Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

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

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"

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


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

Will the Fifteen Percent Matter on Debate Night?

'Microphone' photo (c) 2009, Grant - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Robin Stephenson

The second presidential debate takes place tonight, providing yet another opportunity for President Obama and Governor Romney to talk about hungry and poor people. Solutions to poverty, in both the United States and abroad, have received little attention on the campaign trail, even though, according to a new poll by the American Values Network, voters prefer candidates who talk about the working poor.

Elections are about choosing the officials we think will best represent our values. As Christians who care deeply about hunger and poverty, knowing how candidates intend to work on behalf of vulnerable members of our society is an important criterion when voting. Simply put: elections matter

A couple of stark facts illustrate the seriousness of these issues and the critical need to talk about hunger and poverty in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 elections.

  • Fifteen percent of this country's population—or more than one in seven Americans—lived below the poverty line in 2011.
  • Almost 870 million of the world's people were chronically undernourished in the period from 2010 to 2012. The vast majority lived in developing countries, where about 850 million people—or slightly less than 15 percent of the population—are estimated to be undernourished. Progress is being made, but those numbers remain unacceptably high.

Continue reading "Will the Fifteen Percent Matter on Debate Night?" »

Play Presidential Debate Bingo and #Talkpoverty


By Robin Stephenson

The first presidential candidate debate will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3, at 9 p.m. ET, and will focus on domestic policy. The debate provides an opportunity to put domestic hunger and poverty in the spotlight, and social media can be used to drive the conversation. Fifteen percent of Americans—including one in five children—lived in poverty in 2011.  It is critical that our political leaders address the most vulnerable members of our population, and with enough grassroots urging, they will.

At Bread for the World, we have created a debate Bingo Game, which can be downloaded and printed out. Each bingo card square contains a word or phrase associated with an issue that Bread members care about: "farm bill," "SNAP/food stamps," and "Earned Income Tax Credit," for example. As you watch the debates with friends and family, mark off a square every time either President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney uses one of the words.  Use the game as a tool to track how the candidates are addressing programs and policies most vital to poor and hungry people. 

Another way to amplify the message that poverty matters is to use social media channels. This month, Bread (along with many of our partner organizations) is encouraging its members to participate in the #talkpoverty campaign led by Half in Ten. 

Do you have a question you'd like debate moderator Jim Lehrer of NewsHour to pose to the candidates? Tweet it to @newshour and use the hashtag #talkpoverty.  Here are a couple of sample tweets:

My Presidential debate question @NewsHour: Will you support extending tax credits for working families? http://ow.ly/e4zj0 #talkpoverty


.@NewsHour Ask Candidates: Will you protect SNAP (food stamps), the most direct way to reduce hunger? #talkpoverty http://ow.ly/e9FVu

You can also create tweets using the facts on our Offering of Letters web pages on tax credits and domestic nutrition.  If you are holding a debate house party, playing Bingo, or tweeting, take photos of the action and post them to your Facebook page or tweet it. Be sure to tag us!

Poor people cannot be forgotten during this election season, and it will take a loud chorus of anti-hunger voices to make sure the issues of hunger and poverty receive attention.

Robin Stephenson is social media lead/senior regional organizer, western hub.

Director Linda Midgett Talks About 'The Line'


Photo: John, a former banker who is one of the subjects of The Line, shops for himself and his three children at a food bank. (Film still from The Line)

By Sarah Godfrey

When Emmy-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett set out to find subjects for The Line, her short film documenting what it means to live at, or below, the poverty line in America, she had no trouble finding people dealing firsthand with hunger and poverty. What was difficult, Midgett says, was finding subjects willing to talk about those difficulties in front of her camera.

"I think it’s easy to find people who are struggling in these ways, but I think what was the bigger challenge was finding people willing to share their struggles publicly," she says. "I talked to food pantries, to various organizations, I talked to the Salvation Army. A lot of people I reached out to were not willing to go on camera. 

"I don’t say that as a criticism," she continues. "But, for me, it highlighted how much shame is associated with being in poverty."

The Line goes a long way toward addressing the shame and the stereotypes that often surround poverty. The film tracks four subjects: John, who lives in the suburbs of Chicago and, after losing his six-figure job in the banking industry, finds himself dependent on food banks to feed his family; Sheila, a Chicago resident who grew up in poverty, escaped its clutches, and finds herself again facing financial difficulty after a debilitating accident; James, who moves from New York City to North Carolina in search of work, and still barely scrapes by, despite working long, hard hours; and Ronald, a Gulf Coast shrimper whose livelihood has been affected by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

The Line was funded by a partnership of organizations, including Sojourners, World Vision, and Bread for the World. The film premieres tonight, at church viewings around the country, at 8 p.m., eastern time. 

One of the things that separates The Line from other films tackling issues of hunger and poverty in America is the fact that Midgett allows the subjects to tell their stories themselves, without interference.

"I felt like one of the most important things I was trying to do with this film was to break down stereotypes of who poor people are, what they look like, what they sound like, and the best way to do that was just to let them talk," Midgett says. "As individuals, they're all so compelling, and have such unique perspectives, just the process of listening to them, in and of itself, breaks down stereotypes," Midgett continues. "Instead of thinking of 'poor people,' it becomes, 'oh, that’s Sheila, that’s John.' The more you know people by name, and know they're human beings, not statistics, the more it changes your heart."

Midgett says she was surprised by what a diverse cross-section of society her subjects represent—one of the most surprising things she learned while working on the film was that the rate of poverty in the suburbs is on the rise.

