Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

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

Living on the Poverty Cliff: Tianna Gaines-Turner Tells Her Story

Tianna Gaines-Turner
Tianna Gaines-Turner. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

"It’s easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than drive an ambulance to the bottom." - Art Simon in Writing Hunger into History.

By Robin Stephenson

Tianna Gaines-Turner knows something about cliffs. The working mother of three children has been climbing and falling off the poverty cliff for years.

Gaines-Turner told her story to the House Budget Committee on July 9, during the fifth War on Poverty hearing – a series of hearings exploring how to better address poverty in America. Gaines-Turner, a member of Witness to Hunger, has been the first expert witness invited to testify who lives in poverty.

“We are always trying to climb up. There is a constant climb,” Gaines-Turner said of her and her husband’s struggle to make ends meet with a combined income of roughly $14,000 a year. Federal benefits, such as housing assistance, medical aid, and food stamps, fill in the income gaps so that the Gaines-Turners can care for their children. All three of their kids require daily doses of asthma medicine and their twins suffer from epilepsy. 

Budgeting each month in the Gaines-Turner household is a balancing act. When circumstances change, she feels the “cliff effect.” A small increase in income can decrease the amount of food stamp benefits the family can receive. As she improves her circumstances, with each additional dollar earned she loses needed federal assistance. Yet, she cannot build assets and save for the future in case of hardship.  “If you have savings,” she says, “your caseworker says you are not eligible for programs.” So when a crisis hits, like a reduction in working hours, the Gaines-Turner family slides back down the cliff, never making it to stable ground.

House Budget Committee members differ on their approach to ending poverty. There are those who believe the safety net creates dependency and those who see federal anti-poverty programs as a bridge out of poverty. Asked if she thought federal programs promoted dependency, Gaines-Turner said, “I don’t think anyone ever wants to rely on federal programs. I feel like people do want to go out and get a job.”  Jobs, she noted, can be hard to come by depending on where you live. They also do not always pay a living wage. She went on to respond to notions that poverty was a condition of laziness.  “There is not a lazy bone in my body,” she said. “People put that label on us to put up a smoke screen so they don’t see have to see what is really going on.”

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in its 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges support of a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States – including cutting food stamps by $125 billion.

The Gaines-Turner family, and millions of working-poor people, need Congress to build a fence at the top of the cliff by funding a strong safety net. At the same time, Congress must also craft policies that lead to living-wage jobs so that families can walk into a better future.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer.

Senate to Vote on Minimum Wage Increase

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View the full "Raise the Minimum Wage" infographic from the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

Update, 12:40 p.m. The Senate bill to raise the federal minimum wage failed on a 54-42 vote; 60 votes were needed to move forward with the legislation. The bill will likely come up again for a vote, so continue to contact your members of Congress and tell them to pass the bill. 

Ending hunger in America is possible, but jobs—and jobs that pay a decent wage—are key to making it happen. “The most important antipoverty policy is maintaining high rates of employment,” writes Todd Post, senior editor of Bread for the World Institute’s annual Hunger Report, in the briefing paper, Ending Hunger in America. “In addition, low-wage jobs have to pay enough so that no full-time worker is living in poverty with his/her family.”

As early as today, the Senate is expected to vote on Senate bill 1737, which would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016, index it for inflation, and raise the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the general minimum wage. Passing the bill will be no easy task. It will require a sustained and loud effort by faithful advocates, who must use every opportunity to let Congress know that workers deserve a fair deal. 

Several states have passed minimum wage increases, with some getting closer to the $10.10 mark.  Bread for the World recommends a $12 minimum wage in the 2014 Hunger Report.  That is the amount it would take for a single breadwinner in a family of four, working full-time, year-round, to pull his or her family just over the federal poverty line.

Earlier this year, President Obama raised the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors by executive order, which is a good first step. In a press release, Bread for the World President David Beckmann praised the action, and added, “Now is the time for Congress to do its part.”

