Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

425 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

Bread for the World Letter to U.S. Senate on Smarter Sentencing Act

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Photo: Nate, a returning citizen in Ohio, who has been able to overcome the employment barrier, and now works to feed his family. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Today, Bread for the World President David Beckmann sent the following letter to U.S. senators, asking them to support the Smart Sentencing Act, which would alleviate costly prison overcrowding, reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses, and those resentence cases subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing.

As stated in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, we cannot end hunger without confronting knottier social issues—and hunger and poverty often result from social exclusion and discrimination. Men and women who have spent time in prison often face difficulty finding jobs and feeding their families—and they are less likely to have access to social safety net programs.

Read the full text of the letter below.

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Senator:

 

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA), sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).  This bipartisan legislation, which will soon see a vote in the Senate, alleviates the costly overcrowding crisis in our prisons. It would reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses and authorize judicial review for possible resentencing of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity. Bread for the World calls on you to vote in favor of the bill and asks you to consider co-sponsoring the SSA. Additionally, we hope you will oppose any additional amendments that harm the bill’s integrity, such ascreating mandatory sentences for other offenses.

As a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization, we view federal policy through the lens of its impact on hunger and poverty.  Hunger is often a byproduct of social exclusion and discrimination. People who have spent time in prison are more likely to face barriers to work and thus less likely to have the resources to put food on the table. The toll on families and their economic security is significant. Furthermore, outdated, overly punitive, and unnecessarily restrictive drug sentencing disproportionately and unfairly incarcerates people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by an astounding 800 percent even though crime rates are lower. Half of the people in prison are there for a drug offense. Fewer people incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug cases would have a marked improvement on hunger in America.

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, protect it from additional harmful amendments, and consider co-sponsoring the legislation.

 

Sincerely,

 

David Beckmann

President

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.

UConn Player: "We Do Have Hungry Nights"

On Monday night, the University of Connecticut won its fourth national men's basketball title—the UConn Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54. "You're looking at the hungry Huskies," UConn player Shabazz Napier said after the win, a reference to the team's unstoppable determination to bring home the title.

But last week, Napier used his platform as a star college basketball player to bring attention to a different kind of hunger. "Sometimes there's hungry nights when I'm not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities," he told news reporters. "[Student athletes] are definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities, but, at the end of the day, that doesn't cover everything. We do have hungry nights....there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving."

Napier made the remarks after being asked his opinion of college athletes unionizing, the latest development in the ongoing debate over whether college sports players should be considered employees and receive some of the profits they help pull in for their schools.  A few outlets (and a lot of their commenters and social media followers) are discussing whether it's possible for Napier to be hungry. Some have pointed out that he has a meal plan as part of his scholarship package, and that most colleges go to great lengths to ensure their top-tier athletes are well-fueled. Others countered that student athletes who burn thousands of calories each day may require extra sustenance, and long practices and frequent road trips may mean grabbing dinner at a campus dining hall before a 7 p.m. closing time isn't always feasible.

Although Napier's story has sparked some heated debate, everyone seems to agree that no college student should ever have to worry about having enough to eat.

We've written about college hunger before. As the economy limps toward recovery, and the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, students are increasingly seeking out food stamps (SNAP), food banks, and other community resources in order to feed themselves. While college isn't a particularly flush time for most, there's a difference between being a "broke" student subsisting on ramen noodles and iced coffee, and being a student dealing with chronic food insecurity and even homelessness

Unfortunately, most students don't qualify for SNAP benefits, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, notes that there are quite a few exceptions. And while it's heartbreaking to think of college students needing them, food pantries that cater to students are becoming more common on campuses.  Still, the fact that university students, young people seen by so many as having "made it," are facing hunger and food insecurity shows just how pervasive the problem of hunger is in this country. It also underscores the need to strengthen and expand safety net programs, so that students can focus on acing their midterms, and winning championship titles, instead of wondering where they'll find their next meal.

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.

Working to End Maternal and Child Hunger Year-round

Mother_daughterBy Kristen Youngblood Archer

“I fall, I stand still… I trudge on. I gain a little… I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory.” – Helen Keller

Today is March 31, the official end to National Women’s History Month. Like so many other months that have been assigned an issue of national or international importance, this month was dedicated in the late 1970s, around International Women’s Day, for the purpose of celebrating the achievements and contributions women have made to society, science, government, and our world at large.

The trouble with these months is that, well, they end. Once they’re over, we’re on to the next month or issue, and have forgotten all of the great things we learned, celebrated, and promised to do in the month prior.

At Bread for the World, we like to look at these important months as a time not only to celebrate, but to reflect on what has been done among specific communities of people to end hunger, and what more there is to accomplish. While these designated months (African-American History Month, Older Americans Month, Hispanic Heritage Month) serve as official rallying cries, we must pursue relevant issues and challenges throughout the year if we are to effect lasting change.

While Women’s History Month ends today, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger among women and children around the world continues. There’s still work to do.

With this in mind, Bread for the World has just completed two new “Hunger by the Numbers’ analyses on women and children.

The international analysis takes a look at the important role women play in development and ending hunger worldwide, particularly with regards to nutrition in the first 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. The domestic analysis highlights some key issues brought to light in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. From wages to childcare, this document evaluates some of the main factors that contribute to the hardships of workers in the United States.

We hope these analyses will not only provide valuable information, but that they will encourage us to keep working to end hunger among women and children all year long.

Kristen Youngblood Archer is Bread for the World's media relations manager.

