274 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.
Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.
Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November. “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”
While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.
The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.
Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.
Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.
Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.
Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.
During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.
In his interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, which aired Nov. 22, Beckmann said that while the Hunger Report proposes steps to eradicate hunger in the United States by 2030, Congress is working against that goal by moving forward with cuts to food stamps, which could make it more difficult for millions of Americans to put food on the table. "On Nov. 1, a cut in food stamps went into effect; it has already taken away 300 million meals," Beckmann said. "And then Congress is debating not whether to cut food stamps further, but how much. We don't want more cuts in food stamps. The cuts that the House is proposing would deepen hunger for 6 million Americans."
Beckmann also talked about how safety net programs helped keep hunger in this country at bay in the wake of the 2008 recession, how a strong job market is key to reducing hunger, and why advocates must reach out to members of Congress on these issues.
"I’ve never met anybody who said, 'Oh, I want to make sure kids go hungry,' but there are other things more important to politicians. There are other things that are more important to many of us," Beckmann said. "And on a day-to-day basis, when we really get agitated it’s about something that’s going to affect me, and maybe that’s when I call Congress. But what we need to do is call Congress when hungry kids are getting hurt—and when that happens, that’s when we’re going to end hunger."
Listen to the full interview below.
Rev. David Beckmann calls for an end to the government shutdown that affects our most vulnerable citizens on Oct. 9, 2013, outside of the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Circle of Protection)
Religious leaders are gathering on Capitol Hill each day Congress is in session for a "Faithful Filibuster" that will continue until the government shutdown ends. In contrast to the dialogue centered on blame and gamesmanship inside the Capitol, people of faith are reading from more than 2,000 biblical verses reminding our nation's leaders that a moral government places caring for the most vulnerable before of political gain.
An inability to agree on a budget and the raising of the debt ceiling is weakening our economy and harming our most vulnerable citizens; each day the stalemate continues, the impacts on hunger compound. Before the shutdown, 33 religious leaders sent a letter to Congress warning that a shutdown would adversely affect the economy and people struggling with hunger. With one in seven Americans living below the poverty line and the nation's fragile economy recovering from one of our worst recessions in decades, playing political games right now is irresponsible and foolish. "It is time to move from the blame game to some resolution," said Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann.
The Circle of Protection organized the “faithful filibuster.” Speaking to the human cost of inaction at the Wednesday opening, Rev. Beckmann said, "I am appalled by the harm that the government shutdown is doing to poor people. When I was leaving my office on Friday, one of the cleaners told me that four of janitors in our building have been laid off because of the government shutdown."
Today, 800,000 furloughed federal employees live in uncertainty and the collateral damage radiates throughout the private sector. Yesterday, the Department of Labor reported a surge in unemployment claims.
"I am terrified by the likelihood of a financial crisis," said Rev. Beckmann. "It will hurt all of us, and it will hurt hungry and poor people most of all." (Read "What Does the Government Shutdown Mean for Hunger?" on the Bread Blog for more information on how the government shutdown will impact anti-hunger programs.)
Grounding our actions in faith and hope, Beckmann reminded the gathered that we work in relationship to the Creator. "God is with us, God hears the cries of the poor," he said before he began reading verses from Isaiah 40 and 41.
Join us on Twitter or Facebook, and remind Congress that shared needs must take precedence over political victories. What biblical verse calls you to end hunger? Tell and tag your member of Congress in a tweet or on Facebook and use the hashtag #FaithfulFilibuster.
It is critical Congress hear from faithful advocates. Send your members of Congress an email (your calls may not get through during the shutdown) and use the power of your local paper to message them through letters to the editor. Each day the impasse continues, people suffer—and each day, Rev. Beckmann and other religious leaders will gather to read scripture until common sense and a spirit of cooperation prevail.
Passing a responsible budget that includes revenue would begin to reverse the trend of U.S. income and wealth inequality, which is the greatest threat to food insecurity. Photo: The London transit system, May 2013. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
Sound bites from members of Congress these days are more like clips from The Jerry Springer Show than a transcript of moral leadership. Blame and shame should not pass for governance. This approach to policy-making is myopic, increases hunger, and camouflages a real crisis in America – growing income inequality.
The United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any developed nation and the gap is widening. The documentary Inequality for All hits theaters this week and is the basis of a recent interview with U.C. Berkeley professor of economics, Robert Reich, on the Sept. 20 edition of Moyers and Company.
Reich argues that as globalization and technology have changed the structure of the economy and displaced workers, our policies have not adapted to the new rules. The economist says that shared prosperity, a concept previously valued by society, is replaced by an ambition cycle; gains are now channeled to a small group at the top and not reinvested in the economy. “The government can no longer afford to do what the government was doing because they aren’t getting tax receipts,” says Reich. When 70 percent of the economy is based on consumer spending, but consumers don’t have purchasing power, the economy weakens. He points out there is danger in looking at one piece of the economy and not looking at the connections.
Our faith in Christ moves us to advocate for sound policy that invests in programs addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger. In order to end hunger, income inequality – one the biggest threats to food security – must be addressed. We are calling on Congress to pass a responsible budget that includes revenue, replaces sequestration, and assures that all everyone will have a place at the table and economic opportunity.
The richest 400 individuals in this country now have more wealth than the 150 million poorest, a fact that should alarm our leaders. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rev. Gary Cook, director of church relations at Bread for the World, points out that through tithing, Jubilee, and gleaning, God historically made provision for hungry people. Shared prosperity is at the basis of right relationship in a community; the faithful gathered in 2 Corinthians were responsible for one another and, “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (8:15)
Blaming the poor for our economic woes and cutting anti-hunger programs in response is folly. On the eve of a manufactured fiscal cliff, most Americans are earning wages that haven't seen a significant increase in decades. Too many U.S. citizens — through job loss, medical emergency, or an unexpected calamity — have experienced their own financial crises while a small minority have watched their assets rise. What was once a war on poverty has become a war on the poor, and holding the budget hostage for political gain is obscuring a faith-based solution. It is time to tell Congress that enough is enough.Tell your members of Congress to pass a responsible budget that addresses sequestration and to raise the debt ceiling without political games.
Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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