Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

433 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

The Faces and Facts Behind Hunger

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SNAP advocate Dawn Phipps at Bread for the World's 2013 National Gathering (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

Behind every hunger statistic is a story of how people have been affected by the ongoing cuts to the federal budget. Telling those stories is the goal of the new Circle of Protection project "Faces and Facts." The Circle of Protection--a coalition of faith leaders, of which Bread for the World is a member--has long maintained that Congress should not balance the budget on the backs of working poor people and struggling families. The stories of those featured as part of "Faces and Facts" help illustrate the human cost associated with budget cuts.

More than 81 percent of eligible infants are enrolled in WIC--Amanda Bornfree's daughter was once one of them. The Chicago resident recounts her experience with WIC--the program gave her vital information about breastfeeding and allowed her to provide her baby with nutritious food even after her husband lost his job. Nearly 15 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table, and Dawn Phipps (pictured above) once headed one such household. On the "Faces and Facts" site, the Idaho nurse and SNAP advocate talks about how food stamps (SNAP) helped her put food on her table after she lost her job, and how she now works to ensure that other families receive the same lifeline.

Read these stories of people who've been affected by federal budget cuts, and also take a moment to share how federal net safety programs--or cuts to those programs--have affected you, your friends, your family, or members of your faith community. To learn more about what you can do to protect vital programs that help struggling families, visit Bread for the World's action center.

 

Why Doesn't the United States Rank Higher in Healthy Eating?

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Federal nutrition programs are finding ways to connect the people who rely on them with a healthy selection of foods. Farmers markets that accept food stamps and WIC give program recipients better access to fresh produce (Jim Stipe).

The United States is one of the richest nations in the world, so it reasons that it would do better than most countries in providing access to fresh, nutritious food, right? Not according to a new Oxfam report on the best and worst places in the world to eat—the United States ranks 21st out of 125 countries.

The study evaluated countries based on four factors: Do people have enough to eat? Can people afford to eat? Is food of good quality? What is the extent of unhealthy outcomes of people’s diet? Wealthy nations had an automatic edge in the rankings, but levels of obesity and diabetes kept the United States out of the overall top 10, and placed it in the bottom 10 of countries where diet positively influences health. The United States is a land of plenty when it comes to cheap, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient food, and there's no shortage of expensive health food stores and restaurants, either. Still, options that are both healthy and affordable are more difficult to come by.

Oxfam policy adviser Max Lawson told NPR that the obesity and diabetes levels in the United States are largely driven by poverty, rather than excess. "Food is very, very cheap in the U.S., compared to most countries," he explains. "But the fact is you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don't have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price to make a balanced diet."

Federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP) and WIC, are our nation's best tools in making healthy food more accessible to everyone in the United States. Unfortunately, both programs have faced deep cuts and harmful changes over the last several months. Last week, a group of doctors warned members of Congress of the serious public health consequences that would accompany steep cuts to SNAP.

"If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition," Dr. Deborah Frank, of Boston Medical Center, told the Associated Press. "People don't make the hunger-health connection."

Even with such programs in place to help people afford healthier diets, benefits don't always stretch far for struggling families, and many people live in food deserts, without easy access to a grocery store. Despite these realities, Congress is still considering cuts to SNAP.

If you want to know if your members of Congress are voting in support of vital programs that keep people healthy and prevent them from going hungry, see Bread for the World's 2013 congressional scorecard. Also visit Bread for the World's action center to learn more about what you can do to ensure that everyone has access to enough healthy, nutritious food.

Unemployed Struggle As Congress Considers Reinstating Benefits

Reinhard-man-workingLast week, the Senate advanced a bipartisan bill to reinstate benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers, passing the first hurdle for an extension of federal emergency unemployment compensation. Although it is an important step in the right direction, those who have lost their unemployment benefits continue to struggle as Congress works to resolve the issue.

The seriousness of the situation was underscored in a pair of Huffington Post pieces this morning. In "Unemployment Cuts Leave Many With Bleak Options," those who lost their benefits in the new year spoke of their limited choices for staying afloat: retiring early, accruing crippling debt, leaning on family and friends, or hoping they can get by with help from other federal safety net programs, such as SNAP.

Stan Osnowitz, a 67-year-old Baltimore electrician who is currently unemployed, said that without his weekly $430 benefit, he no longer has enough money to put gas in his car, which has hampered his job search. At a time when there are still three applicants for every job opening in America, this is a huge blow. He is considering taking a low-wage job, or leaving the workforce altogether. "I have two choices," Osnowitz told Huffington Post. "I can take a job at McDonald's or something and give up everything I've studied and everything I've worked for and all the experience that I have. Or I can go to retirement."

