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254 posts categorized "Solutions to U.S. Poverty"
Dr. Barbara Clawson at the Bread for the World dinner honoring Hunger Justice Leaders. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
This profile of Dr. Barbara Clawson comes from Bread's Summer 2012 "Legacy of Hope" newsletter.
Bread for the World founder Art Simon calls Dr. Barbara Clawson “…a doer, one whose call to hunger ministries was shaped by her international experiences.” Indeed, Barbara’s life has been marked by international travel. The longtime Bread for the World member has visited and worked in at least 40 countries, many repeatedly.
“God has blessed me with many opportunities, especially overseas,” she said, “and with good health.” During decades of teaching and mission visits overseas, Dr. Clawson has witnessed global hunger and its effects.
Before she retired, Dr. Clawson worked as a teacher, most recently as a teacher educator at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In her free time, Barbara likes to read and walk. And of course, travel, which she says has afforded her the opportunity to interact personally with people of all types.
Bread for the World activist Kaela Volkmer (left) talks with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) as staffers listen during Bread for the World Lobby Day in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
More than 60 young religious leaders—"agents of change" from communities around the United States—came to Washington, DC, for Bread for the World's Hunger Justice Leaders training, June 9-11. Their jam-packed schedule included three days of worship, workshops, and a chance to lobby members of Congress on behalf of hungry and poor people. This story of one hunger justice leader comes from Bread's summer 2012 "Legacy of Hope" newsletter.
In two Nebraska congressional offices, newly minted Hunger Justice Leader Kaela Volkmer countered the myth that poor people abuse the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and the Women, Infant, Children food program (WIC).
“It’s painful for me to see the polarization happening now. We must find a solution that doesn’t put poor and hungry people in greater peril, ” Volkmer said.
The night before, Kaela and 60 other young church leaders from across the nation were commissioned as Hunger Justice Leaders. The next day, the Hunger Justice Leaders joined hundreds of Bread for the World members in visiting congressional offices to urge members of Congress to protect funding for programs vital to hungry people.
Kaela calls the three lobbying visits she made “real world experiences in reasonable dialogue.” Face to face with Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), she told him about a mother who handed her baby to Kaela, begging for help feeding her children.
Kaela admits it wasn’t easy to respond calmly to charges that SNAP is “too big and rife with abuse.” But she came armed with the facts, and imparted them—also delivering a petition supporting the maintenance of levels of aid to hungry families signed by scores of her fellow Nebraskans.
Kaela’s Hunger Justice Leader colleagues were similarly impassioned and equipped by the training they’d just completed: “The training empowers the powerless. I thank God!” said Rev. Christina Reed of Washington, DC. “This has been a truly transformative experience. Through worship, conversation, song … I have felt the spirit of God moving.”
Rev. Libby Tedder of Casper, WY, agreed. She said the training program, sponsored by Bread for the World Institute, has enabled her to “speak with courage so that the eyes of the powerful will be opened to the plight of the hungry.”
Kaela Volkmer’s home congregation, St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church of Omaha, invested in her by sponsoring her Hunger Justice Leader training. Kaela serves as a member of the church’s human needs committee. Her particular passion is Catholic social teaching, which centers on addressing the root causes of inequity in addition to charitable acts.
“Catholic social teaching is so beautiful, rich, and needed in today’s world,” Kaela said. Kaela had assured St. Wenceslaus’s pastor that she would return equipped to bring back to the church the voice and the resources they need. “I came home unsettled, but in a good way,” she said. “I am ready to navigate the waters."
One of her first projects will be to help revitalize the parish’s Offering of Letters.
Nearly one in four children in the United States faces hunger on a daily basis. Domestic nutrition programs have been a lifeline during the Great Recession, keeping hunger at bay in many households. Now is the time to contact your representatives in Congress and tell them to maintain a circle of protection around these vital programs as they consider the 2012 Farm Bill. Photo: A Catholic Charities Chicago Summer Food Services Program participant enjoys a healthy lunch. Credit: USDA
"We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” —President Ronald Reagan
"When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand for what they want, they will vote accordingly." —Peter Edelman
by Eric Bond
In a July 28 New York Times op-ed, “Poverty in America: Why Can’t We End It?” Peter Edelman educates readers about the crucial role that domestic assistance programs have played in the lives of millions of Americans over the past 40 years as wages decreased and the cost of living increased.
