Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

Our Final Four

9303717422_458bed2397_bBy Eric Mitchell

The rest of the country might be talking March Madness, but Congress is about to take some important votes that will determine anti-hunger policy for the rest of this year and beyond.

We need your voice these next five days. And not just once. We're going to need you repeatedly. You will be hearing a lot from us because this is our final four to ensure funding for our country’s anti-hunger programs.

Last week, the House and Senate introduced their fiscal year 2016 budget resolutions. Both include drastic cuts to programs that help people in poverty put food on the table and provide for their families. The House cuts SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) by $140 billion over the next decade. This is the equivalent of 220 missed meals annually for each SNAP participant. The Senate’s proposal is less specific, but nearly 70 percent of its $4.7 trillion cuts would be to low-income families and people struggling in poverty.

This week, the House and Senate will vote on these proposed budgets. They will also vote on a host of amendments — some that could be very bad, such as eliminating funding for foreign assistance. Can you commit to taking one action each day this week?

Monday (March 23), Call or email your members of Congress and tell them to protect funding for anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs. Protect SNAP and Medicaid and end sequestration so annually funded programs don't see such drastic cuts — programs like WIC, foreign assistance, and Head Start.

Tuesday (March 24), is a national call-in day. People all over the country will be coming together to call and email their members of Congress, urging them to protect programs like SNAP, Medicaid, foreign assistance, and other anti-hunger programs. Bread for the World is teaming up with other anti-hunger organizations to produce the loudest chorus of voices that we can.

Wednesday (March 25), the Senate may begin voting on the budget. There could be hundreds of amendments. We will know what they are by Wednesday. We may contact you if you live in a state with a senator who is especially critical for a vote. We'll also be posting information throughout the day on our Facebook page, Twitter, and blog.

On Thursday (March 26), we expect the House to vote on its budget. We'll be calling on you to urge your representative to vote no. Be prepared to get an email from Bread for the World with talking points and call-in and email information. The vote could be close, and we'll need you to weigh in.

By Friday (March 27), the Senate should wrap up its votes on the budget. The Senate will vote on hundreds of amendments late into the night.

Are you ready? We are. Get pumped because we need you this week! It's tip-off, and you can start right now. Call (800/826-3688) or email your senators and representative today and urge them to protect funding for anti-hunger programs by ending sequestration cuts and opposing cuts to SNAP and Medicaid.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations as Bread for the World.

Congress Wants to Cut Food Stamp Benefits by 220 Meals a Year

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SNAP is our nation's largest child nutrition program and provides 21 million children with meals. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Eric Mitchell

The House and Senate Budget Committees just released their budget proposals. Both proposals contain enormous cuts to effective anti-hunger programs. I'm outraged!

The House budget proposes cutting $140 billion from SNAP (formerly called food stamps). The Senate budget proposes cutting Medicaid by $400 billion. Medicaid provides health coverage for 28 million children.

Under these cuts, participants in SNAP would lose 220 meals a year. That’s 10 weeks worth of food!

Congress repeatedly wants to use anti-poverty programs as their piggy bank for deficit reduction. I’m tired of it. I need your voice.

Will you call or email your members of Congress? Tell them to protect SNAP and Medicaid from cuts.

SNAP is our country’s largest child nutrition program. It provides nearly 21 million children with meals when many would have gone without them otherwise. Medicaid provides health coverage for 28 million low-income children. Hungry children can't learn, and unhealthy children won't reach their full potential.

The federal budget is a statement on the priorities of our country. Our children's health and nutrition must be taken seriously. How can Congress propose cutting a program that helps nearly 23 million households, with 21 million children, put food on the table?

Call (800/826-3688) or email your senators and representative today, and urge them to oppose these budgets. Tell your members of Congress to oppose SNAP cuts and  to oppose Medicaid cuts. Congress should be investing in our children—not undermining their health and taking meals away from them.

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

Letters are the ABCs of Our Power in Ending Hunger

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By Stephen H. Padre

Letters have power.