In a Huffington Post op-ed piece, "Will the Real Unemployment Rate Please Stand Up?" economist Jared Bernstein says that the actual unemployment rate is higher than the 6.7 percent figure cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While he notes that the problem with the figure is secondary to problem of " joblessness for those looking for work and those who've given up for lack of opportunity," he also argues that the idea that the figure is lower than it actually is may lead some members of Congress to believe that they don't need to take action to extend unemployment insurance.

"It's as if your speedometer is off kilter such that when you're driving 40 mph it says 60 mph," he writes. "Under those conditions, you'd be likely to put on the brakes to slow down before you really wanted to."

But in reality, for those who rely on unemployment insurance to make ends meet until they are able to get back on their feet again, the matter couldn't be more urgent. And every additional week that Congress fails to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers continue to lose their benefits. “Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011,” Bread for the World President David Beckmann said in a recent statement.

While the Senate's vote to consider the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S.1845), is a victory, advocates must continue to pressure Congress to pass an unemployment insurance extension. Call or email your members of Congress today, and tell them to pass S.1845 immediately, and extend unemployment assistance without delay.

Photo: Construction workers experienced the highest percentage point increase in long-term unemployment during the recession. Read more how full employment is the first step to ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report (Rick Reinhard).

Keep Action on Unemployment Insurance Moving Until It Passes

Editor's Note:  The Senate passed the first hurdle for an emergency unemployment extension today by advancing a bipartisan bill to reinstate emergency unemployment benefits for 1.3 million unemployed workers. Read Bread for the World's press release:  "Bread for the World Applauds Senate Vote on Emergency Unemployment"

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Capitol building, Washington, D.C., (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).

By Eric Mitchell

This shouldn't continue another day! Emergency unemployment insurance expired Dec. 28. Congress is back and must extend these benefits immediately!

More than a million Americans were left out in the cold, dropped from their unemployment assistance just days after Christmas. Every additional week that Congress fails to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers continue to lose their benefits.

The economy is improving, but the job market is still tough. Even with recent economic growth, there are still 1.3 million fewer jobs than at the beginning of the Great Recession nearly 6 years ago. Nearly two-thirds of unemployed people have been looking for work for more than six months.

Don't let Congress leave unemployed workers who are struggling to find work out in the cold! Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators today! Make them hear this message loud and clear. Unemployment insurance helps people look for work, put food on the table, and keep their homes. It provides a sense of security during difficult and stressful times.

The Senate just took a major step in extending unemployment assistance by voting to consider S.1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act. Now, tell your members of Congress to pass that bill immediately.

Call or email your members of Congress today, and tell them to extend unemployment assistance without delay.

Eric Mitchell is director of government relations for Bread for the World

Don’t Leave Long-Term Unemployed Out in the Cold

Unemployment lineAs the news reports plummeting temperatures across the nation, another no less devastating yet human-made storm is wreaking havoc on the lives of 1.3 million Americans who lost a vital safety net last month. Congress failed to extend federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) as part of the budget deal, leaving the long-term jobless out in the cold.

This evening, the Senate is expected to vote on a three-month extension of emergency unemployment. On average, unemployed workers receive only $269 in federal emergency unemployment benefits a week. This covers less than half of a family's basic expenses for food, housing, and transportation as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the benefits give job seekers the help that allows them to spend their time and energy in finding employment.

Constituents like those of Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois are depending on Congress to act as they return to Washington, D.C., after the holidays. Illinois is one of the hardest-hit states with an estimated 80,000 affected by last month’s EUC expiration and more to come. Nationally, an estimated 1.9 million more Americans will lose benefits in the first half of 2014.

Unemployment has improved since peaking at 10 percent at the height of the Great Recession, but there are still three applicants for every job opening in America. In states like Illinois, which have seen less recovery in the job market, unemployment remains at 8.7 percent. Resident of Elgin, Ill., Lynn Richards told the Chicago Sun Times  before Christmas that she was laid off in April and hasn’t been able to find work, although she has been sending in many applications.

“I’ve been working since I was 20. I’ve never had this much trouble getting a job in my life,” Richards told the Sun Times.  “I’ve applied to like 200 places. I’ve gotten less than 10 calls and a couple of interviews.”

EUC has been a vital part of the safety net that has helped people like Richards pay rent and utilities and buy food as they look for employment. Keeping families from falling into deeper poverty is good for the nation. Besides an average of  $1.55 in economic stimulus created by every dollar of unemployment benefits received, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that allowing emergency unemployment benefits to expire will cost the economy 238,000 jobs. 

What the nation needs is jobs. Job seekers everywhere, but especially in states like Illinois and Nevada, where unemployment has stayed at record highs, are depending on Congress to help and not hinder their own efforts in finding work. As the Senate takes up debate and a test vote later this evening, anti-hunger advocates can urge Congress to do the right thing and pass a EUC extension. 

