Jubilee, and gleaning, God historically made provision for hungry people. Shared prosperity is at the basis of right relationship in a community; the faithful gathered in 2 Corinthians were responsible for one another and, “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (8:15)
Blaming the poor for our economic woes and cutting anti-hunger programs in response is folly. On the eve of a manufactured fiscal cliff, most Americans are earning wages that haven't seen a significant increase in decades. Too many U.S. citizens — through job loss, medical emergency, or an unexpected calamity — have experienced their own financial crises while a small minority have watched their assets rise. What was once a war on poverty has become a war on the poor, and holding the budget hostage for political gain is obscuring a faith-based solution. It is time to tell Congress that enough is enough.Tell your members of Congress to pass a responsible budget that addresses sequestration and to raise the debt ceiling without political games.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
As Congress uses a vote on a continuing resolution as a political football and a possible government shutdown looms, there are important anti-hunger issues at stake. This video, “The Power of a 1,000 Days,” is a reminder of the potential children hold for the future when they are given the opportunity to thrive. We could lose ground on the strides that have been made toward ending global malnutrition if the sequester is not replaced. The partisan conversation will likely continue as Congress debates the debt ceiling in mid-October, so every opportunity to remind our legislators that ending hunger must be part of the debate is critical.
If passed, the continuing resolution would keep the government running through mid-December, but the automatic across-the-board cuts of sequestration would not be replaced. In the next year, sequestration will mean:
- More than 570,000 children in developing countries will be denied nutritional interventions during their first 1,000 days of development. These interventions save lives and help prevent the irreversible damage caused by malnutrition.
- Roughly 2 million people around the world will experience reduced or denied access to lifesaving food aid.
The 1,000 days from the start of a woman's pregnancy through her child's second birthday offer a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures. Similarly, we have a window of opportunity that we can use to tell Congress funding food aid must be a priority.
As the video states, “malnutrition robs children of the ability to grow, learn, and thrive.” Will our members of Congress forget the children in the din of political rhetoric this week? Or will the 870 million malnourished children worldwide who can be helped by simple and small investments in targeted nutrition be remembered? It’s up to us to remind them.
Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard, or send an email.
In June, with Concern Worldwide, The Bread for the World Institute co-hosted the event Sustaining Political Commitments to Scaling Up Nutrition. A report of the summary and highlights in now available online.
Bread for the World policy analyst Amelia Kegan and director of church relations Gary Cook travel to the White House in August to deliver the first set of signatures from Bread for the World members asking the president to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger in the United States and abroad. (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World)
By Amelia Kegan
You may be overwhelmed by the number of times we have asked you to call your members of Congress lately. You may be so angry at the partisan brinkmanship that you want to ignore the news. I know because sometimes I feel it, too. But I’m not giving up and we won’t stop asking you to speak up. Your voice makes a difference; there is too much at stake to lose faith now.
Soon Congress must pass a responsible budget and the path there will include more partisan fights over a continuing resolution, the debt ceiling, and sequestration. The fate of SNAP in the farm bill is still uncertain as the House and Senate move toward a reconciliation process. At each juncture we must be vigilant and vocal or risk an increase in hunger both at home and abroad.
Bread for the World knows ending hunger requires a long-term vision. We envision transitioning from a political climate of defensive protection to a bold offensive against hunger, transforming the rhetoric of scarcity into one of hope and abundance. We will pull out by the roots this political culture that blames the poor and demonizes those on SNAP. We will replant a new seed of radical commitment to ending hunger within Congress and the White House—a seed that will eventually yield economic security for all and a real opportunity to attain the American Dream. We will grow this transformation with the soil of on-the-ground, person-to-person grassroots organizing, the waters of political accountability, and by radiating the fierce unconditional love of Jesus Christ.
