Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

270 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"

New Study: Poverty Doesn’t Have a Political Affiliation

LA Press Conference
Christian leaders from multiple denominations unite around advocating to end hunger and poverty at a press conference in Los Angeles, Calif., in 2011 (Joanne Nazarian/Bread for the World).

Poverty is complex— it can touch anyone, no matter their age, gender, or race. And although every decrease in the poverty rate requires the force of political will, poverty is not affiliated with any one political party. A new report from Brookings Institution on the increase in suburban poverty examines variations between congressional districts.

During the recession, one of the fastest growing pockets of poverty in America has been in metropolitan suburbs, but the distress has been largely hidden. During the 2000s, Brookings reports, poverty grew in 388 of 435 districts — and most of those districts are in the suburbs of the 100 largest metropolitan areas. The trend does not, it appears, discriminate by party affiliation,  but is distributed nearly equally between districts, regardless of whether they are represented by a Democrat or a Republican.

In the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., poverty has jumped an incredible 663 percent between 2007 and 2011.  During the same period, District 17 in central Texas has seen suburban poverty increase by 407 percent. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC-12) and Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX-17) have a “shared challenge” – the approach recommended in the report. (See more comparisons by downloading the report).

Each party has a stake in alleviating poverty. Instead of discussing poverty in partisan terms or placing blame, our nation's leaders should address the root causes driving these trends.

But instead of unifying around one of the biggest challenges facing our nation, Congress is caught in political gridlock.  Take sequestration, the automatic cuts that are now law, for example. The legislation was created as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act as a way to force lawmakers into bipartisan deficit-reduction negotiations. Because the parties could not find common ground, the automatic cuts now work as budgeting on autopilot – indiscriminately cutting programs, including those critical to staving off hunger and poverty. 

The House farm bill is another example—it has been caught in a  political standoff that has left the SNAP program, our nation’s best defense against hunger, in a state of uncertainty. 

Bread for the World is made up of members from all walks of life, united around one goal: alleviating hunger and poverty as part of the Christian call. “The good news of Jesus Christ is neither liberal or conservative,” says Bread's director of organizing, LaVida Davis.

In Georgia’s District 4, represented by Democrat Henry Johnson, there are grandmas struggling on fixed incomes, just as there are children in Michigan's District 2, represented by Republican Bill Huizenga, whose mothers are earning minimum wage and struggling to put food on their tables.  Poverty is a shared problem that should unite this nation, not divide it—and the same holds true for Congress. 

+

Check out Bread for the World's new August recess webpage, which includes information on how faithful advocates can get in front of members of Congress and work to help hungry and poor people.

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study


Girl eating cropped
A young girl eats lunch at a soup kitchen in a scene from the documentary A Place at the Table. (Film still courtesy of Participant Media).

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.

When We Deliver Our Petition to the White House Will Your Name Be Included?

PresidentBy LaVida Davis

Next Wednesday, I will attend a meeting at the White House and hand-deliver Bread for the World’s petition. We are asking President Obama to set a goal and work with Congress to end hunger.

More than 25,000 people have signed thus far, but we want the strongest possible showing for this meeting with White House staff. Help us get to 30,000 signatures! Please take a moment to add your name to this effort by signing the petition. Once you sign, we'll keep you updated on our efforts.

Let’s show the president that the movement to end hunger has momentum. Let’s show him that there’s a strong constituency waiting for him to speak up about poverty.

Together we can compel our leaders to show moral courage and work to end hunger. That’s why we started this petition, and that’s why we need your voice.

God's grace in Jesus Christ moves us to help our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or on the next continent. Adding your name to the petition is a simple but powerful way to help your neighbors. Speak out against hunger just as the Hebrew prophets spoke out against injustice in their time.

I invite you to stand with us by signing the petition. I would be honored to bring your name with me to the White House next week.

LaVida Davis is Bread for the World's director of organizing and grassroots capacity building.

 

If you can get 10 of your friends to sign, we’ll send you a pack of 10 Bread for the World Christmas cards to say "thank you." The deadline for signatures is 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 5. Your friends can indicate that you referred them when signing the petition. You can use Bread’s online petition recruiting page or share the petition using Facebook.

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.

