267 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
“Food stamps help families make ends meet, and as the economy improves and families get back on their feet, the costs of food stamps will decrease again. This is the entire essence of a social safety net.”
-Rep. Rosa DeLauro
If you think about this question within the context of the recently proposed cuts in Congress, the answer would appear to be fairly obvious right? Like me, some of you may have guessed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), or maybe you went with the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the Section 8 choice voucher program (low-income housing), or unemployment benefits, or TANF. As you have probably inferred from my “hint,” however, if you guessed these or any other programs that benefit poor, hungry, and out of work people, you would be absolutely wrong. Not even close actually.
So what IS the most expensive federal government social program? It's the retirement benefits exemption. Surprised? So was I, but maybe we shouldn’t be.
In her interesting book “The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy,” Cornell Professor Suzanne Mettler highlights our government's three most expensive social tax expenditures: the retirement benefits exemption, the health insurance exemption, and the home mortgage interest deduction program. She states, “Neither the costs of food stamps, the most utilized program for low-income people, nor of unemployment insurance, which provides economic security for Americans of all income levels, amounts to as much as half the value of even the least expensive of these programs (i.e. home mortgage interest deduction).”
So, when it comes time to balance budgets and cut the deficit, how come we never hear Congress clamoring to make cuts to programs like these? To answer that question, perhaps we need to add one more question to our pop quiz: Who benefits the most from social tax expenditures such as the retirement benefit exemption and the home mortgage deduction? You probably figured it out by now: the more affluent.
According to Mettler, the retirement benefit exemption and the home mortgage deduction program are the most skewed with, over 55 percent and 69 percent, respectively, going to Americans with household incomes over $100,000.00. In general, these kinds of social tax expenditures exacerbate inequality, with the notable exception of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Attempting to balance the budget and cut our deficit on the backs of poor and hungry folks by targeting programs such as SNAP is not only the wrong thing to do morally, but it simply won’t work. It is up to us to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Photo by Flickr user ricardodiaz11
Yesterday, an NPR story highlighted a new initiative by school food services in New Haven, Connecticut, to combat hunger among children through the use of food trucks. An increasingly popular form of food service for hip, urban foodies, the food truck is now being used to provide hungry kids in New Haven with food during the summer months when school meals are unavailable. Many people don't know that children growing up in low-income households depend on school meals for their daily food.
According to the story:
This year, Cipriano plans to serve 40,000 meals during July and August. The truck's now got a generator and electric refrigerators. He's serving basic bagged lunches for now — usually a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a carton of milk. But soon he hopes to add more trucks to serve hot meals, or even offer a walk-in truck with a salad bar like the ones that are popular with students at New Haven school cafeterias.
Cipriano’s idea is catching on. The story reports that Fayette County in Indiana is also planning to use a food truck in an effort to decentralize feeding sites so families with transportation problems can still have access to food in the summer.
Keeping children across the country nourished during the summer is a yearly struggle. Back in 2009, Bread for the World reported that “there are far fewer summer food sites than schools providing meals … the result is that about nine out of 10 children who receive free or reduced-price lunch do not receive meals from the Summer Food Program.”
Certainly, churches and congregations can help to ensure that children have access to nutritious meals when school is out by signing up to be a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sponsor or meal site. But many churches are already feeling the weight of feeding hungry people in their communities. (Read this testimonial from a local pastor.) So we also advocate asking Congress to continue to support programs such as SNAP and WIC, which would help families gain the ability to serve meals at home that their children would normally receive at school.
Jeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.
Photo by Flickr user S.³
The following is the script for an excellent skit about the Offering of Letters campaign presented on May 13 at Calvary Lutheran Church in Edina, MN. It was written by Martin Fergus, to go along with a grocery bag demonstration created by Cathy Brechtelsbauer and Tammy Walhof. This demonstration has been used throughout the Upper Midwest and Plains. Consider using a similar skit at your own church to promote Bread for the World's 2012 Offering of Letters campaign.
SCENE: Two long, church tables are on stage a few feet apart, one toward stage-right with 20 empty grocery bags on it; the other toward stage-left is empty. Rebekah stands at one end of the stage-right table, filling a bag with groceries to be delivered to the local food pantry Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP). Dan enters from stage-left, in front of the tables while Rebekah (Bek) continues to fill a grocery bag.
DAN: Hi Bek. What you doin’?
BEK: Packing up groceries from the congregation to take over to VEAP.