Take, for example, the last crisis of the week in Washington. A group of 47 Republicans in the Senate signed on to a letter condemning the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The letter had the two parties sparring in a constitutional argument and got the capital all riled up.

The March 15 Parade magazine cover story, “Letters that changed our world,” affirmed the power of letters. “They’ve fueled love affairs and severed friendships, ignited wars and settled them. They can convey the most profound thanks, apology or regret.”

Bread for the World’s signature program, its annual Offering of Letters, harnesses the power of letters. Bread believes the simple act of writing to a member of Congress has the power to bring about change for millions of people who are hungry and poor— especially when written on a large scale. A stack of letters from a group of Christians just might sway a member of Congress to vote a certain way on an important piece of legislation.

 

6521596521_0264dcd35a_oThe idea is simple: A group in a church or faith community writes letters together to their members of Congress on a specific hunger issue. The 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children is about federal child nutrition programs. The letters are collected, and, just as a monetary offering is blessed, the letters are lifted up to God before being mailed to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

The means of communication have changed over the decades. Now we can communicate with people on other continents instantly via email, and we say less—140 characters or fewer—on Twitter. But we also generate more noise on our electronic channels of communication than we did when ships carried letters across oceans. Letters, although they may seem quaint and old-fashioned, can actually cut through the chatter. So, in a way, everything old can be new again.

A hand-written letter has a way of encapsulating the thoughts and emotions of the writer. A letter on paper records the words in a more permanent and tangible way than an email can. There is almost more of the writer present in a paper letter than in an email on a screen.

A letter to your representatives in Washington, D.C., also carries some of your power as a citizen (or resident) of a state or congressional district. Your voice and power of persuasion is a major expression of your citizenship, and a letter to the people who make decisions on your behalf is exercising that power. A letter is an ideal way for you to connect your power as a voter, citizen, resident, and concerned Christian to the power of our federal government. Through letters, we can persuade our government to lead the way in ending hunger in our time.

Stephen H. Padre is managing editor at Bread for the World.

Photo: A college campus group writes letters to Congress. Bread for the World.

When 'Reconciliation' Becomes a Bad Word

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By Robin Stephenson

For Christians, the term reconciliation is a sacred calling to heal the broken world – a call for heaven on earth. However, in the hands of the 114th Congress, budget reconciliation could become a tool that widens the gap of inequality and pushes more people – especially children– into hunger.

Reconciliation, in the legislative sense of the word, is expected to be included in the 2016 budgets the House and Senate plan to release next week. Both chambers are likely to call for deep cuts in non-defense spending.

Budget reconciliation is a set of instructions sometimes added to the yearly budget resolution – the overall amount Congress decides the U.S. government will spend in one year. Once the budget is passed, each committee is given its share of the total to distribute between all of the programs in its jurisdiction. When budget reconciliation instructions are included, certain committees are instructed to meet spending and revenue criteria – even if it includes finding additional savings by changing policy.

Budget reconciliation makes it easy to slip controversial changes through Congress that are hard to reverse, which is all the more reason we must pay attention to the process. To learn more, read Budget Reconciliation 101.

Under reconciliation, committees could include deep cuts to program funding or pass harmful policy changes to anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and the earned income tax credit (EITC) - programs, we believe, that have giant targets on them. In this scenario, children will pay a hefty price.

3963295139_3351abd412_bOur 2015 Offering of Letters aims to feed our children. The child poverty rate is already unacceptably disproportionate to our resources, but has improved since the height of the recession–nationally, we stand at 18 percent.  Without government interventions, the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Deep cuts to a program like SNAP, in which half of the participants are children, would be a move in the wrong direction. The earned income tax credit and child tax credit moved 5 million children out of poverty in 2013 and must be protected to make further progress on reducing child hunger. Medicaid, another piece of the poverty-ending puzzle, provided healthcare to 32 million children in 2012.