But staring only at that grand vision of ending hunger in our time without attending to the immediate fights in front of us is like driving with our sights on the horizon while ignoring that sharp and dangerous curve in the road right just up ahead. How will we end hunger in this generation if 2014 begins with 4 million Americans kicked off of SNAP and 2 million more people around the world denied lifesaving food aid because of the sequester?
The budget battles we are fighting today are becoming part of the political narrative defining this era. There is no doubt in my mind that if we keep at it we will emerge victorious because we're in the right on this. When those suffering from hunger are able to fill their dinner tables with more than just anxious conversation, we all benefit. History, economics, and scripture have taught us that we are all in this together.
While each new budget fight might bring a level of increased exhaustion, frustration, and irritation, we cannot be discouraged. We must continue the relentless struggle over these fiscal fights. And while some may question the sustainability of our seemingly small efforts, we know the parable of the mustard seed and that with faith, we move mountains.
As we face the next several months, prepare yourself for the trial ahead by taking comfort in the certainty that you are not alone in God’s kingdom and everyone deserves a place at the table.
Amelia Kegan is a senior policy analyst for Bread for the World.
"Hope" is one of the photos featured in a Camden, N.J. Witnesses to Hunger exhibit held at a local gallery on Sept. 19, 2013. Of the work, photographer and Witnesses advocate, Nia T writes, "'Hunger lives here and so does hope.' I like that saying. That’s something. That’s deep. It means that they’re helping. They’re helping the environment. They’re helping the community." (Photo by Nia T/Witnesses to Hunger)
By Larry Hollar
It’s never easy to get bad news like yesterday's House vote to cut nearly $40 billion from SNAP. But there’s no place I would rather have been when that news broke than with the women of the Witnesses to Hunger project in Camden, N.J.
At an art gallery in downtown Camden that night, 10 mothers and grandmothers came together to tell their stories through photographs they took of their experiences with hunger, homelessness, lost jobs, and flawed approaches to public assistance. The signs of poverty are everywhere in Camden—in boarded-up houses, empty shells of businesses, depleted neighborhoods, and violence in the streets. But the stories these women told were ones of hope—that by having more capacity to speak out and witness to their realities, they believed they could influence our leaders to make better decisions that would help the children and families in Camden and throughout the nation.
Witnesses to Hunger is a participatory advocacy project of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. Started in 2008 in Philadelphia, it has fostered projects in Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa., Boston, Baltimore, and other East Coast cities. The Center partners with the real experts on hunger—the parents and caregivers of young children who have first-hand experience with hunger and poverty. The people of Witnesses to Hunger share their expertise and create change through their roles as photographers, educators and advocates, and advisers. The Camden project has been generously supported by the Campbell Soup Company.
I spoke in Camden to witnesses Christie and Kathy, who told me of their difficulties in making ends meet, even with a nearly full-time job, and what it’s like to live in a shelter with your children after a fire destroys your home. I was struck by how many of the women, both from Camden and those present from other cities, felt a deep and empowering kinship with the other women who experience the complex struggle to overcome poverty.
One of the photographs on the wall, taken by Nia of the Camden Witnesses, was of a truck from the Food Bank of South Jersey with these words on its side: “Hunger Lives Here. So Does Hope.” The vote Congress took yesterday to slash SNAP by $40 billion made it even more certain that hunger will continue to live in Camden. But as I spent that same moment with the women of Camden who are witnesses to what change can look like, it’s clear to me that hope wins.
Action: View the photographs of the Camden and other Witnesses to Hunger projects at www.witnessestohunger.org. Tell your members of Congress that deep cuts to SNAP are unacceptable, and urge them to protect programs that support low-income people in our nation and world during upcoming budget debates.
Larry Hollar is senior regional organizer in Bread for the World's eastern hub.
By Robin Stephenson
The lights have dimmed on the golden years for 8.8 million U.S. seniors who are facing hunger. The State of Senior Hunger in America 2011: An Annual Report, which was published in August, shows a disturbing trend—increasing rates of food insecurity for elderly citizens. From 2007 to 2011, the height of the Great Recession, the number of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger increased by 42 percent.