DAN: How much do you think you’ve got?
BEK: I’m not sure. Last March, during the Minnesota FoodShare drive, we collected more than 100 pounds.
DAN: How well did VEAP do with that drive?
BEK: Great. They met their target – 100,000 pounds of food and $100,000.
DAN: Wow, that’s a lot!
BEK: Yeah, and statewide, Minnesota FoodShare took in more than 4.4 million pounds of food and almost $8.5 million as well!
DAN: That’s impressive! Too bad that some of this might be undone by what’s happening in Washington, DC.
BEK: What do you mean? What’s happening in Washington, DC?
DAN: Well, the House of Representatives is proposing to make deep cuts in food stamps and other nutrition programs. That could really make things tough for the people served by food pantries like VEAP?
BEK: Why? How would that affect VEAP?
DAN: Well, cuts would mean more people needing help from VEAP – and fewer resources to do so, since part of VEAP’s food comes from federal programs.
BEK: But if there are cutbacks, couldn’t VEAP just have another food drive? And couldn’t we up the amount of food we collect here at Calvary?
DAN: Well, look at it this way. How many bags do you have on that table?
BEK: I’ve got 20 of them.
DAN: OK. Now assume that these 20 bags represent all the food provided to those in need by both private giving and federal programs. How much do you think is provided by each?
BEK: Oh, I don’t know. VEAP and Minnesota FoodShare sure get a lot of support – look what they did in just in one month – and there are groups like that all over the country. Maybe half the food comes from private contributions and the other half from the federal government?
DAN: You mean sort of like this? (Dan places 10 of the bags on the empty table.)
BEK (looking at the bags on the tables): Yeah, that looks about right?
DAN: Want me to show you the actual numbers?
BEK: Well, OK. If you’d like to.
(Dan moves nine more bags from Bek’s table to the other table and looks at Bek.)
DAN: Just 5 percent of the food for those in need comes from private donations; the rest is from federal nutrition programs.
BEK: Wow! I never imagined. What will people do if the federal nutrition programs are cut?
DAN: Yeah, what will they do? But we don’t have to let it happen.
BEK: What do you mean? What can we do about it?
DAN: There are groups, like Bread for the World, that are organizing letter writing campaigns – to ask Congress to put a “circle of protection” around federal nutrition programs. Would you like to learn how you can get involved?
BEK: Well, I’d like to know more about it first.
DAN: That’s fine. There’ll be an information table at coffee hour today – why don’t you stop by?
BEK: OK, I will! I’ll see you there!
DAN (turning to the congregation): If you’d like to learn more, why don’t you stop by too?
+To learn more about our campaign to preserve funding for programs that help poor and hungry people, or to participate in your own Offering of Letters campaign, click here.
Bread for the World provides tools for advocates who want to introduce the Offering of Letters to their congregations. One tool is a handy powerpoint, along with tips and suggestions on how to best use this great resource.
An Offering of Letters is also effective when you get an endorsement from the pulpit, especially a thumbs up from the pastor. In fact, having the pastor preach on the topic of the Offering of Letters would be ideal, especially if the theme fits nicely with the scripture readings for that Sunday (or weekend).
But the pastor isn't the only one who can tell folks in the pew to write letters. Dedicated lay persons can also perform this task. This is exactly what Crish Tippit and Rita Harris did at All Saints Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, NM. When offered the opportunity to do a presentation to the congregation, Crish and Rita decided to provide the information with a simple, but very effective, skit. The Offering of Letters committee at All Saints Lutheran decided to focus on the mini-campaign dealing with tax credits for low-income families.
Here is the script for the skit Crish and Rita performed:
Crish: Hey Rita. Are you going in Fellowship Hall to write a letter to Senator Bingaman? It’s Offering of Letters day.
Rita: Uh … I really have a lot to do right now. I was going straight home.
C: Come on, Rita. This is important. How long is it going to take you to write one letter? We even have a sample letter with talking points if you want to use it.
R: Well … I guess I could. I really haven’t been paying much attention. What are we writing about this year?
C: Senator Bingaman is on the Finance Committee. We want him to support making the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) permanent. Those programs are expiring this year and we want to be sure and protect working poor people who don’t make enough to support their families. These tax credits really help. For instance, in 2010 the EITC lifted 5.4 million people out of poverty — including 3 million children.
R: Wow. I know a woman who received that tax credit. She was able to pay for a car repair so that she could get to work. Without that extra money, she would have been stuck. She has all she can do just to feed her two kids.
