Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

Mobilizing for Justice: Future Pastors Respond to Poverty

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Keeping You Informed: Bread's Monthly Grassroots Conference Calls

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From the soundproof room in our D.C. office, Bread experts update grassroots activists and answer questions. Pictured (l to r): LaVida Davis, director of organizing; Marion Jasin, organizing assistant; Eric Mitchell, director of government relations; Christine Melendez-Ashley, policy analyst. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

"The fight is not over," said director of organizing LaVida Davis during the most recent Bread for the World national grassroots webinar and conference call. "The fiscal cliff is part of a longer conversation. [Members of Congress] still really need to hear from us.”

On the third Tuesday of each month, Davis and Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, along with other expert staff, gather around a phone to give you the most up-to-date information about our work and answer any questions you may have. The conference calls, which also have a webinar component, give our members direct access to our government relations staff.  These are the members of Bread's staff who spend many of their afternoons in the offices of your members of Congress and know the ins and outs of the policy behind each of our campaign priorities.

At Bread, we know that every advocate accesses information differently, so we offer a variety of ways in which our grassroots can stay informed. When Congress is in session, we publish written legislative updates on this blog, we send out monthly newsletters, and, of course, our regional organizers are always available to help you plan local actions and answer your questions. The conference calls are yet another tool the you, as an advocate, can use to prepare for action.

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Photo: Behind the scenes, Bread organizers Tammy Walholf and Sarah Rohrer answer questions in the webinar chat room. (Robin Stephenson)

During the most recent call, held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, one caller who identified herself as Joanne wanted to know how school lunches fared in the recent “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1.  Ready to answer her question on the other side of the phone was Bread’s domestic nutrition policy expert, Christine Melendez-Ashley. She told Joanne that the school lunch program was not affected and that the sequester (or automatic cuts) scheduled for March 1 would not impact the nutrition program either, because it is one of the programs exempt from these across the board cuts.

Melendez-Ashley said that if the sequester is not averted it will affect discretionary programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Both of those programs are part of our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign and are critically important to hungry and poor people. 

She emphasized during the call that funding for WIC and PFDA is especially vulnerable because they are categorized as discretionary, meaning Congress must appropriate funds to pay for the program each year.  Mandatory programs are not subject to  across the board cuts—the spending levels for these programs are determined each year by the number of eligible participants.

The August 2011 Budget Control Act put spending caps on discretionary programs over 10 years and Congress must decide which programs will see decreased funding as they work through the appropriations process each year.  The fiscal cliff bill further lowered those spending caps for the next two years as a way to delay the sequester. Sending Congress a message that these programs need a circle of protection is as critical now as it ever was.

Eric Mitchell cautioned that another perfect storm is brewing, and referred to the events coming down the pike as "March Madness." Between the debt ceiling (scheduled to hit between mid-February and March), the scheduled sequester (March 1), and the expiration of the 2013 continuing resolution (March 27), members of Congress have a lot of decisions to make in less than 60 days. 

Mitchell said it is a good time to thank our members of Congress who voted for the fiscal cliff bill— if the bill had not been enacted, poor and hungry people would've suffered dire consequences. The bill extended refundable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for five years. Although the credits were not made permanent, this is a huge victory.

“Now through March 1 is critical," said Mitchell. “We urge you to also ask [members of Congress] not to politicize the debt ceiling debate.  We want them to take a thoughtful, balanced approach that protects poor and hungry people.”

To find out the next chapter of budget negotiations, ask tough questions of the experts, and hear  how you can influence your policy makers to protect vital programs, call in to our next grassroots webinar and conference call on Feb 19.  We will be waiting for you on the other side of the phone.

National grassroots conference calls and webinars are held on the third Tuesday of every month.  These calls will take place at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST (Please adjust time zones accordingly).  To register, visit www.bread.org/events

Tell Congress to Protect Hungry People in Upcoming Budget Talks

College_group_writing_CongressWe have avoided the fiscal cliff, but we still have mountains to scale. We continue to advocate for programs that help poor as Congress continues tough budget negotiations. 

Bread members have been essential in protecting tax credits for low-income families, domestic nutrition programs, and poverty-focused development assistance.  However, several key actions by Congress over the next couple of months will again place such vital programs at risk.  We encourage you to continue contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you want them to create a circle of protection around these programs. Soon Congress will begin negotiations to replace the sequester (automatic, across-the-board cuts) by March 1 and raise the debt ceiling by at least $1 trillion. The continuing resolution that extended the fiscal year 2013 budget and kept the government funded expires March 27.  These events could be accompanied by significant spending cuts.  We need you to keep reminding our legislators that they must not balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.

We continue to message members of Congress as part of the 2012 Offering of Letters. Below is an updated sample letter to use when contacting your senators and representative.  We will launch Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters,  “A Place at the Table,” on March 1, and will keep you apprised of any changes or developments on the Bread Blog.  We encourage you and members of your community or congregation to personalize your letters to Congress.