Income inequality in 21st century America is one of the great scourges of our time. Productivity has steadily risen since the 1950s, but the real value of the minimum wage has declined, leaving working families that depend on the minimum wage struggling to put food on their tables. In a report released earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office said that wage increases would have an overall positive affect on the economy. Raising the wage is not just smart economically, but is morally necessary when a few have more than enough and too many struggle to make ends meet.

“Too many workers in this country face hard times as a result of insufficient wages,” said Beckmann. “There is no reason that full-time workers should struggle to provide for their families.”

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Take Action: Call your Senators with this toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) and let them know you support a minimum wage increase. Tell them to pass S. 1737 today because it is time to give American workers a fair deal.

What Does Food Insecurity Look Like in Your Community?


A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

“I just want my kids to be fed," Jaime Grimes of Lincoln, Neb., recently told NBC News. The former teacher and mother of four visits food pantries, grows food in a community garden, and receives food stamps (SNAP); her children participate in a variety of nutrition programs, from school lunches to a backpack program that sends them home with food once a week. Still, it's not enough. 

Although the effects of the Great Recession are fading for some, many families are still struggling to put food on the table. Feeding America's 2014 Map the Meal Gap report, released earlier this week, shows that food insecurity continues to touch every county in the nation, and that children are at especially great risk of experiencing hunger.

According to the report, even in the most food-secure state—which is Nebraska, where Grimes and her children live—more than 1 in 10 children struggles with hunger.

(View the map, and see the food insecurity rate in your state and county.)

“We haven’t really seen increases in food insecurity [since the recession], which is a good thing. The downside of that is there are still way too many food insecure people," said Bread for the World policy analyst Christine Melendez Ashley, in the same NBC News piece.

The Map the Meal Gap report does note that federal nutrition programs and the emergency food system "weave a comprehensive nutrition safety net, reaching food-insecure individuals at different levels of poverty," Still, there is a need to "strengthen anti-hunger programs and policies to ensure food-insecure individuals are eligible and have access to adequate levels of assistance." 

Some key finding from Map the Meal Gap include:

  • 324 counties in the United States are high food-insecurity counties; minorities are disproportionately affected
  • In every state, children are at a higher risk of food insecurity compared to the overall population.
  • Of the counties with food insecurity rates in the highest 10 percent, 51.5 percent were rural, even though rural counties represent only 42.5 percent of all counties in the United States.

What does hunger look like in your community? How many people live below the SNAP threshold? What is the average cost of a meal? Whether you live in Nebraska, with its low rate of food insecurity, or Mississippi—the state with the highest number of people struggling with hunger—viewing the map reminds us of the need to advocate to strengthen our country's safety net and ensure that all are fed.

New Fact Sheet: Hunger in the African-American Community

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Nadine Blackwell of Philadelphia tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

“Dr. [Martin Luther] King gave his life fighting for economic opportunity—a fight that is still important today, as too many African-Americans continue to suffer from hunger and poverty. Ending hunger in America is possible, but in order to effectively address this issue we must honor Dr. King’s legacy by achieving economic opportunity and equality.”

 —Bishop Don DiXon Williams, associate for African American Church Relations at Bread for the World, in a press release today.

Bread for the World has released a new fact sheet, Hunger by the Numbers in the African-American Community: Employment, Wages, and Fairness, in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work on issues of economic equality. Dr. King was assassinated 46 years ago today.

The fact sheet looks at hunger in the aftermath of the Great Recession, noting that food insecurity has disproportionately increased among African-Americans, as compared to other groups, due to higher unemployment rates and other injustices.  Among the findings:

  • The unemployment rate for the African-American community is 12 percent, higher than the national average of 6.7 percent, and higher than any other major group.
  • In 2012, 5.4 percent of African-American workers earned below the minimum wage, while 13.3 percent earned below the median wage, compared to 4 and 8.7 percent of white workers, respectively.

  • Only 2 percent of African-American women work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) industries, while white women make up 24 percent of the STEM workforce.

"The anniversary of Dr. King’s death reminds us that we still have a long way to go in ensuring freedom from hunger and poverty for African-Americans," said Bishop Williams. 

Bread for the World proposes a four-pronged approach to ending hunger in America; it is outlined in the 2014 Hunger Report.