Defending SNAP from the chopping block is becoming the new normal. Just last year, your faithful advocacy halted deep cuts to SNAP in the farm bill. Up to $40 billion in cuts were proposed during the two-year negotiations. Without SNAP, many families would go hungry. Food banks and pantries, already stretched thin, cannot make up the difference

Every time there is talk of fiscal belt-tightening, the most vulnerable in our society are targeted as notches. This is not the kind of reconciliation that God calls us to and not the kind of reconciliation people of faith should stand for from our leaders. We must speak up early and ensure these programs don't become a bull's-eye for lawmakers' cuts.

Christians across this nation must do the real work of God’s reconciliation--urging Congress to prioritize and protect critical anti-poverty initiatives in any budget reconciliation bill, especially programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and tax credits for families struggling to make ends meet. We have done it before, and we must do it again.

Find more resources to understand the budget process here.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior organizer at Bread for the World.

Growing Up Poor in Rural America

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By Robin Stephenson

Clark Fork, Idaho is an idyllic rural community nestled near the northern tip of the state. The town has a median income of just under $28,000 a year and a population of 530. In November, the school district said it could no longer afford to serve hot meals at Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School.

Chris Riggins, the town's mayor, is concerned about food-insecure students. "The hot lunch that they receive here at school, a lot of them, this is the only hot meal they get during the day," Riggins told a local news station. 

Roughly 35 percent of rural populations live in high poverty, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rural areas are defined as having populations of fewer than 2,500 and not adjacent to a metro area. More than 25 percent of all rural children live in poverty – significantly higher than their urban counterparts.

16160848070_43f57f9ce4_kThe National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a nutrition intervention tool that provides food to children who need it – food that gives them the fuel to learn. But a growing number of rural schools are struggling to make the program work for them.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that the numbers don't add up for Clark Fork. The school averages about 100 enrolled students a year and nearly half qualify for the federal government free and reduced-lunch program (available to students in a family of four that earn roughly $44,000 annually). About 20 students opt into the program on a regular basis. The federal government reimburses the school $2.58 for reduced lunch and $2.98 for free lunches. The $70 in revenue, however, is not enough to cover the $395 a day it takes to run the program.

Volume helps cut costs in schools with larger student populations.

Community eligibility, a provision in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization bill, has the potential to help many struggling schools. If over 40 percent of students qualify for free lunch, all students get free lunch for schools that opt in. By eliminating application and fees, the streamlined process eases the burden on schools and increases the total reimbursement. Unfortunately, for a small school like Clark Fork, the numbers are not in their favor: Only 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free lunch.

The obvious solution to child poverty is stable, living-wage employment for parents. In the absence of adequate work, safety net programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the earned income tax credit, and child nutrition programs increasingly bridge the gap between income and cost of living. Nationally, the child poverty rate stands at 18 percent. Without government interventions the rate would be 33 percent, according to a recent analysis.

Kids deserve the chance to reach their potential no matter where they live. Anti-poverty programs like SNAP and school lunch, which keep hunger at bay, must be strengthened and protected for the sake of our children.

Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs from harmful budget and funding cuts. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Do You Share My Vision?

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By Rev. David Beckmann

Imagine a future in which children no longer go to bed hungry. I know it's possible. The progress we've made in alleviating hunger and poverty over Bread's 40 years - combined with my faith in Jesus Christ - convince me of this every day.

16348205135_584c230bcf_kIn the 1960s, severe malnutrition and starvation were serious problems in our country. Today, thanks to programs like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), nutrition assistance for pregnant women, infants, and young children, and the school lunch program, these problems have decreased dramatically. In the next 15 years, we could end these problems for good.

This year, Congress has some big decisions to make on our child nutrition programs, which are up for reauthorization. Additionally, members of Congress are threatening major cuts to SNAP, and nearly half of SNAP recipients are children. Negotiations in Congress have already begun. Will you take two minutes to email or call (800/826-3688) your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators? Urge Congress to strengthen our child nutrition programs, particularly the summer meals program. Tell Congress to also protect SNAP and other anti-poverty programs.