Call 800-826-3688 now or email your members of Congress today. Tell them to extend unemployment insurance immediately as their first action in 2014.

Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).

Staying Afloat in a Recovery

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For the 4.1 million long-term unemployed who are treading water in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the latest rounds of proposed cuts to SNAP (formerly food stamps) and the loss of emergency unemployment benefits could be the rock that sinks them.

Denise Acosta, a 36-year-old mother of four in Texas, is one of those people. Her story was reported in The Guardian this week. Acosta is among the nearly 4.1 million Americans who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. Although recent gains in employment indicate the economy is recovering, it’s not enough, and the long-term unemployed have not seen their circumstances improve.

Laid-off seven months ago as a healthcare administrator, Acosta struggles to feed her four children - a situation made worse by a cut to SNAP benefits in November.  “Acosta has learned to be creative,” reports The Guardian, “with the children's meals, with juggling bills, with trying to keep the kids from noticing the dwindling food on the table and in their schoolbags as her job search drags on.”

While looking for work, SNAP has helped millions of families stave off hunger. Congress will return in January to take up the farm bill, and a proposal to slash the nutrition assistance program by nearly $40 billion more is on the table. “That would make it really difficult for people who struggle to find work like me to get back on their feet,” Acosta told The Guardian.

The struggle to stay afloat is likely to get more difficult as long-term unemployment benefits expire next week for 1.3 million unemployed. The benefits were not extended as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

Congress allowed benefits to expire despite the fact that unemployment remains 44 percent higher than it was at the start of the recession and nearly 30 percent higher than when the federal emergency unemployment compensation program was enacted. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.

Investing in jobs that pay a living wage and getting people back to work instead of removing assistance makes more economic sense. A study by Rutgers University showed that individuals receiving unemployment benefits do more to find a job than unemployed workers not receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Recipients of UI spend more time seeking work and look at more job postings.

Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011. Further, UI has acted a stimulus to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) consistently ranks unemployment insurance as one of the most effective ways to generate economic growth and create jobs. Out of 11 different policies to boost economic growth and employment, the CBO rated UI as number one.

Many Americans like Acosta, who saw their jobs vanish during the recession, need a lifeline to shore and not an anchor in poverty.

During the holiday recess you can still write or email your senators and representative. Urge them to pass a farm bill that protects SNAP and extend unemployment benefits immediately upon returning in the new year.

Waiting for the 8th: Family Feels the Sting of Recent SNAP Cuts

Food_distrubutionMuch has been written about the Nov. 1 cuts to food stamps (SNAP), and how the abrupt reduction in benefits has affected struggling families across the country. But few articles have been as moving as the Washington Post's "Waiting for the 8th," a profile of Raphael Richmond, a Washington D.C.-area mother who is attempting to feed herself and her children in the wake of the biggest cut to the food stamp program in 50 years.

The reporter follows Richmond, and her daughter Tiara, to a local food pantry. Since the cuts took effect, the family members have compiled a list of various food giveaways around the city, visiting those places to help them stretch their SNAP dollars. The service providers, as valuable as they are, clearly are having difficulty meeting the increased demand. This is most evident during Richmond’s visit to Bread for the City, a wonderful D.C.-based non-profit that helps provide food, medical care, and other vital services to vulnerable populations.

They walked into Bread for the City, where 40 people were crowded into the waiting room, and where the food line was a steady procession toward disappointment."No more deer meat," read one sign. "Pick a holiday bag OR a regular bag. You cannot receive both," read the next. "Only one visit per month," read another. "Food is intended to last for three days," read the last notice, right by the counter, where Raphael handed over her number to a volunteer and waited for her bag of food."

"Thank you," she said when the bag came back three minutes later, filled with turkey, applesauce, yams and five cans of greens. Raphael turned away from the counter, doing the math in her head.

"So that's three days," she said to Tiara on their way out the door. "What are we supposed to do about the rest?"

Charity alone can’t feed everyone who’s hungry. Churches, food banks, and private food charities have all been stretched thin by our economic downturn—food bank demand has increased nearly 50 percent since 2006. The role of federal nutrition programs, including SNAP, is more crucial than ever.

Congress will soon leave town for the year without passing a new farm bill, which determines funding levels for SNAP. We ask that you continue to pray for hungry families and urge members of Congress to protect SNAP.

Photo: People in Baltimore, Md., line up to receive donated food (Mark Fenton).

Bread with Your Coffee, Senator?

'Coffee' photo (c) 2012, Steven Lilley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/This is a story of how Bread for the World advocacy methods work. The elements of our story include a Republican senator, a barista, prayer, worship, an Offering of Letters, and a wealthy fundraiser, but this isn't a tale of inside-the-Beltway intrigue.