Reversal of Fortune: New Study Links Tax Expenditures and Mobility

Rosie
Rosie, an imaginative fifth-grader, tries to distract her mind from hunger pangs as she learns and grows in rural Colorado. Her story is told in the 2013 documentary film A Place at the Table (Movie still courtesy of Participant Media).

Is the American dream dying?

The iconic images of the pioneering frontiersman or the weary immigrant gazing west from Ellis Island hold the same promise—that even if someone's immediate circumstances didn't improve by leaving hearth and home behind, their children have a chance at a better life. It was and is the hope of upward mobility.

A new study by a team of Harvard and U.C. Berkeley economic researchers shows that intergenerational mobility – making more income than your parents - may depend in part on where you live. 

Family structure, educational investments, and even income inequality correlate with mobility. But the significant variable—the one that means a child born in Seattle is more likely to move up the income ladder than one in Atlanta—is tax expenditures, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC). Bread for the World maintains that these tax credits for low-income families are a critical weapon against hunger and must be part of the circle of protection.

In the study’s summary conclusion, the researchers write the following: 

What is clear from this research is that there is substantial variation in the United States in the prospects for escaping poverty. There are some areas in the U.S. where a child’s chances of success do not depend heavily on his or her parents’ income.  Understanding the features of these areas - and how we can improve mobility in areas that currently have lower rates of mobility - is an important question for future research that we and other social scientists are exploring.

This research should make it clear that members of Congress must keep in place policies that support programs, like the EITC and the CTC, that help create those pathways out of poverty. The tax credits were extended for five years as part of the fiscal cliff deal earlier this year, but are still in danger of being cut. The credits should be made permanent.

As Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) begin proposing reform in their tax writing committees this year, it remains to be seen how they will treat tax credits for working families. In the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Baucus and ranking member Orin Hatch (R-Utah) have called for a blank slate and are asking for input from fellow members of Congress. 

With automatic cuts already in place, and additional cuts proposed as part of budget negotiations, Bread for the World is urging Congress to take a balanced approach to our fiscal future and protect anti-poverty programs like tax credits for working families. Tax reform must also include the needed revenue to continue these and other programs that support a strong safety net.

For as much elbow grease that has oiled the American dream, sound government policies that set a course for prosperity have laid the foundation for individuals to escape poverty. This study shows that cutting and weakening the EITC and CTC could lead to a new American narrative: a reversal of fortune.

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.

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.

Twenty-Somethings and the Sequester

WIC_mother_and_child
Programs such as WIC, which is dominated by women in their twenties, face serious sequestration cuts. Here in an archival USDA photo, a young mother and her daughter visit a WIC office. (USDA/National Archives and Records Administration)

By Nina Keehan

As the $85 billion in sequestration cuts start to take effect over the next few months, many billions of dollars will be siphoned from programs aimed at helping the most vulnerable Americans. Poor people. Hungry people. And twenty-somethings?

That’s right, young people have a lot at stake as the budget cuts go into effect. The sequester will have dire consequences for twenty-something who are already living below the poverty line, and will also harm young people who are looking to escape poverty through education. The idea of the college years, and the period right after graduation, as a time filled with learning and carefree discovery is falling away—many college students and recent graduates are living in poverty, are homeless, or using government assistance to stay afloat. 

As of May 2012, the U.S. unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds stood at 13.5 percent, several percentage points higher than the national average. The recession has also forced more than 6 million young people to move back in with their parents for economic reasons. Over 45 percent of them would have incomes below the poverty line if living alone. What was meant to be a temporary fix is quickly becoming a permanent reality.

College students and recent grads are going to face some of the most detrimental cuts as federal work-study programs and payments to millions of student loan borrowers are about to be reduced.

“That would mean for the fall as many as 70,000 students would lose access to grants and to work-study opportunities,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in a White House briefing Feb. 27. “And if young people lose access to grants and lose access to work study, my fear … is many of them would not be able to enroll in college, would not be able to go back. And, again, do we want a less-educated workforce?”

This is a workforce that is already looking at a dim future. U.S. economic growth is expected to drop by nearly one-third this year, meaning even fewer new jobs in an already competitive market. Such cuts threaten to rob millions of young people of the opportunities that gainful employment and higher education promise.