One of those seniors is Gloria, a Washington resident in her early 70s. In 2009, she was laid off from her job at a local hotel. After she went through her modest savings and was still unable to find work, getting enough food became a struggle. With the help of an emergency food box program and family support, she made it through—not to the idyllic life of leisure that is the promise of old age in this country, but to a more secure financial state.
“It’s almost impossible when you are older to get a job," Gloria says. "It’s a constant worry if you are going to make it through or you have to go bother one of your kids and live with them. I know a lot of seniors who feel that way. I’ve heard my friends say they don’t think the government cares about us.”
Gloria’s story is all too common; she is grateful to have recently found a part-time minimum wage job in the rural Washington community where she has lived most of her life. Social security provides her with a meager $800 per month—barely enough to keep food on the table and cover her bills.
The bulk of her working life was spent in the fruit industry—the sort of blue-collar employment that is a mainstay of rural economies. “The packing shed didn’t have a 401K,” she notes. “For most women in rural areas, there are not jobs that provide them with a retirement plan.
“You pay into the system when you work, but a dollar doesn’t go as far now," Gloria continues. "At this point in time, with the cost of living, the price of gas, I can’t see that I can retire.”
The report prepared for the National Council to End Senior Hunger concludes with a warning that mounting food insecurity in an aging population will lead to additional public health costs. To stem growing health care expenditures requires reducing food insecurity for older Americans.
For the elderly, health care and medicine are often their largest out-of-pocket expenses. Working helps Gloria afford supplemental insurance to augment her Medicare—for now.
As members of Congress return from recess, decisions that they will make could have dire consequences for the nearly one in six food insecure seniors. Unless sequestration is replaced with a balanced approach, it will continue to cut senior nutrition programs, like Meals on Wheels. Proposed cuts to the SNAP program would cast a pall on the golden years of even more senior citizens.
How we treat our elders, most of whom have spent a lifetime contributing to our economy, matters. Seniors will choose to experience their retirement differently, but a Christian response must include setting a context where those years can be spent in fullness and dignity—not in hunger.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
By Jon Gromek
I recall my Yiayia (Greek for "grandmother") telling me stories as a child of what it was like growing up in Greece under Axis occupation during World War II. Food was scarce; life was harsh.
Almost all the food that was grown and collected had to be given to the occupying soldiers, leaving very little for the villagers on the island. Many throughout Greece developed “starvation recipes” which were invented as ways to stay alive—grinding chickpeas when there was no ground coffee, collecting breadcrumbs in a jar to have something extra at the end of the week, and even hunting stray cats and dogs on the streets for food. Others, like my Yiayia, took to breaking curfew at night and smuggling what food they could to the neediest of families, risking their lives while doing so. Time has passed, but in recent years a new occupation has taken hold in Greece, bringing about another wave of hunger and poverty among the country's poor and middle class: austerity.
I recently had a chance to travel back to Greece to visit family. I was prepared for a lot to have changed since my last visit six years ago, but was unprepared for what I saw and learned.
Traditional charities that have long helped families make ends meet, like food banks and soup kitchens, have been strained under austerity. Now, up to 90 percent of families in the poorest parts of Greece are dependent on food assistance to keep them afloat. According to the Greek Orthodox Church, faith-based ministries now feed an estimated 55,000 people a day in Athens alone and the need is still growing. My aunt and uncle, both public school teachers in Athens, told me of the all-too-often occurrence of children going to school hungry—some close to starving. UNICEF recently estimated that nearly 600,000 children (1 in 3) live under the poverty line in Greece and more than half that number lack basic daily nutritional needs.
In many ways, Greece’s attempts to get its fiscal house in order have been on the backs of hungry and poor people. We see in Greece what we know at Bread for the World: private charity cannot fill the gap in responding to the needs of those who are hungry. If recent proposed cuts to SNAP take effect and the sequester continues we will see more and more families and children go hungry and be robbed of opportunity—just like an entire generation in Greece.
