Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

225 posts categorized "SNAP"

The Crisis Continues for More Than 3 Million Long-Term Unemployed

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David Beckmann reads Pamela's story on June 16, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot from event video).

By Robin Stephenson

The unemployment crisis is not over – especially if you are one of the long-term unemployed. For Pamela the crisis is never-ending. The 61-year-old from Glenn Springs, S.C., lost her job in December of last year. She says the only silver lining is that her adult children, who live far away, are not there to witness to her downfall.

Rev. David Beckmann read Pamela’s story on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as part of the fifth Witness Wednesday this week. The events, scheduled throughout June and July, are an effort to keep a spotlight on long-term unemployed people by telling their stories. “I feel defeated,” says Beckmann, reading Pamela’s words. She has received no job offers or offers of help from Congress since she lost her job.

Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to over a million job seekers out of work for more than 27 weeks. When unemployment rates are high, lawmakers have always made provisions to help Americans until the economy returns to full employment — namely, by passing EUC. Today, the number of long-term unemployed has ballooned to record levels of more than 3.3 million job seekers.

Job loss turns into a surprising reversal of fortune for many as they watch savings and homes disappear. Some are facing hunger for the first time in their lives and seek help from food banks and local charities. Many, like Pamela, are grateful for programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) that provide access to food that once was easily purchased with a reliable income.   

“The fastest way to reduce hunger in America is to reduce the unemployment rate,” said Beckmann. Investing in jobs and people are strategies outlined in Ending Hunger in America, the 2014 Hunger Report. Investing in a strong safety net is also necessary to chart a path out of hunger by 2030. When hardship does hit, the climb back to security is faster when we activate programs like EUC, which afford job seekers resources so they can concentrate on finding work.

Buoyed by a national trend of improving unemployment rates, some members of Congress feel no pressure to act. The Senate passed a short-term extension in April, which has expired due to an absence of corresponding action in the House. In her July 15 report to the Senate Banking Committee on monetary policy, Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, recommends a cautioned approach when looking at unemployment data. Calling the recovery incomplete, she says, “Labor force participation appears weaker than one would expect based on the aging of the population and the level of unemployment.”

There are still two job seekers for every job opening. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high. Additionally, a slack job market hurts wage growth.

Ignoring the crisis of long-term unemployment won’t make it go away. As long as our government fails to act, persistent hunger will plague too many of our citizens and puts a drain on our economy. As long as advocates fail to force action, we must all share Pamela’s sense of defeat.

Living on the Poverty Cliff: Tianna Gaines-Turner Tells Her Story

Tianna Gaines-Turner
Tianna Gaines-Turner. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

"It’s easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than drive an ambulance to the bottom." - Art Simon in Writing Hunger into History.

By Robin Stephenson

Tianna Gaines-Turner knows something about cliffs. The working mother of three children has been climbing and falling off the poverty cliff for years.

Gaines-Turner told her story to the House Budget Committee on July 9, during the fifth War on Poverty hearing – a series of hearings exploring how to better address poverty in America. Gaines-Turner, a member of Witness to Hunger, has been the first expert witness invited to testify who lives the experience of poverty.

“We are always trying to climb up. There is a constant climb,” Gaines-Turner said of her and her husband’s struggle to make ends meet with a combined income of roughly $14,000 a year. Federal benefits, such as housing assistance, medical aid, and food stamps, fill in the income gaps so that the Gaines-Turners can care for their children. All three require daily doses of asthma medicine and their twins suffer from epilepsy. 

Budgeting each month in the Gaines-Turner household is a balancing act. When circumstances change, she feels the “cliff effect.” A small increase in income can decrease the amount of food stamp benefits the family can receive. As she improves her circumstances, with each additional dollar earned she loses needed federal assistance yet cannot build assets and save for the future in case of hardship.  “If you have savings,” she says, “your caseworker says you are not eligible for programs.” So when a crisis hits, like a reduction in working hours, the Gaines-Turner family slides back down the cliff, never making it to stable ground.