Additionally, programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is dominated by women in their twenties, are bracing for huge cuts. Over the next few months, if lawmakers can’t come to a better solution than the sequester, more than 600,000 women and children will lose access to the assistance that, for decades, has given vulnerable families an equal footing.

It’s easy as a twenty-something to ignore the reality and pretend that the sequester doesn’t affect us. But it’s real. Sequester cuts will make it harder for us to get jobs, harder to make a living without the help of our families, and harder for those of us who are already struggling to feed our children and to prosper. It’s important that we call our members of Congress and express our outrage over these across-the-board cuts and the negative impact they will have. We are the future of America, so why are we quiet?

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

Moving Away from the Edge of Financial Ruin

John_TheLine_at_food_pantry_500px

Single father John Lohmeier shops at a food pantry in the Chicago, Ill., suburbs. Lohmeier talks about losing his six-figure salary and needing assistance in the documentary. (Screen shot from The Line)

By Sarah Godfrey

In the documentary The Line, a look at poverty in America, Illinois single father John Lohmeier shares his story of losing his job and six-figure salary and becoming someone struggling to make ends meet. "For the first time, I've gone from being somebody who could help to being somebody who needs help," Lohmeier says. 

It seems the line between those who are able to offer assistance and those who need it is becoming increasingly fluid. Case in point: according to a recent report, nearly half of all Americans lack a basic personal safety net to prepare them for emergencies or future needs.

The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) study found that 43.9 percent of U.S. households—some poor, some making more than $90,000 per year—don't have enough savings to last three months at a poverty-level income. For those who don't understand the importance of federal safety net programs, or can't imagine being in a position to need SNAP (formerly food stamps), WIC, or other forms of assistance, the study should serve as a powerful wake-up call.

From CFED:

Having emergency savings can help families better weather an economic setback. Research has found that households with assets are much less likely to suffer serious hardships in the event of an economic emergency, such as a job loss. Families without emergency savings, on the other hand, are much more vulnerable to economic catastrophe, such as foreclosure, homelessness and dependence on public assistance. 

The good news is that saving money, even in relatively small amounts, can help put families on better financial footing. And saving money and getting rid of debt isn't something that is only accessible to wealthy and middle-class families. The importance asset building in fighting poverty was explored in the 2010 Hunger Report piece "Incentives to Build Savings." As the Hunger Report points out, it is harder for poor people to save money, it’s a misperception that they don’t or won’t save:

Research shows that people with incomes well below the poverty line are able to save. A national research study known as the American Dream Demonstration tested the effectiveness of asset-development programs for poor people. People were saving to build assets such as homeownership, education, or starting a business.

Unfortunately, snips to our social safety net make saving money even more difficult. Andrea Levere, president of CFED, told Salon that the study's findings were “particularly disturbing given the ongoing budget talks in Congress that will likely result in further reductions in the social safety net and other programs that help low- and moderate-income people get on their feet and start planning and saving for a better future.”

In other words, it is crucial that we continue to work to protect vital safety net programs and to ensure that Congress, in balancing the federal budget, doesn’t make it impossible for poor working families to balance their household budgets.

Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

Yet Another Reason to Support Tax Credits

Form_1040_flickr

You probably already know that tax credits are a huge help to low-income working families. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit(CTC), which qualifying families receive when they get their federal income tax refunds, assist millions of people each year. In 2011 alone, the EITC lifted 3.3 million children out of poverty. But did you know that refundable tax credits also boost the U.S. economy? 

Center for American Progress has released a cool infographic showing exactly how the EITC helps working families, and the think tank also looks at how tax credits affect this country's fiscal fitness.

"Not only does the earned income tax credit keep millions of working families from slipping into poverty each year, it also leads to positive outcomes for family health and student education," writes research associate Katie Wright. "Earned income tax credit dollars benefit our economy, and most families who receive the credit end up paying billions of dollars more in net federal income tax than they receive in the earned income tax credit over time."

The fact that the EITC helps so many families each year is reason enough to support the credit—that the anti-poverty program has such positive, far-reaching effects is just one more mark in its favor.

Want to learn more about how the benefits of the EITC? Take our EITC quiz, read one family's story of how receiving the EITC helped lift—and keep—them out of poverty, and then take action by telling your members of Congress to make the EITC and CTC permanent.

Stay Connected

Bread for the World