EITC Can Be a Blessing on Tax Day

6869765923_307afdd67c_bBy Robin Stephenson

I’ve been thinking about my taxes lately. I’m that person who keeps important papers stuffed in my closet in a crumpled brown paper bag, which I conveniently ignore until the calendar flips to April. My dad will start calling me with reminders any day now, and I’ll make the deadline – I’ll probably file on April 15, if history holds. Taxes are important to my dad. Prior to the current recession, the deepest economic downturn post-World War II was in the early 1980s. Our family qualified for the earned income tax credit (EITC) during that time, and for a few tough years, it made all the difference.

In the early '80s, work was unpredictable and my parents worried a lot. Unemployment and instability are extremely stressful for a family. My memories of that time are reflected in the news today, which is filled with stories of families struggling to find their way through recession. Even though employment hasn’t reached pre-recession rates, Congress has failed to reinstate emergency unemployment, leaving more than 2 million unemployed Americans without a safety net. For those who had some form of work during 2013 and qualify, the EITC will provide some financial assistance.

The tax credit, instituted in 1975, is one of the principal anti-poverty programs in the U.S. budget. If a car breaks down, or there is an expense that month-to-month paychecks can’t cover, the EITC is there to help keep low-income working families from falling into debt. (Take this quiz to see how much you know about the EITC).

In 2010, when this refundable tax credit was about to expire, Bread for the World made it the focus of our Offering of Letters campaign for that year. During the Great Recession, the EITC proved to be a lifeline for many working families that still struggled in the tight economic climate. Bread for the World has advocated for the current benefit levels for this refundable tax credit to be made a permanent part of the tax code—the current benefit levels expire in 2017.

President Obama has called for an expansion in his 2015 budget proposal to include an expansion of the tax refund for childless workers. Currently, a single worker without dependents working full time at minimum wage ($15,080 annually) does not qualify for the credit. If the EITC were expanded to this group of workers, the Treasury Department estimates another half million people would be lifted out of poverty.

Bread for the World will continue push for EITC to be made permanent, and will advocate for the expansion. Since my senator, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the tax code and sits on the Budget Committee, I feel like I have a special role to play, and I want to be sure he hears my story. I’m glad EITC was there when my family needed it.

 

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Do you have a story how EITC has helped you or your family?  Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them can move hearts and minds to action.  If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site. 

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

Photo: flickr user 401 K (2012)

The Value of Work

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Janitors and food workers in government buildings received a wage boost to $10.10 by presidential order recently.  Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of U.S. families, yet too many jobs pay poverty-level wages. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Having been a certified nurse's aide (CNA), I can tell you it is backbreaking work—rewarding certainly, but challenging. After graduating high school in a small town, I worked in a nursing home for a short time. At the end of the day, my paycheck didn’t feel like it matched the job.

Many of the other assistants, who were primarily women, were married, and their wages supplemented their husbands' incomes. Although things were beginning to change then, the bulk of blue-collar jobs held by women in my small town in the 1980s rarely offered health insurance or retirement plans. 

I made my way to college eventually, and as my job opportunities increased, so did my wages. As a CNA, I had the privilege to care for my elders, and the work felt useful. God’s command to care for the widow really resonates in a nursing home. But today, I’m thankful that I have a job where I don't need to choose between a new tire or adequate food. I’m thankful that I no longer fear a bank balance in double digits with a week before my next paycheck.

So, when I came across an article in The Baxter Bulletin that told the story of 38-year-old Heather Prichard, who is making ends meet as a CNA earning $7.25 an hour, I’m ashamed to say I was relieved my life took a different turn. Not because I think Heather’s work is less valuable than mine; I admire what she does and know how hard she works. In the video segment that accompanies the story, the worry and frustration in Prichard’s voice is clear, and that is what I’m glad I left that work behind. Living month to month and barely getting by means dealing with a constant and nagging worry about what could go wrong. Prichard is frustrated, and with good reason—working a full-time job should allow one to live above the poverty line.

“When you are the kind of parent that is willing to get up every day and work as many hours as you can, and your still just not making it…it’s frustrating,” Prichard says in the video.