House Budget Committee members differ on their approach to ending poverty. There are those who consider the safety net as creating dependency and those who see federal anti-poverty programs as a bridge out of poverty. Asked if she thought federal programs promoted dependency, Gaines-Turner said, “I don’t think anyone ever wants to rely on federal programs. I feel like people do want to go out and get a job.”  Jobs, she noted, can be hard to come by depending on where you live. They also do not always pay a living wage. She went on to respond to notions that poverty was a condition of laziness.  “There is not a lazy bone in my body,” she said. “People put that label on us to put up a smoke screen so they don’t see have to see what is really going on.”

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

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States – including cutting food stamps by $125 billion.

The Gaines-Turner family, and millions of working-poor people, need Congress to build a fence at the top of the cliff by funding a strong safety net. At the same time, Congress must also craft policies that lead to living-wage jobs so that families can walk into a better future.

 

Why Are So Many Seniors Hungry?


Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Senior years are supposed to be "golden" years—a time when people who've worked hard their entire lives can enjoy retirement, travel, indulge in new hobbies, and play with grandchildren. Unfortunately, for many elders, senior years are hungry years.

A new Bread analysis, "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," shows that from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 2.8 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity. That same year, 3.9 million adults age 65 and older lived below the poverty line.

Why? In part, the Great Recession. Most people in this country felt the pinch of the U.S. economic downturn, but vulnerable populations, including seniors, have been especially affected. Also, seniors are less likely to ask for help than other groups—either because they don't know they're eligible for assistance, or because of the stigma around asking for it, they may not access feeding programs, such as Meals on Wheels, or federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP). 

In one of the stories in the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on food stamps in America—"In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, focused on SNAP outreach to hungry seniors"— food stamp outreach worker Dillie Nerios bumps up against these issues in her work. The piece details one especially heartbreaking interaction between Nerios and a senior couple who lost their home and savings during the recession and are struggling to keep their heads above water, but still are hesitant to sign up for SNAP. Nerios tells them they've worked hard their entire lives, paid taxes that help fund safety net programs, and that there is no shame in asking for just a small amount of help so that they're able to afford food that will help keep them healthy and vibrant. Still, they hesitate. “It’s hard to accept,” the husband says.

While help may indeed be hard to accept, at a time when 30 percent of seniors who have worked their entire lives and contributed greatly to society now have to choose between feeding themselves or purchasing medication, something must change. We must work to strengthen programs that offer seniors assistance, and also erase the stigma that prevents them for asking for a helping hand, so that they can enjoy their golden years and not have to worry about putting food on the table.

Read more in Bread for the World's analysis "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," and view the infographic "Food Insecurity: A Harsh Reality for Many Seniors."

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)

Enough is Enough: Protecting SNAP in 2014

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Nadine Blackwell, a former nurse and Philadelphia resident who receives SNAP (food stamps) surveys the contents of her refrigerator. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

It’s no secret the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, or food stamps) has been dealt a series of crushing blows over the last several months. We’ve seen unprecedented cuts to the program, including an $11 billion cut that took effect on Nov. 1, and impacted more than 47 million Americans. Earlier this month, an additional $8.6 billion cut to SNAP included in the farm bill was signed into law. As a result, 850,000 SNAP households in 15 states and the District of Columbia will see their benefits cut by about $90 a month.

Let’s not mince words—these cuts will have dire consequences for millions of hungry Americans. They will affect people like Nadine Blackwell, a disabled former nurse who dedicated years of her life to helping others. She now relies on SNAP and other safety net programs in her time of need. Faced with deep cuts to her SNAP benefits, Nadine may be able to turn to friends, neighbors, and food pantries for some additional help, but churches and charities are struggling to fill the gaps in most families’ grocery budgets. (Watch Nadine’s story)

With a farm bill signed into law, Bread for the World members have asked us for next steps regarding SNAP. If the last several months offer any indication, attacks against SNAP will continue. The farm bill fight may be finished, but our work to protect and strengthen the program is far from over. Although we are tired and frustrated, we cannot let our feelings of disappointment become feelings of defeat. We must tell Congress that enough is enough, and redouble our efforts to fight any additional cuts to the program.