Ending hunger starts with our children. It starts now. It starts with you. You can help end hunger by 2030 with an action as simple as an email or phone call. We need you to do your part. And we need Congress to do its part. Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress today.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

 

Women's History Month: The Gospel and the Poor

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By Bread Staff

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Woman’s Day, Bread Blog, Institute Notes, and Bread for the World’s social media platforms will be celebrating the ingenious, fortitude, and spirit of women during the month of March.

Women like Dorothy Day have been at the forefront in the fight to end hunger. Like Bread for the World members, Day grounded her work in prayer and scripture and felt called to care for the most vulnerable in our society.  Day’s example reminds us that women of faith are helpers and advocates and act as God’s hands in this broken world.

Women are also the primary agents the world relies on to fight hunger. From the mother in Mississippi who struggles to work full-time at minimum wage and still feed her children to the subsistence farmer in Kenya who prays she can sell enough of her produce at market to make it through the dry season, women feed and nourish the world. Lessons from anti-hunger programs carried out in the past decade have made it clear:  women’s empowerment is key to ending hunger worldwide.

On March 8, thousand of events will be held throughout the world as part of annual International Women’s Day observances.  The theme of this year’s celebration is “Make it Happen” for greater awareness of women’s equality.

Women’s equality is also the subject of the 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger. The report looks at discrimination as a cause of persistent hunger and makes policy and program recommendations in order to empower women both in the United States and around the world. Increasing women’s earning potential by boosting bargaining power, reducing gender inequality in unpaid work, increasing women’s political representation, and eliminating the wage gap between male and female labor directly contributes to ending hunger.

For more information on the integral role women play in ending hunger and poverty, make sure to read When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger and also visit Bread Blog.

 

Food Stamp Hearings Begin in House Agriculture Committee

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By Robin Stephenson

When U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas, 11) was appointed to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Agriculture last November, he announced he was forming a new subcommittee that would conduct a full-scale review of SNAP (formerly food stamps). The hearings began Wednesday and are expected to continue with no end in sight.

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 11.36.30 AM“Today’s hearing marks the beginning of a top-to-bottom review of the program,” began Conaway’s opening statement. “We will conduct this review without preconceived notions and with a commitment to strengthening the program so it can serve as a tool to help individuals move up the economic ladder.“

Policy change that fosters economic mobility is good news. However, many anti-hunger advocates worry the hearings are a veiled attempt to dismantle SNAP, potentially leading to harmful programmatic changes, such as block granting or cutting benefits.

Bread for the World’s policy expert on nutrition, Christine Melendez Ashley, said she is happy to hear Congress is talking about hunger. “Faithful advocates who care about ending hunger need to be paying attention to these hearings,” she said. “The result of such talks must be to help end hunger and not exacerbate it.”

But there is reason to worry given the proposals that were part of last year’s farm bill negotiations. That bill was finally passed last February after three years of bitter debate. To the disappointment of Bread members, it included a devastating $8.6 billion cut to the SNAP program. Thanks to your letters, phone calls, and meetings with members of Congress, the proposed $40 billion in cuts and harmful programmatic changes were not enacted.

Those 2014 farm bill cuts came on the heels of another benefit reduction months earlier. Congress passed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with provisions that increased funding for school lunch programs and improved child nutrition programs – but they paid for the improvements by cutting SNAP benefits. In essence, funding for food at the dinner table was siphoned to fund the food at the lunch table. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The child nutrition bill is up for reauthorization again this year and the focus of Bread’s 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children.

During yesterday’s inaugural hearing, the connection between child hunger and SNAP came up in several comments. U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga., 13)  noted that 45.3 percent of all of those who are on SNAP are children – 1 in out 5 live in households that are food insecure.

SNAP, which provides a modest $1.40 per person per meal for those who qualify, is a critical part of our nation’s safety net. During the Great Recession, millions of families who experienced hardship depended on the program. As the economy recovers, SNAP caseloads are dropping – participation rates have dropped by 1.5 million over the last 18 months.