While pointing out that 15 million Americans now live in poverty (a number that is rising according to the Census), Edelman asserts that President Reagan’s infamous quotation about poverty (above) is not entirely true.
[W]e have done a lot that works. From Social Security to food stamps to the earned-income tax credit and on and on, we have enacted programs that now keep 40 million people out of poverty. Poverty would be nearly double what it is now without these measures, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To say that “poverty won” is like saying the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts failed because there is still pollution.
Edelman, a former aide to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, is the author of So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, which was published by The New Press in late May of this year. In his book, Edelman analyzes the economic stress that festers in the lower levels of our society and has crept well into the middle. His conclusion is basic and matter of fact: Low (or no) wages breed poverty.
We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net, and the like.
How the United States reached its current economic state, with income disparity at its widest since the Great Depression, is a tale of incremental cuts: cuts to wages, cuts to job prospects, and cuts to services at the bottom—accompanied by cuts to taxes at the top. The statistics Edelman cites are jarring: “Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40 percent,” for instance.
Restoring the ladder out of poverty and stabilizing the middle class will take both electoral politics and outside advocacy and organizing, according to Edelman. But he believes that, just as the civil rights and women’s movements shifted the foundations of our society against entrenched institutions, so can a movement against hunger and poverty create a more just nation in which poverty is not endemic.
The change has to come from the bottom up and from synergistic leadership that draws it out. When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand for what they want, they will vote accordingly.
One place to draw the line is around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). As difficult as life can be for the growing number of poor Americans, six million people have no income other than SNAP. Edelman calls SNAP “a powerful antirecession tool … with the number of recipients rising to 46 million today from 26.3 million in 2007.”
As Congress considers ways to reduce economic stress during this time of trial, it can begin by maintaining a circle of protection around the programs that provide nutrition to those who have borne the brunt of the Great Recession— the working poor and their children.
Contact your representative or senators during their recess, and strongly encourage them to fight against cuts to SNAP and other nutritional programs in the farm bill when they reconvene in September.
- Read about Bread’s mini campaign to protect domestic nutrition programs.
- Read tips for making your voice heard at town hall meetings.
Eric Bond is managing editor of Bread for the World.
Siblings Ricky Horton (left) and Sherily Shepard (right) are former tobacco farmers who now grow produce in Blackwater, VA. Screen grab from the short film "In Short Supply: Small Farmers and the Struggle to Deliver Health Food to Your Plate."
by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
I pulled the envelope out of my work mailbox, noted its thinness and thought, "A rejection from the United Nations Assocation Film Festival. Ah well."
I didn't open the letter for a few hours and when I did, what a surprise. "In Short Supply: Small Farmers and the Struggle to Deliver Healthy Food to Your Plate,” was accepted into the festival. It will be on the big screen in the San Francisco Bay Area sometime between October 18-28 (exact date TBD). Great news for Bread for the World and the three of us who collaborated on the film: Brad Horn, multimedia storyteller now working at the Washington Post; Molly Marsh, Bread's former managing editor; and me.
The film illustrates some of the uncertainties small American farmers face, from unpredictable weather to changing immigration laws. Through the stories of Ricky Horton and Sherilyn Shepard, siblings who grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and other vegetables in southwestern Virginia, the short film aims to show how the American food system poses obstacles to delivering healthy foods to American homes.
You can watch the story below—and, of course, in the Bay Area this fall. Hope to see you there!
- Read more about "In Short Supply: Small Farmers and the Struggle to Deliver Healthy Food to Your Plate."
- Please read Bread for the World's Hunger Report to learn more about these issues.
Laura Elizabeth Pohl is the multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can find her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.
Rebecca Walker (middle) speaks to a staffer in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office talk during Bread's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World.
With the House and Senate now in recess, no movement will be made on national hunger and poverty policies until mid-September at the earliest. But that does not mean that Bread for the World is in recess. Our members will be looking for opportunities to speak with their representatives at town meetings and other forums which often take place during these congressional breaks—especially with an impending election. Now is the time to influence your congressperson or senator to draw a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor Americans.
