Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

436 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

Congress Passes Funding Extension Before Leaving to Campaign

Elections Cover 2014 SmallBy Robin Stephenson

With little fanfare, Congress passed a continuing resolution this week to extend funding for the government through mid-December. Lawmakers now head home to campaign for midterm elections, leaving a pile of unfinished business in Washington, D.C. 

Congress will not return to the capital until November 12. Bread for the World urges advocates to use the flurry of campaign activity as an opportunity to make hunger an elections issue.

“The more advocates lift up hunger as an election issue, the more Congress will act on legislation that can end hunger by 2030,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of Bread for the World’s government relations department.

The funding extension passed before Congress left on recess was modified to include additional funding to arm Syrian rebels, but did not include dollars to address the poverty that is driving children to flee Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Lawmakers did include instructions allowing certain federal agencies to spend at higher rates to address the surge of child refugees at the border.

Congress also returns home as the World Food Program (WFP) warns of unprecedented global food emergencies and dwindling resources. WFP will cut food rations to four million Syrian refugees by 40 percent in October because of shortages. Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq have all been designated as level-three (the highest) humanitarian crises by WFP, straining the food aid system. 

As the world’s largest donor of food aid, the United States can free up even more food resources by increasing efficiencies without raising taxes. A bill in the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421), addresses reform, and we are urging senators to cosponsor the bill.

On the heels of the news that 45.3 million Americans live below the poverty line, Congress must address a jobs agenda that includes work that pays a living wage.  Tax credits that help end hunger are also expiring before the end of the year.

One bright spot is that the passage of the continuing resolution yesterday to fund the government allows us to avoid a partisan showdown like we experienced last fall that shut the federal government down for more than two weeks. However, Congress left a lot of work undone.

“These are big issues they are leaving on the table, “says Kegan. “When lawmakers return, they need to address all these issues in budget decisions by December 11.” 

Kegan stresses that advocacy efforts right now will reverberate long past December. She says the elections work will play a big role in ending hunger during the 2015 session if candidates hear from voters. “ The elections,” she says, “will set the tone for next year when Congress begins work on the 2016 budget.”

The national trends both globally and domestically have been very positive. World hunger declined in 2014, and a report from UNICEF released yesterday says that child deaths have been cut in half since 1990.  As the U.S. economy rebounds, more people are returning to the labor market, and poverty rates here at home have decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006.

Now is not the time to let up on hunger. Engage the candidates and help make hunger history.

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

 

The Poverty Rate State-By-State

 By Robin Stephenson

A rising tide does not lift all boats —at least where poverty is concerned. Income gaps in America are widening. States are not experiencing economic recovery equally.

The Census Bureau followed Tuesday’s report, which showed a slight decline nationally in the poverty rate for the first time since 2006, with today’s state-by-state data. The national poverty rate is 14.5 percent, but five states still have rates over 20 percent. Mississippi tops the list with the highest poverty rate at 22.5 percent, followed closely by New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Arizona, and Kentucky.

The poverty rate should be more than a snapshot to lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and should encourage voters to make hunger an elections issue.

“The poverty numbers are encouraging,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of government relations at Bread for the World. However, Kegan says a cut of two percentage points is not enough and that our call as Christians is to advocate for a world without poverty and hunger.

“The pace of this economic recovery is far too slow, particularly for those at the economic margins,” Kegan continues. “It’s time our elected leaders make ending hunger and poverty a top priority, and the midterm elections provide a prime opportunity for people of faith to demand this of candidates running for office.”

The poverty rate is based on income. Although the cost of living varies geographically, the poverty threshold used by the Census Bureau does not. A family of four is classified as poor if their gross income is less than $23,830 last year, and for one person, the poverty threshold was $11,890. 

The Census Bureau data comes on the heels of a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on food insecurity – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. Not surprisingly, there is overlap between state food-insecurity and the poverty rate.

The ten states with the highest poverty rates:

  1. Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 22.5 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.1 percent.
  2. New Mexico, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 13.2 percent.
  3. Arizona, with a poverty rate of 20.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
  4. Kentucky, with a poverty rate of 20  percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.4  percent.
  5. Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 19.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
  6. North Carolina, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.3 percent.
  7. Tennessee, with a poverty rate of 18.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.4 percent.
  8. Nevada, with a poverty rate of 17.4 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.2 percent.
  9. West Virginia, with a poverty rate of 17.3 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 14.4 percent.
  10. Arkansas, with a poverty rate of 17.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.

Engage the candidates! Go to www.bread.org/elections to make hunger an issue in the elections!

 

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior reigonal organizer at Bread for the World.

Interactive map via The Washington Post

 

 

Slight Decline in Poverty Rate, Still Millions Live Below Poverty Line

  4266588810_dd214a9fbe_b
According to a Census Bureau report released today, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent. (Todd Post)

The good news is we are making progress on poverty in America. However, the economic recovery is leaving too many Americans behind.