The SNAP cuts in the farm bill are a huge blow to those families who will see their food budgets shrink, but our voices have made, and will continue to make, a difference.

Faithful advocates successfully blocked harmful provisions that would’ve lead to millions of people not just experiencing cuts to their benefits, but losing them altogether. We stopped policy changes at the federal level that would have banned convicted felons from the program for life (a move that would’ve affected millions of children in the process), punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant. Those provisions, if enacted, would’ve affected people like Nate, a young father in Ohio who is working hard to provide for his baby daughter. For Nate, a returning citizen who has had trouble finding work, SNAP has been a vital lifeline, allowing him to feed and care for his daughter as he gets back on his feet. (Watch Nate’s story)

We could see more votes to cut SNAP in the coming months; the program will likely remain at the center of a bitter congressional tug-of-war. But advocates must continue to bust myths about SNAP and spread the message that it helps children and struggling families eat. In a nation that has more than enough food to go around, no one should have to go hungry because Congress wants to find budget savings.

With so many families seeing their SNAP benefits reduced, our work to protect other anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs takes on even greater importance— protecting WIC, school meals, and tax credits, and reinstating emergency unemployment insurance will be crucial to making sure that families reeling from the SNAP cuts don’t fall deeper into poverty as a result.

And we will continue to tell members of Congress that they must protect SNAP. Families struggling to put food on the table must be our lawmakers’ top priority. Enough is enough.

Farm Bill Passes House: Thank You for Your Advocacy

 
Photo: DeEtte Peck uses her EBT card to purchase food in Portland, Ore. (Brian Duss)

 By David Beckmann

I want to thank you for your faithful advocacy to protect SNAP (formerly food stamps) and to improve U.S. food aid in the farm bill.

Nearly three years after starting our work on this bill, Congress is on the verge of passing The Agricultural Act of 2014 — a final, five-year authorization of food and farm programs. While the bill includes important reforms to food aid, it also cuts the SNAP program by more than $8 billion.

These cuts are extremely disappointing, but your advocacy was critical in ensuring that millions of people were not kicked off the program. The House passed the compromise bill on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to pass it on Monday.

The bill is far from perfect, but your faithfulness in sending more than 39,000 emails and making 5,900 calls to Congress last year alone made a big difference. Here’s a brief summary of what is important in the bill:

-      U.S. food aid. There are positive reforms to food-aid programs that make them more efficient, enabling the greatest impact possible while improving food-aid quality and nutrition. This includes increased cash flexibility for development programs and establishing a permanent local and regional procurement (LRP) program with funding up to $80 million a year.

-      SNAP. The bill includes an $8.6 billion benefit cut. Though less than the $40 billion in cuts proposed in 2013, this cut comes a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet. It will not kick current beneficiaries from the program, but it will cut benefits for approximately 850,000 households in 15 states—California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia, just months after every SNAP household in the country saw its monthly allotments reduced.

 As important as what was included in the bill is what was not included. Harmful SNAP policy changes that would have kicked millions off the program, banned convicted felons for life, punished people for not finding work in a tough economy, and allowed states to drug test every applicant were virtually eliminated. There are also no cuts to food aid or food-aid quality programs.

While the lack of these harmful changes and the food-aid reforms are a huge victory for people who are hungry, the SNAP cuts will be a significant blow to the 850,000 households that will lose about $90 a month in benefits at a time when hunger in America remains at an all-time high. Any cut to SNAP is harmful.