When Congress reconvenes, it will resume debate about the farm bill and the budget. Make sure that your congressperson and senators know your views on these key issues.
For background information, here is a legislative update by Bread analyst Amelia Kegan:
The Farm Bill
Key food programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) are funded through the farm bill, which comes up for renewal every four years. Continuation of current funding levels has been in jeopardy during debate over this year’s bill.
We expected a one-year extension of the current farm bill under House Speaker John Boehner’s drought relief proposal. That would have saved SNAP from deep cuts for the time being. However, late Tuesday night, it became apparent there was not enough support to pass a drought relief bill with a one-year farm bill extension attached.
Pressure continues to mount on the House side for open debate on a farm bill before the September 30 deadline. Despite reports that Congress may have some wiggle room on the deadline, farm groups in particular are pushing Congress to act. Senator Stabenow has indicated that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees would be working behind the scenes on a farm bill compromise during the August recess. Both chambers may attempt to do something in September and we could see a short term extension as they try to hammer out differences between the House and Senate bills.
Last Thursday, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and George Miller (D-CA) introduced H. R. 760, a resolution rejecting cuts to SNAP in the proposed House Farm Bill (H.R. 6083). The resolution is non-binding but it is an opportunity for members of Congress to show strong support for SNAP by co-sponsoring the resolution. This also presents an easy question to ask House members who are home for the August recess: “Do you support H.R. 760?”
Congressional leaders have agreed to a six-month continuing resolution (CR) to avoid the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of September. The CR would keep the government funded at the levels agreed to last August for FY 2013 in the Budget Control Act, which are $4 billion above current discretionary funding levels. The House and Senate will take up the measure when it returns in September. Some have speculated that a drought relief bill could be attached to the CR.
Last week, the House passed a one-year extension of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts by a vote of 256-121. That vote on H.R. 8, the Job Protection and Recession Prevention Act of 2012, was mostly along party lines. Representative Johnson (R-IL) was the lone Republican to oppose the measure. Nineteen Democrats supported the bill.
H.R. 8 extended all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for income earned both under $250,000 and above $250,000. The bill continued the 2010 estate tax expansion, which exempts estates up to $5 million ($10 million per couple) from having to pay any estate tax and then reduces the tax on amounts over $5 million ($10 million per couple). At the same time, the bill discontinued the current EITC and CTC benefits, cutting back the 2009 improvements. If the 2009 provisions expire, here are some of the impacts:
- 8.9 million families, including 16.4 million children, would be harmed if earnings below $13,000 are no longer counted toward the tax credit.
- 3.7 million families, including 5.8 million children, would lose the Child Tax Credit entirely.
- 6.5 million families, including nearly 16 million children, would be hurt by the expiration of the EITC improvements.
Representative Levin, ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, offered an alternative, which was very similar to President Barack Obama's proposal and Senator Harry Reid’s bill. That proposal extends all the tax cuts for everyone’s first $250,000, but it discontinues the tax cuts for income earned over $250,000. Moreover, that proposal extends the current Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit benefit levels, including the 2009 improvements. That vote failed 170-257. No Republicans supported that proposal and 19 Democrats opposed it.
Neither of these two proposals will become law before the elections, but they act as dress rehearsals for the lame duck session and early 2013 when Congress will have to grapple with the expiring tax cuts in the context of other broad budget issues.
This is a crucial time to speak out against the growing issues of hunger and poverty in the United States. Give your congresspersons the support they need to stand for faithful policies.
- Learn more about these issues by reading about our mini campaigns featured on our Offerings of Letters web page.
by Amelia Kegan
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted on two competing tax proposals: H.R. 8 and H.R. 15. News accounts reported that H.R. 15 would extend tax cuts for those earning up to $250,000, and H.R. 8 would extend tax cuts for everyone. But that is not the whole story. The previous blog post explained how H.R. 8 continue tax cuts for everyone except low-income working families. Now let's look at the other bill.