More than 45 million Americans—14.5 percent—lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to a Census Bureau report released today. Poverty decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.

There is still more to do. The faithful must continue to advocate for even more progress against hunger and poverty, especially during an election year.

Poverty rates are still disproportionately high among Hispanics and African-Americans: 23.5 percent of Hispanics and 27.1 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line.

Mothers like Jacqueline Christian, who try to make ends meet on minimum wage, still wait to feel the effects of the economic recovery. National Geographic told Christian’s story in the article The New Faces of Hunger published last July.

Christian makes $7.25 an hour working full time as a home health aid in Houston, Texas. She and her two sons, who struggle to get enough to eat, were living in a homeless shelter at the time the article was published.

Recent gains in employment, with 2.8 million people returning to the labor market, have helped decrease poverty in America. Wages, however, continue to stagnate for those who have jobs. Low-income employment like Christian’s doesn’t pay a living wage.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2013 the top 5 percent of workers saw their wages rise by 1 percent while the bottom 60 percent saw hourly wages fall by 4-6 percent. Higher incomes among high-wage earners and corporations have mainly shown up in higher stock prices, and companies have been slow to invest in the real economy. 

As the economy improves, our elected officials must craft policy to ensure that we don’t leave large groups of Americans behind—people like Jacqueline Christian, who works full time but can’t meet her family’s basic needs.

Encouraged by progress and recent public discourse by both parties about ending hunger and poverty in America, Bread for the World’s President David Beckmann says Congress should focus on employment and reducing income inequality.

“The best defense against hunger and poverty is reliable work,” Beckmann said in a statement to the press today. “As the mid-term election draws near, we must vote for leaders who are committed to increasing job opportunities and pray that their actions are guided by compassion and justice so that we can continue to reduce hunger and poverty.”

Thursday, the Census Bureau will release state-level data.

 

Waiting

7160150590_324f9964d3_b
From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. (photo courtesy Meals on Wheels)

By Donna Pususta Neste

Mary (not her real name) is intelligent and gifted with many skills. She is in her seventies, has a number of health problems and disabilities, and lives on Social Security. Poverty has made her life difficult. 

I live four blocks from her in a culturally and racially diverse, low-income, inner-city neighborhood. In my own retirement I have taken on the task of picking her up two days a month at her house, which is rotting and falling apart all around her, in order to bring her to one of three food pantries she visits. She hobbles to my car with the help of her cane.

If it is a certain Friday in the month, we will go to two food shelves in one day. That day will look like this: In the morning I will give her a lift to a faith based organization that feeds their guests breakfast and then hands out groceries. Mary wants to be there early so she has time to go to another organization in the neighborhood that will provide her with produce, donated by local supermarkets after the items are beyond their peak of freshness. These two trips will take up most of her day. 

At both locations she will wait in line for at least an hour before she even gets in the door. Then she will wait another hour or more before her number is called and she is able to “shop” for her groceries. When she is finished, she calls me and waits to be picked up. I realized how hard it must be for someone who can hardly walk to stand in line for so long. So last month, I put a light-weight, folding lawn chair in the trunk of my car for her to use. Though Mary buys some of her food, most of her nourishment comes from her three monthly food shelf visits. She can’t afford the luxury of breezing into her local supermarket to pick up a few things as needed.

Waiting, waiting, waiting for even the most basic necessities is the plight of people who are poor. The neighborhood in which I live has many poor people and many agencies that help with their needs. It is not unusual to see a long line of young moms with babies in cheap strollers holding the hand of their toddlers to keep them from running into the street. Elders shuffle forward with their walkers. Homeless people stand silently with their bundles under their arms. Everyone waiting in front of one of those many agencies for the doors to open. 

Learn more:  Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans.

Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

 

 

Feeding America Report: Reliance on Emergency Food Increasing

By Robin Stephenson

Electricity, rent, or food on the table to feed your kids? This choice is a game of poverty roulette that families like Jim and Christina Dreier grapple with each month and it isn’t fun.

The Dreiers and their three children live in Mitchel County, Iowa. Like many families, they use a patchwork of assistance – WIC, SNAP (food stamps), and the food bank – to make it through the month. Jim Dreier works two jobs, but that is not enough.

“It’s rough every day.  Where’s my next meal going to come from?” asks Christina.

Reading the Dreier’s story in a National Geographic article, “The New Face of Hunger,” one gets the impression that this is a family that lives on the edge of catastrophe.  It’s a life of fear and worry as they are always one step behind.  

“Moneywise,” says Christina, “coming in is a lot less than what has to go out every month.”

The Dreiers are food insecure – a term that describes households that do not have enough food in a given year. And they are not an anomaly. The shocking truth is food insecurity is epidemic in America. A job is no longer insulation from poverty and hunger.