Congress must not forget that many families are still struggling — unemployment remains high, and programs that support hungry and poor people are at risk of greater cuts. Your voice and your advocacy continue to be critical in protecting hungry people from cuts.

Without your advocacy, the farm bill would not have included key first steps for food-aid reforms and would have cut SNAP much deeper. I am confident your voices and your continued faith will continue to have an impact in the coming debates.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World

Seeing Hunger in My Neighborhood

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By Sandra Joireman

I live in the affluent Western suburbs of Chicago with my family. My husband and I are both employed. Because I have two teenagers at home, I usually shop at less expensive grocery stores, as our food bills are fairly high. Just recently, I made a trip to the store to get some food for my son to take on a four-day youth group trip. Much of what I was buying was not healthy food: chips, some trail mix, fruit snacks, chocolate-covered pretzels, and other items for him to eat while he was on the bus.  The sum total of what I was buying was a bit less than $20.

In the checkout line, I was just behind a young man who was about the same age as my son. As his groceries were running through, he pulled out an EBT card, used to purchase food with SNAP benefits (food stamps). He told the cashier he had only $30 left on it. She said, "You have more than $30 worth of stuff. Pick what you don’t want." Chicken, soup, pasta, cheese, and — the only extravagance in any of his purchases — two bottles of sports drink were all moved to the back of the conveyor belt.  

On the conveyor belt, my purchases were separated, by the plastic bar, from what he could not buy. The inequality of life was captured for me in that image. On my side, all sorts of frivolous food items being purchased by a mother for her child, who is going on an adventure; on his side, the bare necessities of life, purchased by a young man with a lot of responsibilities at home. I turned to him and said, "I would be honored if you would allow me to buy the rest of these items for you." He agreed.  I paid the $10.19 that made up the remainder of his bill not covered by the EBT card.  He thanked me, took his groceries, and left the store.

I am deeply unsettled by what happened. I don’t know the name of that young man, but I know that he is a child of God. I think about the differences between his life and the life of my son, the same age, living in the same community. Food is a necessity of life. There are people around us, even in affluent communities, who are struggling to meet their basic needs with SNAP. It is an important program that provides a very basic level of nutrition and little else. Even in these times of fiscal contraction, it is important for Christians to support a circle of protection around those programs that provide for the needs of people in our communities—people who are just like our mothers, aunts, grandfathers, and children.           

Sandra-joireman-web1Sandra Joireman is Bread for the World's board chair and professor of political science at the University of Richmond. 

 

 

The Faces and Facts Behind Hunger

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SNAP advocate Dawn Phipps at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Behind every hunger statistic is a story of how people have been affected by the ongoing cuts to the federal budget. Telling those stories is the goal of the new Circle of Protection project "Faces and Facts." The Circle of Protection--a coalition of faith leaders, of which Bread for the World is a member--has long maintained that Congress should not balance the budget on the backs of working poor people and struggling families. The stories of those featured as part of "Faces and Facts" help illustrate the human cost associated with budget cuts.

More than 81 percent of eligible infants are enrolled in WIC--Amanda Bornfree's daughter was once one of them. The Chicago resident recounts her experience with WIC--the program gave her vital information about breastfeeding and allowed her to provide her baby with nutritious food even after her husband lost his job. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table, and Dawn Phipps (pictured above) once headed one such household. On the "Faces and Facts" site, the Idaho nurse and SNAP advocate talks about how food stamps (SNAP) helped her put food on her table after she lost her job, and how she now works to ensure that other families receive the same lifeline.

Read these stories of people who've been affected by federal budget cuts, and also take a moment to share how federal net safety programs--or cuts to those programs--have affected you, your friends, your family, or members of your faith community. To learn more about what you can do to protect vital programs that help struggling families, visit Bread for the World's action center.