H.R. 15 Extends Tax Cuts to Everyone
Contrary to some claims, H.R. 15 doesn’t just extend tax cuts for those earning under $250,000; it extends tax cuts for everyone. If you make more than $250,000, you still get to keep your tax cut on that first $250,000. You’ll have to pay a higher rate on the income earned over $250,000, but you still get that tax cut on the first $250,000—just like everyone else.
Tax cuts on people’s second $250,000 and third $250,000 add up. The amount of money that is not collected because of tax cuts on income above a quarter million dollars comes to $830 billion over ten years. What does $830 billion look like? If you spent $1 million every day from the day that Jesus was born, you would not have spent $830 billion.
$830 billion is over 550 billion meals under the SNAP program.
H.R. 15 also extends the low-income tax credits that H.R. 8 lets lapse. So it really does extend tax cuts for everyone, even low-income families.
Heather Rude-Turner, 31, of northern Virginia, was once a single mom receiving WIC, SNAP, and EITC. Because of this, she said she can relate to some of the low-income families who bring their children to the childcare center where she works as a teacher. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.
House of Representatives Pulls Farm Bill Extension from Drought Relief Package
by Christine Meléndez Ashley
We had expected some floor action on food and farm policy in the House of Representatives on Tuesday through Speaker John Boehner’s drought relief proposal, which included a one-year extension of the farm bill. It was the first farm bill proposal we had seen coming out of this Congress that created a circle of protection around programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which are vital to hungry and poor people.
While we have consistently maintained a preference for a full, five-year re-authorization of the farm bill, we were pleased to see no cuts to SNAP in that proposal.
Late Tuesday night, however, it became apparent there was not enough support to pass a drought relief bill with a one-year farm bill extension attached so they yanked it. The House currently plans to vote on a drought relief package separately from the farm bill this afternoon.
We continue to urge Congress to pass a bill that protects and strengthens SNAP and international food aid.
So far, the House and Senate have both proposed harmful cuts to SNAP. The Senate bill cut $4.5 billion over ten years which would result in roughly 500,000 households losing $90 a month in SNAP benefits. The House bill cut even more from SNAP, $16.5 billion over ten years. These cuts could lead to 2-3 million people losing SNAP benefits and 280,000 kids losing free school meals—in addition to the 500,000 households losing $90 a month in benefits.
We were happy to see the Senate’s international food aid provisions and disappointed that the House did not include similar provisions in its bill.
In fact, the House bill cuts international food aid quality programs so deeply that it would effectively end international food aid programs that focus on nutritional deficiencies and targeted populations.
Judging from the history of the 2008 Farm Bill, we do not discount the possibility of short-term extensions of the current legislation. The farm debate could very well spill into the next Congress, as has happened in the past. Stay tuned for updates as the 2012 Farm Bill process continues to unfold.
- Learn more about Bread's mini campaign for domestic nutrition assistance.
Christine Meléndez Ashley is an analyst at Bread for the World.
by Matt Newell-Ching
Last October we featured a Breadblog post about a new effort by “Sesame Street” to provide resources and empathy for children and parents experiencing hunger. A recent interview in the New York Times “Motherlode” blog provides a sobering look at why the Muppets are taking on such a serious issue. Blogger KJ Dell’Antonia interviewed Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop:
When we realized that 9.6 million children under the age of 6 are impacted by food insecurity, [said Betancourt] we realized we needed to reach out to those children and their families.
We also wanted the children to see that they’re not alone …. Hunger can be a very hidden problem. And we wanted to help reduce the stigma of needing help.
The short answer to why they took this on? Because it’s increasingly relevant to Sesame Street’s audience, kids in the United States.
And let’s be clear—it’s relevant not only for kids who are experiencing hunger, but to their peers as well. “Sesame Street” has a unique way of inviting young minds to experience empathy, which—let me tell you, as the father of a toddler—is not an easy task. Growing Hope Against Hunger provides an important opportunity for parents to foster a “do unto others” moment with their kids. I know we’ll be watching it with our kids soon.
In her blog, Dell’Antonia makes another observation that is often overlooked:
The familiar Muppets can help a child through everything from big-kid beds to grieving. But when the average American throws away 33 pounds of food a month, Elmo and Big Bird shouldn’t need to help a child worried about being hungry for anything more than an extra cookie.