According to a report released this week by Feeding America, one of Bread for the World’s partner organizations, one in seven people - 46.5 million Americans a year- rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families. Over half of the households included at least one person who was employed.

In the past, a trip to the food bank was an emergency situation that followed a job loss or financial crisis. Today, food insecurity is a chronic condition for too many Americans. But instead of helping low-income families, policy proposals in Congress appear to be working against them.

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. Just last month, the House voted to reduce the child tax credit to the most vulnerable families, which would push an estimated 12 million people into deeper poverty.

A job that pays a living wage, not an emergency food box, is the only real buffer against hunger. Yet wages have not kept pace with economic productivity since 1950. Today, 28 percent of Americans make poverty level wages. A vote to raise the minimum wage failed earlier this year in the Senate.

It is time for Congress and the administration to set a plan to end hunger in the United States. Churches and charities can only provide a fraction of what is needed and cannot adequately address the root causes of poverty. The status quo is not ending hunger in America; policy targeted at ending hunger needs an overhaul.

We will never food bank our way out of hunger, so let’s stop trying. We also need the government to do its part.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer in the western hub.

 

Protecting Pregnant Woman in the Work Place

Barbie Screen Shot
Barbie Izquierdo and her son Aiden (Bread for the World).

Childbearing should not result in hunger. But when policies do not protect pregnant workers from job loss, they can experience a “poverty spell.”

In a letter to Congress last week, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, urged passage of legislation that would protect pregnant women in the work place. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975/S.942) would protect pregnant workers from job loss so they can continue to feed their families.

Without work-place protection, Hilda Guzzman suffered health complications during her pregnancy. She told her story to The National Women’s Law Center. Refused by her employer the accommodation of a simple stool, Hilda was left standing eight to 10 hours a day in her position as a cashier. The toll on her body and her unborn child resulted in frequent visits to the emergency room and eventually the loss of her job. “During this time away from work, I had no paid leave or any other income,” she wrote.

America’s poverty-wage workforce is predominately female. The 2014 Hunger Report: Ending Hunger in America points out that women are already disadvantaged in the workforce. Improving job quality is one step toward ending hunger in America by 2030 and will require leadership at the federal level.

 

 July 31, 2014

Dear Members of Congress:

As an organization dedicated to ending hunger, Bread for the World urges you to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 1975/S.942). We cannot end hunger through our nutrition programs alone. Hunger will persist as long as families lack the resources they need to put food on the table. The best pathway out of poverty is a good job. That is why the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is so important. This bill would not only promote nondiscrimination in the workplace, but would ensure that pregnant workers can continue to feed their families by providing protection from unreasonable job loss and denial of sufficient accommodation at work.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in time. Many pregnant women, particularly those in physically strenuous jobs, inevitably face a conflict between their responsibilities at work and the physical demands of pregnancy. Despite existing protections, pregnant workers are often unnecessarily terminated from their jobs or denied minor modifications that would allow them to continue working during and after their pregnancy.

This is unacceptable; a choice between working under unhealthy conditions and risking the loss of a job is no choice at all.  We are deeply concerned that this population is disproportionately at risk for slipping into poverty; 28.9 percent of pregnant and postpartum women in the United States receive WIC, all of whom have incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Today, having a baby is one of the leading causes of a “poverty spell.” Allowing a pregnant woman to continue working could ensure that she is able to feed her family and meet basic needs without risking her own health or the health of her child.

Pregnant workers carrying God’s children should be celebrated—not punished. Employers must recognize the physical demands of pregnancy and make reasonable accommodations so that no pregnant worker should feel she has to sacrifice her pregnancy or her income. Please support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Sincerely,

David Beckmann
President, Bread for the World

Summer Vacation Means—for Some—Meals Missed

Summer-Food-Program-Infographic

By Kimberly Burge

Kids out of school.  Unstructured days. For many people, summer vacation elicits memories and a picture of freedom and carefree times. For children who depend on food assistance at lunch during the school year, summer vacation can also bring hunger.

Of the 20.6 million schoolchildren receiving food assistance at lunch, 18 million do not receive summer meals. While there are 99,000 schools operating the National School Lunch Program, only 35,500 Summer Food Service Program sites operate nationwide. That leaves a critical gap for too many months of the year. To read more about summer hunger from the PBS Newshour, see “Why summer is the hungriest season for some U.S. kids.”

Children also continue to struggle in poverty. Last week, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 25th edition of Kids Count, an annual report that features the latest data on child well-being for every state, the District of Columbia and the nation. The report found that 22 percent of U.S. children currently live in poverty. That number has grown in recent years, due to the economic recession and the weak labor market, especially for those without a college or high school degree.