C: Exactly. And there are other programs that protect poor and hungry people that are in danger of being cut. Congress is so worried about cutting the budget that they seem willing to do it on the backs of the poor.
R: What kinds of programs?
C: Two that I know of are SNAP, the food stamp program, and WIC, for Women, Infants, and Children. These are funded through the farm bill which is also up for renewal this year. More than 40 million Americans used food stamps last year. These are mainly people living below the poverty line. And WIC served more than 9 million women and children in 2010. We should urge Congress to continue these programs.
R: I’m amazed that there are that many people on these programs. What I mean is, I’m amazed that there are so many poor and hungry citizens in this country. It’s a shame.
C: One thing we know. These programs really work. Even through all the financial problems and unemployment of the past three years, these programs have kept household hunger rates from increasing further.
R: Well, I’ll definitely stay and write a letter. In fact, I’ll see if my two kids in Sunday School can write one, too. It won’t hurt them to be aware of how many people in this country go hungry.
C:Thanks, Rita. And you can enjoy a cup of coffee and some snacks while you are writing.
The 75 letters that came from the church's Offering of Letters were sent primarily to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and has a key role in legislation to renew these important tax credits. Feel free to use this skit as a framework for devising your own skit and conduct an Offering of Letters at your church!
Carlos Navarro is an activist with Bread for the World based in New Mexico. He blogs at Bread New Mexcio.
Photo caption: A campus group writes letters to their members of Congress. Bread for the World photo
Secretary Hillary Clinton was just one of the many speakers at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on May 18, 2012. See video of all of the speakers. Screenshot from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs livestream.
This morning leaders in development gathered at the 3rd Annual Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, held in Washington, DC, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. During this event, numerous speakers presented on the issue of global development, nutrition, and agriculture, including President Obama, who delivered the first speech on hunger by a sitting president. The G-8 Summit, which meets this weekend in Camp David, MD, also will focus on global food and nutrition security issues. Below, we have culled some of the best quotes from today's event from a variety of speakers:
"For every dollar you invest in nutrition, the payoff is $138 in better health and better productivity. It's about fiscal management because the consequences of not dealing with nutrition and good food, all of the consequential costs of health insurance and drug needs -- all of those consequential impacts that we have to deal with because we haven't invested in nutrition in the critical first 1,000 days, and that period is the most critical." --Beverley J. Oda, Honorable Minister of International Cooperation in Canada
"We need to reduce the number of meetings and learn to act accordingly. Preach water and drink water." --Jacqueline Mkindi, executive director of Tanzania Horticulture Association
"As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to partner with others. So we take pride in the fact that because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we still got a lot of work to do. It's unacceptable. It's an outrage. It's an affront to who we are." --President Barack Obama on global agriculture and food security.
"I think what we are seeking to do with our investments in global agriculture is not just to solve the problem of hunger, we also want to solve the problem of extreme poverty, and agriculture in our opinion may be the best intervention point to do that. Development dollars spent on agriculture have the greatest impact on poverty reduction. More than money spent in any other sector. So if we want to make big gains in the fight against poverty, agriculture is the best way to do that. And there is no place that that is more true than in Africa, where there is such great potential for gains in agricultural productivity." --Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on global food safety.
“We need aid. Of course we still need aid. Of course we do. Does anyone disagree? ... The L'Aquila promises must be kept and must be a baseline going forward. And we've got to keep overall aid budgets on track, which is a really tough sell sometimes. ... Very few countries have been courageous enough to keep their promises on aid. ... If there's one thing I've learned in 25 years doing this stuff, it's that paternalism, the old way we did development, is no match with partnership. It's through partnership we can hasten the day when the developing world will not only feed itself, but feed the rest of us ..." --Bono, founder of ONE and member of the band U2
If you had $75 billion to spend on solving some of the world’s greatest challenges, where would you start? An expert panel of Nobel laureate economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus recently answered that question. After extensive research and consultation, they determined that the single best investment the world could make to advance health and prosperity would be to fight malnutrition in young children.
We have always known that tackling child malnutrition is the right thing to do. Perhaps now that it’s seen by experts as the smartest thing to do, we will be able to mobilize the investment needed to finally tackle a condition that plagues close to 200 million children, robbing them of their health and future potential.