A shocking, but not surprising, fact I learned while reading the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, (a fact also is captured in this infographic): if the minimum wage were tied to productivity growth on par with the 1950 wage, Heather Pritchard would be paid over $18.67 for the work she does caring for others. This year, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are expected to introduce bills in the House and Senate to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years — a step in the right direction. Media reports have painted this as a partisan issue.  To me, raising the wage is a moral issue — it’s about valuing humanity.

Some day I may need the assistance of a CNA. When the time comes that I need to be cared for with the dignity God intended, I hope society provides my caregiver with a wage that values his or her dignity.

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and senior organizer, Western hub.

Could You Live on the Minimum Wage?

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A woman cleans an office in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

We know the hard facts about minimum wage: the federal rate is just $7.25 per hour, or about $14,500 in yearly income. But exactly how far does that amount stretch?

The New York Times has put together a "Can You Survive on the Minimum Wage?" calculator to help give a sense of just how difficult it is to get by when earning the lowest legal pay. It offers a look at the disheartening financial calculations that low-wage workers are forced to perform each day. Punch in how much you spend on food, transportation, rent, and utilities each month, and it quickly becomes apparent why minimum-wage workers often have to take on two jobs, acquire crushing debt, or do without many of life's essentials in order to survive. 

Maintaining a household while earning the minimum wage is so difficult, if not impossible, that some low-wage employers have taken to advising their workers to take second jobs or find impossibly cheap housing in order to make ends meet.

But the answer is not to tell low-wage earners to work more or spend less, it's to offer them a fair deal by raising the minimum wage. That's one of the key recommendations of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. This year's Hunger Report points out that 28 percent of U.S. workers earn poverty-level wages, and Congress has raised the minimum wage only three times in the past 30 years.

 Infographic_RaiseMinWage(See the full version of the Hunger Report infographic "Raise the Minimum Wage") 

President Obama said in his State of the Union address last month that he intended to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10. Today, he made good on that promise by signing an executive order that will do so, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Federal contract workers earning the minimum wage make up a small portion of this country's low-wage earners, but the order is an important first step toward ensuring that all Americans can earn a livable wage and care for themselves and their families.

Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of American families—it's time to raise the minimum wage and make sure that every full-time worker earns enough to keep a family out of poverty.

 

Rep. McGovern Highlights 2014 Hunger Report in #EndHungerNow Speech

During his latest End Hunger Now speech on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) highlighted the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.

The 2014 Hunger Report urges President Obama and Congress to lead the country in setting a goal to end hunger by 2030, and it offers a four-part plan to accomplish this:

    1. A jobs agenda
    2. A stronger safety net
    3. Human capital development or “investing in people”
    4. Public-private partnerships to support innovative community-led initiatives against hunger

“We in this Congress are not doing nearly enough,” to help an estimated 49 million food-insecure Americans, McGovern said in the above video. In six months, Congress has enacted $19 billion in combined cuts to food stamps (SNAP), which is the nation’s number-one defense against hunger. “We are going backwards,” noted McGovern.

The congressman expresses his disappointment that the Obama administration has not been able to make good on an early promise to ameliorate child hunger in America by 2015.“[W]hile children make up roughly 24 percent of our total population, they comprise one-third of the nation’s poor," he said, citing a statistic from the Hunger Report.

Still, he added that we should not give up on the goal of ending hunger in America—solutions, such as those outlined in the Hunger Report, exist.

“It is refreshing that this report is honest and blunt,” McGovern said about what he calls the Hunger Report’s "achievable goals," which would end hunger by 2030. “It rightfully states that hunger is a subset of poverty, and that we can’t truly end hunger without addressing poverty.”

A common refrain from McGovern in this series of speeches is that hunger is a political condition — and we whole-heartedly agree.  The 2014 Hunger Report outlines a comprehensive plan to end hunger by 2030, but as the Rep. McGovern noted in his speech, advocates must build political will in order to put that plan into action.

Staying Afloat in a Recovery

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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.

David Beckmann Talks 2014 Hunger Report on Public Radio

HR14-cover-highrez_resizeBread for the World President David Beckmann recently discussed Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, with talk show host Tavis Smiley.

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.

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