From 1990 to 2000, the official child poverty rate had declined from 21 percent to 16 percent. The robust economy contributed to that drop. But, Kids Count finds, so did an expansion of policies designed to “make work pay”—things like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food stamps (SNAP), important programs for which Bread members advocate, along with child care subsidies and health insurance for children.  According to the report, “[These] policies supplemented low wages and reduced work expenses, contributing to the decline in child poverty. However, these gains began to unravel in the early 2000s because of a lackluster economy.”

You can read the findings from Kids Count and see where your state falls in child poverty rates here.

Kimberly Burge is the interim associate online editor for Bread for the World.

House Votes to Push Millions Into Deeper Poverty

4131302625_a309594893_b
The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Anne E. Casey Foundation shows that child poverty in the United States is on the rise. (Rick Reinhard)

In a disturbing trend that prioritizes the wealthy over the most vulnerable Americans, the House today passed H.R. 4935 by a vote of 237 to 171.  Bread has dubbed it the “reverse Robin Hood” bill, which takes from the poor to give to the rich. The bill could push 12 million people—including 6 million kids--into poverty or deeper poverty while giving a tax break to households making $150,000 to $205,000.  

In a media statement today, Bread for the World president, Rev. David Beckmann said,  “It is unacceptable that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries. Our policies should help lower-income working families climb out of poverty - not push them deeper into it.”

We do not expect the Senate to take up the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act of 2014.  Instead, the bill, which does not extend critical improvements to the child tax credit for millions of low-income working families, could be considered as part of a tax extenders bill after the November mid-term elections.  Tax credits, like the child tax credit (CTC) and the earned income tax credit (EITC), keep more people – including children – out of poverty each year than any other federal anti-hunger program.

Although H.R. 4935 passed, 173 members of Congress still opposed the bill, thanks to the calls Bread for the World’s anti-hunger advocates made to their representatives – including hundreds of calls this morning!  Bread is calling for any final bill on the child tax credit to include the 2009 improvements, which enable more low-income working families to receive a larger credit. Your advocacy helped build momentum and educate lawmakers that this is an issue the faith community cares about.

In 2009, Congress made the CTC available to low-income working families, enabling them to begin to receive part of the credit once earnings reached $3,000. Under the recent House-passed bill, a single mother with two children who works full-time at the minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) would completely lose her CTC of $1,725.

Bread for the World has long championed refundable tax credits as a way to reduce hunger in America and will continue to do so.  We encourage advocates to bring up the importance of tax credits with their legislators during the August recess and make hunger an election issue. We will also continue to keep advocates apprised as legislation moves forward this year and use every opportunity to restore the 2009 improvements.

Today’s vote was extremely disappointing, but we should use it to energize our conviction that the direction in Washington, D.C., must change. It is time to buck the trends and make ending hunger a priority.  Child poverty is far too high in the United States - in 2012, 23 percent of U.S. children lived in poor families. Congress unleashed its own version of Robin Hood on millions of children today, but we as the faith community will continue to fight for what’s right.

See here how your representative voted, and read Bread for the World’s press release “Bread for the World Disappointed with House Child Tax Credit Bill.”

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.

Why Are So Many Seniors Hungry?


Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Senior years are supposed to be "golden" years—a time when people who've worked hard their entire lives can enjoy retirement, travel, indulge in new hobbies, and play with grandchildren. Unfortunately, for many elders, senior years are hungry years.

A new Bread analysis, "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," shows that from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 2.8 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity. That same year, 3.9 million adults age 65 and older lived below the poverty line.

Why? In part, the Great Recession. Most people in this country felt the pinch of the U.S. economic downturn, but vulnerable populations, including seniors, have been especially affected. Also, seniors are less likely to ask for help than other groups—either because they don't know they're eligible for assistance, or because of the stigma around asking for it, they may not access feeding programs, such as Meals on Wheels, or federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP). 

In one of the stories in the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on food stamps in America—"In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, focused on SNAP outreach to hungry seniors"— food stamp outreach worker Dillie Nerios bumps up against these issues in her work. The piece details one especially heartbreaking interaction between Nerios and a senior couple who lost their home and savings during the recession and are struggling to keep their heads above water, but still are hesitant to sign up for SNAP. Nerios tells them they've worked hard their entire lives, paid taxes that help fund safety net programs, and that there is no shame in asking for just a small amount of help so that they're able to afford food that will help keep them healthy and vibrant. Still, they hesitate. “It’s hard to accept,” the husband says.

While help may indeed be hard to accept, at a time when 30 percent of seniors who have worked their entire lives and contributed greatly to society now have to choose between feeding themselves or purchasing medication, something must change. We must work to strengthen programs that offer seniors assistance, and also erase the stigma that prevents them for asking for a helping hand, so that they can enjoy their golden years and not have to worry about putting food on the table.

Read more in Bread for the World's analysis "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," and view the infographic "Food Insecurity: A Harsh Reality for Many Seniors."

Stay Connected

Bread for the World