 

Praying for Change and Being Changed

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Those in Washington, D.C., gathered in the Capitol building on Dec. 10 to participate in the wave of prayer. Three members of Congress attended the brief prayer service, even though the federal government was shut down due to a snowstorm that day (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Hundreds of thousands of Christians in the United States – and many more throughout the world – prayed for an end to hunger on Dec. 10 as part of an international "wave of prayer" led by Bread for the World and other organizations fighting hunger.

"We are in front of a global scandal of around one billion people…one billion people who still suffer from hunger today. We cannot look the other way and pretend that this does not exist. The food available in the world is enough to feed everyone," said Pope Francis in a video that the Vatican released on the eve of the day of prayer.

The day of prayer came at a critical time, with Congress considering deeper cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps), the most successful anti-hunger program in the United States. Cuts that took effect on Nov. 1 are already taking away approximately 10 million meals a day that would have fed working poor Americans and families struggling to lift themselves out of the recession. This loss is more than all the food charity that churches and food banks provide.

"We prayed to God for the end of hunger, which is clearly possible in our time. We asked God to guide Congress and to deepen our own commitment," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

"The global wave of prayer changed my own prayer life, and I hope that many Bread for the World members will continue to pray on an ongoing basis for the end of hunger," continued Beckmann. "I have found it helpful to ask for the end of hunger every time I say, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'"

Bread heard about Pope Francis’ plans to encourage a global wave of prayer to end hunger from some of Bread’s board members with ties to Catholic leaders in the United States and the Vatican. After consulting with Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bread reached out to other Christian and interfaith leaders, encouraging them to involve their members in the day of prayer.

At least 17 religious denominations and organizations urged their members to engage in prayer on Dec. 10. This included the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), American Jewish World Service, Willow Creek Church, the Islamic Society of North America, the Salvation Army, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Despite a snowstorm that closed federal government offices in the Washington, D.C., area on Dec. 10, Bread and its partners in the Circle of Protection came together in a brief prayer service in the Capitol. Three members of Congress participated.

Although it is not known how many people around the world prayed that day for an end to hunger, the event garnered nearly 159 million media impressions in the U.S. articles that appeared in the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, The Hill, Catholic News Service, and Reuters.

In addition, 7,222 Christians sent emails to their members of Congress asking them to protect funding for hungry and poor people.

"We must empower the poor to shape their own destinies. We need the voice and moral force that Pope Francis – and leaders from all the world's faiths – can provide," wrote Dr. Jim Yong Kim in a blog post after Bread reached out to him for the event. "We need all of you. Together, we can build a global movement to end poverty."

The Dec. 10 prayer wave was the launching event of the "One Human Family, Food for All" campaign of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 164 Roman Catholic charities working in 200 countries. The 15-month campaign focuses on the right to food, with an advocacy goal of having the United Nations call a special session on the topic. 

[This article originally appeared in the January edition of the Bread for the World newsletter.]

Farm Bill Report Coming Soon


Rep. McGovern has been giving a series of #EndHungerNow speeches over the past year.

“It is a scandal that in the richest country in the history of world we have a hunger problem . . . There are some things worth fighting for, ending hunger, making sure our fellow citizens have enough to eat is absolutely worth fighting for.”

- Rep. Jim McGovern (D,Mass-2) speaking on the House floor Jan. 8, 2014, in remembrance of the War on Poverty and the farm bill. 

On Nov. 1, 2013, all SNAP (formerly food stamps) households experienced a cut in benefits, which took food off the tables of families who do not have enough to eat. More Americans are depending on already strapped food banks and charities to fill the gap. Federal nutrition programs deliver more than 23 times the amount of food assistance as do private charities; charities alone can not feed everyone who is hungry.

The farm bill conference committee is expected to release a report soon. The compromise bill will then go back to the House and Senate for a final vote. As we follow progress of the bill, anti-hunger advocates will need to be vigilant and persistent to ensure harmful amendments are not included in a final bill and common sense U.S. food aid reforms are included.  Even if you have already called or written your member of Congress in 2013, make sure they hear from you again in 2014.

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