Thankfully, we already know how to prevent the needless suffering and the nearly 3 million child deaths that result each year from malnutrition. Simple interventions such as breastfeeding and inexpensive treatments for diarrhea management in young children could save more than 1 million lives a year.
We also know that proper nutrition early in a child’s life—particularly during the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday—can help break the cycle of poverty by ensuring healthy brain development, stronger immune systems, better performance in school, and higher earning potential.
David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World. Lucy Sullivan is executive director of 1,000 Days.
Photo caption: Constantia and her son Gustavo live in Cobue, Monzambique. Gustavo became severely malnourished after contracting malaria. Constantia took him to a clinic where she learned how to feed him a fortified milk formula with a syringe every few hours around the clock. Soon he was eating Plumpy'nut, a high-protein therapeutic food. A year later Gustavo is healthy and eating normal foods. Photo by Rebecca Vander Meulen.
Just as Jesus fed 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish, one congregation, Peace Lutheran Church in Rogers, AR, is feeding more than 18,000 people a year through their food pantry. With only 375 members, this small church packs a powerful punch when it comes to combatting hunger in their region, which is experiencing widespread rural poverty that extends into four states: Arkansas, southern Missouri, southeast Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma.
Rev. Paul Theiss pastors Peace Lutheran Church and signed Bread for the World’s recent petition to Congress that says churches cannot shoulder the burden of protecting poor and hungry people alone. When signing the petition, Rev. Theiss left this comment: “Our congregation, Peace Lutheran Church, fed over 18,000 people during 2011 through our food pantry and additional children through our subsidized preschool and childcare center. We might have to close our youth and music ministries to find enough money to feed the many more who would come looking for food help.”
I called Paul Theiss to ask him about his ministry, the unique needs in his community, and how an added cost of $50,000 a year to help poor and hungry people would impact his church. Read our conversation below:
We have 375 baptized members and our average worship attendance is about 150. We operate the largest and highest-rated Christian preschool and learning center in Rogers, AR, which takes children from 6 months to kindergarten, and is partially subsidized by federal funds for working poor parents through the state of Arkansas.
Our pantry fed 18,000 people in 2011 and we spend $20,000 to $25,000 a year on food. We also receive many in-kind donations from members, local businesses, restaurants, and friends in the community.
Have you noticed increased need in the recent years since the economic recession?
Compared to the rest of Arkansas, this area has very low unemployment, but it’s surrounded by a large area of rural poverty that extends into four states. Many of the jobs here are minimum wage, which doesn’t support a household. So it’s very common to see people working two or three jobs and still not making it. You might say they are one car breakdown or sick child away from an empty pantry.
Could you share the story of one particular food pantry participant who stands out to you?
One young lady who worships regularly with us has an infant child. She is a single mom and works at a local restaurant, and has her child in our infant care center. She receives food stamps, WIC, and subsidized childcare. Her family also helps her. She is very intelligent and capable and faithful, but she’s living on the edge. And she would be among those affected by the recent cuts enacted by the House of Representatives.
What was your response to the news that the House voted to cut funding to programs for poor and hungry people?
A sense of disbelief. Our representative is the former mayor of our town and he certainly knows the situation here, and I can’t believe that he would be responding to the need in such a way. So that’s the disbelief part of it.
I also feel overwhelmed when I think about what would happen if these cuts go through. The figure that’s put out there by Bread for the World is that every congregation would have to come up with $50,000 more per year [if House cuts are enacted]. Well, that’s an average. And for a place like Peace Lutheran Church, we’re talking about an exponential growth in need.
What is your greatest concern?
Sometimes when I park my car and walk up to the church door, I think about what it would be like if people were standing in line around the corner waiting for the pantry to open and not having enough to give them.
Where do you find hope?
That’s easy. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can’t imagine a more hopeless situation than the death of Christ, and yet God brought something wonderful and powerful out of that.
The faith of the people I see who are involved in this ministry gives me hope as well. There was an anonymous note here that was given to one of our food pantry volunteers and I got a copy of it. It said:
“I’m sorry I didn’t know your name, but last month when my sister and I came to the food bank, we got here real early, and we were just sitting in my car waiting. You came out and told us to go ahead and come in. You didn’t know it, but our nephew had been in a really bad car accident. He lives with me and had just been here a few days. I needed to go ahead and do food banks, and he knew I had my cell phone and could reach me if needed. You really took a load of worry off me and my sister. God bless you, and thank you. K--- and J---”
So that’s just a touching thing when you think about how many people this volunteer has to deal with every day and he’s unemployed himself.
Jeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the world. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.
Screenshot taken from The Chew
Taking the food stamp challenge for a week is a far cry from the reality nearly 49 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients face trying to stretch their SNAP dollars to the end of the month. But for celebrity chef Mario Batali, taking the food stamp challenge starts a conversation, and that's a good thing.
The reality for people who rely on SNAP goes beyond just the struggle to eat, and often includes a myriad of other challenges, such as gaining stable hours at work, paying for rent, keeping the lights on, and getting to the doctor. Nearly 99 percent of SNAP households have net incomes below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four in 2011). For Batali, who is currently taking the food stamp challenge for one week, planning a week of meals for his family of four on $124 was, “not at all relaxing.” Batali says, “It’s very much thinking about it all the time, which is what I imagine hunger feels like on a regular basis.”
In a brief backstage interview for his TV show, The Chew, Batali goes on to note that taking a challenge is not the same as living the reality, “It’s easy for us because we all know that next week we are going back to whatever we do. But it’s an interesting conversation every day to think about what hunger is, what food is, what nutrition is -- in a way that really makes us think about it on a much more personal level.” [See the video below.]
Another reality is that SNAP works. In tough economic times SNAP has been a life-line to families. As the economy heals, participation in the program will decrease.
Yet some in Congress want to force families out of the program. The House has proposed cutting $169 billion to SNAP and some have said that the churches can pick up the slack. Proposed changes like block granting would mean 8 to 10 million people would lose benefits that put food on the table. It would require roughly every religious congregation, on average, an additional $50,000 per year over 10 years to make up for these cuts.
We need your help to turn the conversation into action. In June, members of Bread for the World will be in D.C. for our annual Lobby Day. We will be carrying petitions to our members of Congress that say people of faith find cuts to SNAP unacceptable. We have set a goal that the petition will include 5,000 religious leaders. Sign the petition and please make a commitment to ask your community’s leaders to speak up and defend our nation’s most effective line of defense against hunger.
I haven’t. Oh, sure, there’ve been some months when expenses were bigger than income and I didn’t know how to pay some bills. But I’ve always had support -- financial and otherwise -- from my family when needed.
We all know that’s not the case for everyone. Right now:
- 48.8 million Americans are at risk of hunger.
- 15 percent of Americans -- including more than one-in-five children -- live in poverty.
Tragically, the House recently passed a budget that could make more Americans hungry.
This is unacceptable to me.
And this is why the church I serve, Woodridge United Methodist, recently sent 100 letters to Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Dick Durbin urging them create a circle of protection around domestic nutrition programs vital to hungry and poor Americans -- programs such as SNAP and WIC.
I signed Bread’s petition urging Congress not to cut SNAP for the same reason: Deliberately making more people hungry -- and making already hungry people even hungrier -- is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me as a father, as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a human being, and I need my members of Congress to know that.
So Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk, and Representative Judy Biggert will see my name on Bread’s petition, and I hope your members of Congress will see your name as well. (Sign the petition here.)
To make up the gap created by those proposed cuts to SNAP churches and charities would need to do everything they’re currently doing to fight hunger ... and come up with an average of an additional $50,000 each year!
$50,000!? I know our church does not have that kind of spare change sitting around, and I know that our friends at the West Suburban Community Pantry have already seen demand for their services increase sharply -- from serving 750 families per month to 1200. The pantry does incredible work in our community, feeding more than 35,000 people last year, including more than 15,000 children. They are maxed out too.
I agree that budget deficits, especially at our current level, are unsustainable. But reducing our deficit by making hungry people hungrier is immoral.
The biblical witness is clear: As followers of God in the way of Jesus we are called to protect hungry and vulnerable people. We are called to speak with them. Signing this petition is a terrific, and, let’s be honest, easy way to do exactly that.
Photo caption: Rev. Dave Buerstetta dedicates letters written during an Offering of Letters on April 22, 2012, at Woodridge United Methodist Church in Woodridge, IL.
+Learn more about budget proposals and Bread's online petition telling Congress that churches can’t be the only ones responsible for feeding hungry people, on Thursday, May 17. Join Bread National Grassroots Conference Call and Webinar and hear more from Rev. Dave Buerstetta, the organizing staff, and one of our government relations policy analysts. Follow the webinar on Twitter with the hashtag #breadweb.
Get updates on issues and actions to take on behalf of hungry people.