*

Date ____________

Dear Sen. ____________  or Rep.  ____________,

Please prioritize hungry and poor people during the next round of budget negotiations. Over the next two months, your leadership is critical, especially as Congress looks to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget, address sequestration, and raise the debt ceiling. 

Specifically, I urge you to ensure adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help people move out of poverty. This will require additional revenues to address our deficits.

I appreciate Congress enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act. The bill raises revenue for the first time in years, while also extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of America’s most effective anti-poverty programs.  This bill also largely protects important anti-poverty programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and international food aid, from major cuts. But the work is not over. Although this fiscal cliff deal is a tremendous first step, more needs to be done to address our country’s long-term fiscal health and ensure funding for programs that fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. I am concerned about the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place if Congress does not develop a more comprehensive deficit-reduction package.  I encourage Congress to balance responsible spending cuts with new revenues in order to address the country's long-term deficits without jeopardizing our nation's commitment to alleviating hunger and poverty.

Allowing these across-the-board cuts will hurt programs such as international poverty-focused development assistance and WIC. Cuts to some international development programs would deny life-saving nutrition to some of the poorest nations, while cuts to WIC could hurt hundreds of thousands of poor mothers and young children in the United States. 

Our budget choices must not hurt those Jesus called “the least of these.” I urge you to form a circle of protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people. May God continue to bless you and your work.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State ZIP]

*

You can also download a copy of the letter here. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact your regional organizer.

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

One Great Act of Kindness Sparks Discussion of Poverty


By Sarah Godfrey

One of the biggest feel-good stories of the year, so far, is that of Los Angeles-area entertainment lawyer Tony Tolbert, who is allowing a homeless family to live in his house for an entire year, rent-free. Tolbert has moved in with his mother while the recipient of his kindness, Felicia Dukes, is now living in his home with her four children.

Tolbert has, deservedly, received heaps of praise for his amazing generosity. Read the comments section of any story about Tolbert's good deed and the remarks are overwhelmingly positive. Still, there are at least a few people wondering if he might've done more good with an act that would’ve helped more than one family—or addressed the larger issues surrounding poverty, hunger, and homelessness.  Many questioned whether giving someone shelter, as noble and generous as it is, would really do anything to help the family beyond 2013. 

"What happens after the year is up?" one commenter wrote. "Give a man fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. Charitable kindness is fine but true freedom come when a man can feed himself. President Obama, you need to stimulate the economy and put people back to work!"

"That's cool and all, but what happens at the end of the year?" wrote another commenter. "365 days fly by pretty fast especially when you are broke. I'm not trying to be negative I'm just asking are there steps being taken to help them get their own house and keep it?"

Some of my more cynical friends also voiced concerns about Tolbert's act and the media coverage of it. They told me they were discouraged by the prevalence of news stories about good Samaritan "superheroes," while stories of programs that prevent poverty, or help people lift themselves out of it, remain rare.

Those points are valid, and it's true that individual acts of charity often receive more attention than large-scale efforts to stamp out poverty. There are tons of stories about this one man's effect on one family, but little media coverage of the millions of families helped by tax credits, for example. Still, it's unfair to say that Tolbert's act can't have a huge impact.

He has done more than merely provide "fish" to the Dukes family—his act could well have lasting positive benefits for Felicia Dukes and her children. It's hard to overstate the importance of affordable (or free!), safe housing.

Beyond that, Tolbert's act has stimulated public conversation about poverty, and what can be done to address it. And sometimes an individual's selfless act can be an entry point to advocacy for that person—or for someone who is inspired by them. Let's say someone reads a story in their local paper about a family inviting a hungry person to their table for Thanksgiving. Maybe that person is so moved that they decide to serve dinner at their local soup kitchen. After that, they decide that they want to help beyond the holidays, and start volunteering for their local food bank. And maybe while doing that work, they realize how important it is to contact their members of Congress and tell them to protect federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP and WIC, that are vital to poor and hungry people. It's a pretty common path—that's how it worked for me. 

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

"The EITC Has Been a Huge Help"

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Photo by Flickr user 401(k) 2013

When Alexandria, Va., resident Ayana Edwards first learned that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) could be in jeopardy during fiscal cliff negotiations in Congress, she prepared to face chaos.

Edwards, who works in human resources, knew that if those refundable tax credits were reduced, the employees at her company who count on getting larger tax refunds thanks to the EITC and CTC would flood her office, hoping she might know of a way to offset the blow to their finances. She also kept close watch on the negotiations because she is one of the roughly 27 million Americans who receives the EITC.

“I actually had a sit-down with a tax preparer who told me what the changes would be, and then, because I'm in HR, I’m familiar with any tax changes that could affect my employer and our employees, so I was watching it from both sides,” Edwards says.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, better known as the deal that helped the country avoid the fiscal cliff, extended current benefit levels for both the EITC and CTC for five years. The extension preserved improvements made to the EITC and CTC over the last decade, including marriage penalty relief and expansion of income thresholds, which allows low-wage workers to count more of their earnings toward the credits. The EITC, which has been shown to encourage work and improve children's school performance, is a powerful tool in helping to lift families out of poverty—it is our nation’s largest anti-poverty program, in fact.