Photo: A mother and daughter in Nicaragua shell peas from their garden. (Margaret W. Nea)

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.

Hunger and Health: Making Connections on Capitol Hill

Medical check upDuring a typical hospital visit, health care professionals will check a patient for a range of health issues—hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, among others. Last year, Toledo-based healthcare system ProMedica began screening visitors to its hospitals for something new: food insecurity. Recognizing that hunger can have as much of an impact on health as any disease, they even helped some patients at risk of hunger apply for food stamps, and sent others home with emergency groceries. 

"There is nothing more fundamental to population health than food and other social determinants of health," Randy Oostra, ProMedica’s president and CEO, told USA Today earlier this month.

While the implications of hunger are often discussed, the connection between hunger and health isn't a topic that is frequently raised. But hunger impacts health—and it's time people started talking about it.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, "Ending Hunger in America," details the ways in which ProMedica has set out to recast hunger as a healthcare priority, similar to fighting heart disease or cancer. Fighting hunger is now an important part of the preventative and wellness methods that keeping people healthy and reduce healthcare costs.

Tomorrow, the Alliance to End Hunger and ProMedica will host “Come to the Table,” a summit to address hunger as a health issue, on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the event is to persuade more lawmakers and healthcare industry leaders to champion anti-hunger initiatives by making connections among reducing hunger, improving health outcomes, and lowering healthcare costs. The event will also serve as a platform to form creative, effective collaborations and encourage federal legislation to protect anti-hunger programs.

Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann will join other experts, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, to discuss how we can combat hunger in our nation, and improve our nation’s collective health. 

Photo: A doctor examines a patient at Family and Medical Counseling Service in Washington D.C., on June 11, 2009. (Rick Reinhard)

The American Dream: A Fantasy?

By Cynthia Ezedike

As someone who was born in a poverty-stricken country, I have heard about the American dream countless times. It is the reason so many people have immigrated to the United States, and why so many will continue to do so. It is the reason my parents came to the United States from Nigeria, struggled to get an education, and are now doing all they can to provide for their family. However, the American dream is becoming more and more difficult to attain.

How does one of the richest countries in the world have 50 million of its people facing food insecurity? Why are so many working families struggling to put food on the table? In the past, hard work and steady employment almost guaranteed a comfortable life. Many people put themselves in debt to attend college with the hopes that once they graduated and started and started their career, they would be able to live well. Today, not even a college degree guarantees a roof over one's head or food in one's belly. 

I know plenty of families that were forced to make lifestyle changes and cut food spending during the economic downturn of recent years. These families, mine included, are pretty well off and would not be counted among those living in poverty. Still, they have noticed the rise in the cost of groceries, and have made a conscious effort to stick to a budget and avoid unnecessary purchases. If these families are concerned about the high cost of food, what are those who are not as well off doing? How are families living at or below the poverty line staying afloat?

In a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio acknowledged the need to remove the stereotypes associated with federal nutrition programs. He said “the idea that people are lazy and they don’t want to work…that’s just not true.” The fact that so many food banks and charities have been stretched to their limits shows that many people are suffering in this nation. Colicchio pointed out that the number of people living in hunger is so great that we can’t expect charities alone to lift the burden. Charities, as he put it, help manage hunger. In order to end a problem this large, we need an action that is equally as large.

Political action is what is needed. Politicians are here to serve their constituents, so we, as citizens of this great nation, must appeal to Congress to work toward meaningful policies that benefit the 50 million Americans dealing with hunger. Congress must protect and strengthen federal programs that help people lift themselves out of poverty. It is imperative to making the American dream a reality once again.

Cynthia Ezedike is an intern in Bread for the World's communications department.

David Beckmann: Our Loving God is Moving History

More than 30 years ago, Bread for the World president David Beckmann lived and worked in Bangladesh, and saw extreme poverty while in the country. A few years ago, he and his wife went back for a visit, traveling to the northwest region where they once lived, and saw something amazing.

"What was best about this experience was that although people are still extremely poor, they are dramatically less poor than they were 30 years ago," Beckmann said during a talk at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University on Feb. 9. "The changes have been spectacular."

Beckmann spoke about improvements to infrastructure, such as new roads and buildings, as well as how people's lives have changed—he saw children that looked better nourished, and met women who were taking advantage of new literacy education and microcredit programs. And these changes aren't unique to the country he once called home. "This same thing has happened in hundreds of thousands of communities in the world," he said. "The World Bank judges that the number of people in the world in extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 30 years."

At the Saint More Catholic Chapel and Center to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of its soup kitchen, Beckmann spread the message that the dramatic progress that has been made in alleviating extreme hunger and poverty is evidence that ending hunger is within reach.

"Those of us who believe in God and can read about and understand this huge change in the world, I think we have to understand this as our loving God moving history," he said. "I've come to see this as a great exodus in our own time; this is God answering prayers on a huge scale. And I think our loving God is asking us to get with the program. Because in our time, it is clearly possible to make much, much more progress—probably to virtually end extreme poverty and hunger within a couple decades."

Beckmann also talked about what it will take to accomplish this—namely, building the political will to move our leaders and "change big systems in ways that will move us toward the end of hunger in our country and around the world."

By connecting with members of Congress—through letter writing and participating in Offerings of Letters, in-person visits, and writing letters to the editor, people learn “that we have power, we can change things," Beckmann said. "Learn how you can be an active citizen and make the world more like how you think God wants it to be."

Watch the full video of the tlak above, and then learn more about conducting an Offering of Letters, and what you can do to help move history.

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.

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