This underscores an important point: hunger in America is not a problem of food production. It’s a problem of food access.
The good news is that we know a lot about bridging access to food. And the best bridge to food for struggling families is through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Yet, at this moment, SNAP is under threat in Congress.
+ Learn more about how to urge decision-makers to stand up for struggling families by defending SNAP.
Matt Newell-Ching is the Bread for the World western regional organizer.
Today I went to Capitol Hill to listen to Rev. David Beckmann and other Christian leaders urge the House of Representatives to defeat HR 8, a tax bill that would extend 2001 and 2008 tax cuts to wealthy Americans and reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) benefit levels. Delivering a statement backed by nearly 60 prominent faith leaders, Rev. Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, prodded Congress to take a deeper look at the effects of cutting crucial tax credits that help the hungry and poor.
As Rev. Noel Castellanos of the Christian Community Development Association pointed out in his remarks, few of the families that rely on tax credits are present on the Hill to speak out against this House bill; therefore, others must speak for them.
Rev. Beckmann addressed the policy makers first by arguing that if the House bill goes through, there will be no tax incentive for couples to get married. He also addressed inequities in the tax system that places more of a burden on the poor. Rev. Beckmann reminded Congress that wealthy individuals should recognize that payment of taxes is a just action, quoting the Apostle Paul’s statement that government authorities are ministers of God.
Sister Simone Campbell of the prominent Nuns on the Bus movement preached that tax cuts for the rich have consistently hurt the bottom 20 percent of U.S. households. Contrary to the rhetoric behind those tax cuts, the benefits do not trickle down to the poor, she said. Sister Campbell insisted that our country needs to be a moral and united nation, supporting families that are hungry and poor.
Along the same lines, Rev. Michael Livingston of the National Council of Churches said he prays that Congress get a conscience and finds a heart. “How can Congress extend tax cuts to millionaires and cut programs like SNAP to poor and hungry families?” asked Livingston.
Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners stated that this Republican budget is an immoral document, and that for Catholic lawmakers it is a direct offense to Catholic social teaching.
Bread for the World hopes that Congress continues to create a circle of protection around poor and hungry people in today’s House vote by upholding the current EITC and CTC benefit levels. We must pressure Congress to stop protecting the top 2 percent.
And we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
DeEtte Peck uses her Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card in Portland, OR, to purchase food. Photo by Brian Duss
There is something I’ve noticed in organizing around hunger and poverty: those who experience need don’t want to admit it.
I’ve often had people come up to me after I’ve given a talk and tell me about that time they depended on food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) to get them over a tough patch, but it’s usually in the hushed whispers of shame.
With increased poverty rates brought on by the recession, labels like the “Food Stamp President” as a derogatory appellation, and politicians publicly equating safety net benefits with feeding wild animals, it is easy to understand how poverty can feel like a dirty word.
The fact is some people work full time and don’t make enough money to feed their families. With need growing, calling the poor irresponsible builds the political will to offset funding for the military with cuts to the safety net. Turning poverty into a mark of shame in our national conversation makes it easy for us to diffuse responsibility and blame our neighbors in need instead of helping them.
With budget cuts looming and SNAP a target of many proposed cuts, now is the time to address misrepresentations. Poverty is not a sin, and using the safety net is responsible parenting when your children need to eat.
In a recent Colorlines blog post, Akiba Solomon writes about a joke she heard about Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards made at the expense of the poor. She then relates the story of a family doing all the right things and still needing food assistance. Solomon argues that with the Farm Bill negotiations in process, now are not the time for “food stamp humor,” especially by women of color (her target audience) who disproportionately experience hunger.
“I have a wild suggestion for comedians, commenters, moralists and opinion-shapers of color, particularly women: At least until the 2012 Farm Bill passes, let’s create a moratorium on unfunny, uninformed, poor-shaming EBT talk.”
As Christians we are called to help our neighbors, not shame them. Irresponsibility is increasing poverty and ignoring truth. So here is a Christian suggestion: Let’s create a moratorium on unfunny, uniformed, poor-shaming EBT talk period.
+ Read more about Bread's mini campaign to extend domestic nutrition assistance.