When I reflect on what my Yiayia risked her life and fought for in the dark of night those many years ago, it certainly was not this; it was for a world where all have enough and all are fed. In the coming weeks, urge your members of Congress to protect SNAP and replace the sequester with a balanced approach. Congress needs to hear from you about the world you want to see for the next generation.
Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub, at Bread for the World.
Bread for the World researches the root causes that drive hunger and poverty. Whether improving nutrition for mothers and children as part of the 1,000 Days movement, which falls under the umbrella of international food aid and development, or improving nutrition for mothers and their children domestically through the WIC program, we advocate for policies that support long-term solutions to hunger.
This year, as part of the Offering of Letters, faithful advocates are writing to their members of Congress asking that these vital programs be protected. Cuts to food aid will deter progress made combatting malnutrition and hunger globally, and there is potential to improve the program through common-sense reforms. Sequestration, unless replaced with a balanced approach, will make it impossible next year to reach all of the mothers and children needing nutrition assistance through the WIC program.
In a year filled with harmful proposals in Congress to anti-hunger programs, Bread members have been busy—and you have our gratitude for all your work. SNAP is under unprecedented attack, faithful immigration reform could bring millions who are hungry out of the shadows if enacted, and decisions around the budget and taxes can affect our mission to end hunger for years to come. Some of the decisions will be made in the next few months and we continue to ask for your prayers, your vigilance, and your voice.
In this year's Offering of Letters video, Pastor Jeannette Salguero beautifully articulated the work we do as an advocacy organization grounded in faith:
"Being a Christian to me is advocating—is reaching out, extending the hand. If someone is being thrown from a mountain, the church is very good at asking if they can help you—can I heal your wounds. However, the church also needs to ask who was launching them from the mountaintop."
There is still time to conduct an Offering of Letters through your church or even with a small group—your voices matter. Learn more about how your voice can reach mountaintops with this year's Offering of Letters and watch the full video below.
The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.
The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.
However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.
In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.
More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.
Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.
Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.
What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.
Forty-nine years ago,
President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in response to a national
poverty rate of 19 percent. President Johnson believed that the U.S.
government could eliminate crushing poverty and created policy initiatives such
as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, and Job Corps. Although the
poverty rate has decreased since 1964, it remains unacceptably high at 14.5
percent of U.S. households, with nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2
million children living, in poverty.
On July 31, House Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a hearing on the progress of the War on Poverty. Although both want to revitalize the American dream so that more people have the opportunity to achieve a better life, they offer starkly different paths to alleviating poverty. Rep. Ryan favors decreased taxes and incentives to get people off of assistance programs. Rep. Van Hollen argues that the budget put forth by congressional Republicans is akin to waging war against the poor, citing calls to block-grant SNAP and cut other federal anti-poverty programs. To illustrate their respective viewpoints they called on witnesses, including as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK.
Sister Simone Campbell said that we, as people of faith, need to love and care for the poor, and she also addressed the vital importance of the federal government and the private sector in lifting people out of poverty. She also discussed how low wages, a major driver of poverty, make it extremely difficult for working families to put food on the table. An increased minimum wage is, along with SNAP (formerly food stamps), our most effective tool in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. A faithful budget is needed to end hunger and poverty in the United States.
At Bread for the World we know that the best way to alleviate poverty is to create good jobs that pay a living wage. No one should go hungry while working full time at the federal minimum wage. We also know that the current sequester will hurt working families and increase hunger in the United States. Congress should replace the sequester’s indiscriminate and catastrophic cuts with a balanced plan of increased revenue and responsible spending reductions. The only thing holding America back from ending poverty is a scarcity of political will. It will take not only faith but patriotism to lift 49 million Americans out of poverty.
To learn more about how to end hunger in the United States, read the background paper "Ending Hunger in the United States."
Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
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