Edwards says the affect the EITC has had on her family has been tremendous. She once utilized several federal safety net programs, but over the years she has increased her earnings, through a series of progressively better-paying jobs. She no longer qualifies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or SNAP (formerly food stamps)—EITC is one of the last benefits she receives. If she continues on her current career trajectory, soon she’ll no longer qualify for EITC, either. But, as it is now, the tax credit provides her and her family with a very important hand-up.

“The EITC has been a huge help," Edwards says. "It’s practical and allows me to get money in one lump sum—money that I can use to catch up on bills, or make a major purchase, if I need to. I can get things like coats for the kids, if they’ve outgrown something. I have a larger family, so I’m not always able to replace all of the winter coats that no longer fit all at once. When I get my tax refund, which includes the EITC, that’s something I can do.”

This year, Edwards says she will likely use her EITC money to buy a used car, since the vehicle she uses for her commute to work, 60 miles round-trip each day, is old and she's nervous that it may soon break down beyond repair.  Edwards can see how, without the tax credit, she could easily fall back into the poverty that she has escaped. Without a working car, how would she get to work? Without a job, how would she pay her rent or feed her family? She thinks that those who diminish the importance of the credit, and think it should be reduced or eliminated altogether, just don't understand it's role in helping millions of families secure food, clothing, and shelter.

“The only people who could say something against [EITC] are those who aren't in a position to need it, or don't care about those of us who really do need it," Edwards says.

Make a New Year's Resolution That Makes a Difference

'Resolutions 2012' photo (c) 2011, Lori Ann - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Bread for the World's organizers

The New Year—for many it is a time to flip the page and start a new chapter, a time to begin anew.  We resolve to lose weight, to exercise more and eat better, to be kinder.  This year, add an advocacy resolution to your list—something that is outward focused and in tune with God’s vision of a world where everyone has enough. Make a resolution that makes a difference. 

Here are a few ideas.  Pick one (or more than one!) and if you have a suggestion for something not listed here, let us know in the comments.

Once you've picked out your advocacy resolution, print out this page, circle your resolution, and then put it on your fridge or bulletin board as a way to remind yourself of your commitment throughout the year.

For 2013, my advocacy resolution is to:

  • Organize an Offering of Letters at my church.
  • Call my members of Congress on each Bread action alert and encourage three more friends to join me.
  • Organize a meeting with my member of Congress this year about an important issue that affects hungry people.
  • Develop a relationship with the local and D.C.-based staff of my members of Congress.
  • Organize a local Bread team.
  • Attend a town hall (PDF) and ask a question about a program that helps hungry and poor people.
  • Write an op-ed, letter-to-the-editor, or blog post that educates on hunger issues in my area or around the world or the biblical basis for advocacy.  Encourage others to get involved.
  • Create an educational event around hunger issues and invite my member of Congress.
  • Join a local anti-hunger coalition and represent Bread for the World.
  • Host a house meeting (PDF) on a pressing issue around hunger.
  • Host a viewing of “The Line” in my church or community and have the evening end with an Offering of Letters.
  • Invite three friends or family members, and two other churches, to join Bread to enhance our advocacy impact.
  • Come to Bread’s National Gathering and Lobby Day June 8-11 in Washington, DC.
  • Attend a viewing of a “Place at the Table” feature film in March and get involved in Bread’s 2013 Offering of Letters campaign.
  • Use social media to spread the word about Bread’s issues.

And the great thing about Bread advocacy resolutions is they come with trainers!  If you need help getting started or have questions, just give your regional organizer a call.

Get started today and Make it Happen!

Ask President Obama and Congress to Work Toward Ending Hunger

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By David Beckmann 

The 2012 elections are over. Whether your candidates won or lost, we are very thankful to you for raising hunger and poverty as campaign issues.

More than 120,000 of you viewed two video statements in which the presidential candidates explained what they would do to give opportunity to hungry and poor people. With your help, we raised the issues of hunger and poverty, at home and abroad, in the elections.

Now, please join us in asking President Obama to set a goal and work with Congress to enact a plan to end hunger.

The next few months are crucial. The president and Congress must address issues such as the farm bill, expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and the 2013 federal budget.  They also must agree on a balanced approach to deficit reduction. 

In the coming weeks we will have several key opportunities to remind our members of Congress not to balance the federal budget on the backs of hungry and poor people, and to instead create a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people.

Please join us in praying for President Obama and members of Congress.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Take action! Watch President Obama's video statement and send him a letter asking that he set a goal and work with Congress to enact a plan to end hunger.

You can also contact the president on Twitter, using the sample tweets below:

.@BarackObama set a goal to #endhunger & work with Congress in assuring a place at the table for hungry & poor people. http://ow.ly/f5Scz

Don’t forget your promise to do your part to protect vital assistance for the least of these @BarackObama http://ow.ly/f5Scz #talkpoverty

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