"I was not personally familiar with that info, so when I came across that, I said, 'whoa.' To see food pantries in these formerly strong middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, that really was shocking," she says. "The first [subject] in the film, John, he was a former president of a bank, and when the banking industry imploded, he got caught in that, and decided to make a career change to become a schoolteacher. His mom was a teacher, his grandmother—it was a noble profession and he felt drawn to it, but he wasn't able to find a full-time teaching job.

"He's in DuPage County, Illinois, one of wealthiest counties in the country—definitely in the Midwest—and he's feeding his three children with food from food pantries, living off of $12,000 per year. That was crazy for me—I went to Wheaton College in DuPage County, I know DuPage County as this very, very affluent community, and now the poverty rate there has skyrocketed, and all sorts of people are in [John's] position now."

Midgett hopes that, after the film's premiere tonight, communities will continue to share it, hold screenings at churches, and use it as a tool to discuss poverty going into the November elections and beyond. "The plan is to keep getting it out there, keep making it available to people, and hopefully people find it valuable and inspirational enough to keep sharing it," Midgett says.

The Line premieres at 8 p.m. ET tonight, at various church viewing parties scheduled around the country. Find one close to you here. If you'd like to host a screening after tonight, consider holding an adult forum and discussing the film along with the Circle of Protection presidential candidate videos. Contact your regional organizer for more information.

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

A Plea to Prioritize Poverty Before and After the Election

Photo: Bread for the World President David Beckmann. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the National Journal.

By David Beckmann

Earlier this month, President Obama and Mitt Romney took a moment to directly address the high poverty rate in this country. In response to a request from my organization, Bread for the World, and other church groups, the presidential candidates released video statements in which each talked about how he would help hungry and poor people. They clearly have different priorities when it comes to spending and taxes, but both explicitly affirmed the general principle of maintaining a circle of protection around funding that serves the most vulnerable people.

They both also stressed the need for more and better jobs.

The Federal Reserve Board also recently addressed the stalled recovery, acting to keep interest rates near zero to help revive the economy and stimulate employment. This is promising news for hungry and poor people. With unemployment stuck above 8 percent and inflation below 2 percent, the Fed did the right thing. The main reason for increased poverty in the United States—now touching 46 million people—is high unemployment.

At Bread for the World, we usually don’t focus on monetary policy, but circumstances now demand greater attention to overall economic well-being.

While programs like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) and Medicaid have helped alleviate the effects of poverty, a stronger U.S. job market would do more to reduce hunger and poverty both here and abroad. Throughout the global economic downturn, U.S. aid to poor countries has helped people around the world cope with hunger. But a revived U.S. economy could do even more.

Remarkably, we are seeing promising developments in Congress, which is now in the process of approving appropriations for the next six months—without the wrangling and uncertainty that have sapped confidence and slowed the economic recovery in recent years.

Congress has the opportunity to forge a bipartisan compromise on a budget agreement that will put our country on a path to long-term fiscal health. This agreement should maintain a circle of protection around programs focused on hungry and poor people in our country and around the world. And it should stimulate growth in the short term, while reducing U.S. deficit spending over the long term.

A bipartisan group of senators—the so-called Gang of Eight—continues to work toward a compromise that it hopes to propose in the lame-duck session of Congress after the November elections. No matter how the elections turn out, the minority party will still have enough sway in Congress to block an economic deal. So the solution must be bipartisan and must include some increase in taxes and some cuts in government spending.

A bipartisan deal can, as the Simpson-Bowles commission recommended, protect government programs that are focused on poor people. The Gang of Eight seems inclined to include protection for poor people in its proposal, and now Obama and Romney have both called for a circle of protection around hungry and poor people.

Coupled with the Fed’s recent action, a budget compromise after the election would put us on a path toward economic recovery—which is important to everybody, but especially to hungry and poor people in our country and around the world.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

Forming a Stronger Circle of Protection and the Congressional Black Caucus


Photo: Elementary school children in southeast Washington, DC, enjoy their lunch. (Eugene Mebane, Jr./Bread for the World)

By Cheryle Adams

As a District of Columbia resident and an employee of Bread for the World Institute, I need to understand the budget cuts—both already in force and threatened—to programs affecting poor and vulnerable people in the United States. I want to make a connection between Bread’s emphasis on expanding its Circle of Protection campaign and the deep budget cuts that are still scheduled to happen in January.

Last week, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Foundation held its Annual Legislative Conference in DC, featuring braintrusts and forums on a wide array of topics. I chose to attend presentations that substantiate the reasons it is so important to expand the circle of protection, on topics such as voting rights, child welfare, and intergenerational poverty.

Continue reading "Forming a Stronger Circle of Protection and the Congressional Black Caucus" »

Circle of Protection Featured On PBS' 'Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly'


David Beckmann speaking at the Sept. 12 Circle of Protection press conference. (Photo: Eric Bond/Bread for the World)

 On September 12, the Circle of Protection debuted exclusive videos of President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney talking, on the record, about hunger and poverty. During the video release press conference at the National Press Club, faith leaders discussed the candidate statements as well as new U.S. Census Bureau poverty figures revealing that 15 percent of Americans—including one in five children—lived in poverty in 2011.

Coverage of the event was featured on the PBS news program "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly."

Watch the Sept. 14 episode of "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly" below (the Circle of Protection segment begins at the 4:30 mark):


Watch September 14, 2012 on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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