Hearings like these matter because they help us understand what Congress is prioritizing and give the public an opportunity to react before policy changes are made. SNAP and the child nutrition programs are both vital pieces of the safety net that feed our children. Faithful advocates need to make sure Congress is paying attention to both the dinner and lunch table - especially when it comes to our nation’s children.

Act Today: Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress. Tell Congress to prioritize children at risk of hunger and invest in strong child nutrition programs.

Read Bread for the World’s latest resource:  Get the Facts About SNAP.

Photo: screenshot of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway convening nutrition hearings, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.  Hearings dates and times are posted on the committee’s website.

 

Helping Returning Citizens Get a Foothold on Life


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Dominic Duren, a returning citizen, with his son Dominic Jr. in the basement of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio. Duren is assistant director of a re-entry program at the church. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: The term returning citizens is the preferred way in the advocacy community to refer to people who have been released from prison.

By Bread staff

Hunger and poverty are issues that can profoundly affect the lives of those returning to their communities after serving prison time. For many, the resources they need to stay out of poverty are no longer available because of their prison record.

As an organization committed to ending hunger, Bread for the World will track several key pieces of legislation this year connected to the issue of mass incarceration.

The first of these bills was introduced on Wednesday by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Elimination Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (Corrections) Act would offer incentives and programs to help the incarcerated not offend again once they leave prison.

The bill would also put in place measures to reduce the nation’s prison population. The population in federal prisons alone has increased from approximately 25,000 in 1980 to nearly 216,000 today.

“We agree with the senators that when inmates are better prepared to re-enter communities, they are less likely to commit crimes after they are released. This is an important step in addressing the mass incarceration problem that perpetuates cycle of hunger and poverty,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

The legislation would allow certain low- and medium-risk offenders with exemplary behavior to earn time off their sentences by participating in recidivism-reduction programs, including drug counseling or vocational training.

This type of help is important given the fact that returning citizens often find life outside prison walls difficult to navigate. Many states still enforce lifetime bans on non-violent drug offenders for safety-net programs, such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These programs are vital for job-hunting returning citizens in rebuilding their lives.

Part of Bread’s work this year will include getting these bans lifted and ensuring people who qualify for these vital programs have access to them.

“While this bill is a good step, Congress must also address the larger issue of sentencing reform,” Beckmann said. “In addition to ensuring that prisoners have access to the skills they need to properly re-enter society, we must reexamine lengthy and inflexible mandatory sentences imposed on low-level, non-violent offenders, and implement alternatives to imprisonment where appropriate.”

Bread plans to continue its work around the issue of mass incarceration – highlighting whenever possible its impact on hunger and poverty. Keep following the Bread Blog for updates.

Tell Congress: Prioritize Our Children in 2015

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By Christine Melendez Ashley

On Monday morning, President Obama released a budget outlining his vision for our country’s priorities. Many of the policies in his budget reflect what Bread’s research has found: Investing in people is key to ending hunger.

One critical investment is feeding our children. Giving children a healthy start in life pays off for years. This is the heart of this year’s Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children.

15725784024_a8738dc2e9_oThe child nutrition safety net serves children at risk of hunger through school lunch and breakfast programs, summer feeding programs, after-school and child care feeding programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The president’s budget includes strong support for child nutrition programs, including $67 million for summer feeding pilot programs. This is a particularly needed investment – for every seven low-income children who receive a school lunch, only four also get breakfast, and only one also gets summer meals.

We need to get Congress to act! You have a unique opportunity to urge your members of Congress to strengthen investments in our nation’s children. Congress is working on its budget and child nutrition priorities right now!

Call (800/826-3688) or email your members of Congress. Tell Congress to prioritize children at risk of hunger and invest in strong child nutrition programs. 

Learn more about the 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our ChildrenOrder an Offering of Letters kit, or visit the OL website where you can find downloadable resources in English and Spanish. For more information about how you can host an Offering of Letters, contact your regional organizer today. 

Christine Melendez Ashley is a senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.

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