The senator is Dr. John Barrasso of Wyoming. He is not an ordinary senator, but he is chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC) and fourth ranking member of Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate. The RPC advances Republican policies by providing positions on legislation, floor debate, and votes.

The barista is Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus of First Church of the Nazarene in Casper, Wyo. She was a barista at a Starbucks in Casper frequented by Sen. Barrasso and his wife, Bobbi.

In summer 2012, Hugus came to Washington, D.C., for training as one of Bread for the World's Hunger Justice Leaders. On Lobby Day during the event, she paid a visit to Sen. Barrasso's office on Capitol Hill. Nervously, she introduced herself as his barista in Casper. He then offered her coffee, apologizing that it was not as good as the one she brews for her.

"What others might consider ironic, I consider the imaginative humor of our Creator-God. I had travelled all the way from serving coffee to Sen. Barrasso in our Wyoming hometown to being served coffee by the senator in his office of power in Washington, D.C.," she writes on Bread Blog. "As I shared my story with Sen. Barrasso and used my voice to ask that he consider poor and hungry people while making vital legislative decisions, my jitters were swept away by God's spirit."

In October of this year, a group of ten churches in St. Louis all wrote letters about hunger and the budget debate to their members of Congress. They brought all of their letters to an event where Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, preached. They offered the letters up to God before sending them off to Washington, D.C.

After the event, a leader of one of the churches, Roy Pfautch, approached Beckmann to set up meetings for him with several senators, including Sen. Barasso. Pfaustch contributes and raises money for Republican politicians.

Upon returning to Washington, Beckmann almost immediately got an appointment to meet with Sen. Barrasso.  The senator told Beckmann right away that he knows all about Bread for the World. 

"I went to church in Casper last Sunday, and the preacher was Libby Tedder Hugus," Sen. Barrasso recounted. "She got everybody in churches to write letters to their members of Congress about hunger and poverty. She didn't see me in the back of the church, but the senior pastor did, and he said, 'You know, I think we could save some money on stamps here.'"

In their meeting, Beckmann and Barrasso focused specifically on food stamps and international food aid. Beckmann said Bread is working for reforms in international food aid that would allow the United States to help an additional 2 to 4 million of the world's most desperate people every year at no additional cost — mainly by buying more of the food from local farmers. 

Sen. Barrasso was already convinced that reform would be good policy. He was, however, against it because of a sense that Wyoming farmers would be against it.

"Overall, I think Senator Barrasso changed his judgment about the politics around this issue," said Beckmann. "All because Roy Pfautch used a chit to set up the meeting and, even more, because of Libby Tedder Hugus' activism and the constituents' concern about hungry people that he experienced at that church in Casper."

It's proof that Bread-style advocacy can work — or that God can work among us in surprising but wonderful ways.

WATCH: Pope Francis' Message for Dec. 10 Prayer Wave

Today, Pope Francis issued a video message in support of the Dec. 10 "wave of prayer" to end global hunger.

Caritas Internationalis is calling on people around the world to pray tomorrow, at noon local time. This prayer wave across time zones will mark the beginning of a campaign for Roman Catholic-related charities, called "One Human Family, Food for All." In his video, Pope Francis gave his the campaign his blessing and said that people across the globe must come together to end the scourge of hunger. 

“I invite all the institutions of the world, the church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a road which can shake the world," the pope says in the video.

Members of the Circle of Protection, and other faith leaders, will participate in the prayer wave tomorrow by holding a prayer service at the U.S. Capitol (Room H-137) at 12 noon ET.  For those outside of the Washington, D.C.-area, join other Christians and people of other faiths by taking a moment to pray tomorrow at noon, your local time. Visit bread.org/prayerwave for more information and prayer resources.

Rev. David Beckmann Joins Fasts for Families

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Rev. David Beckmann talks to a Fast for Families activist on Dec. 5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Allie Gardner  

Today, in a small tent on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann prayed and fasted with a group of Fast for Families advocates.

Fast for Families is an effort, by faith, immigrant rights, and labor leaders, to move Congress to pass compassionate immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Some of the participants have been fasting since the campaign launched on Nov. 12, while others have chosen to fast for shorter periods of time—one week, one day, or one meal. The fasters have received an outpouring of support: both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have visited the tent, as have several members of Congress.

Beckmann is fasting today, and during his time with the other Fast for Families activists, he talked about the importance of working together to achieve immigration reform. “Immigration reform will allow people to work their way out of poverty,” Beckmann said.  He later added that “immigration is part of the great exodus from poverty that is going on today,” and said that nations with comprehensive immigration policies have been able to more efficiently combat poverty than the United States. 

Granting legal status or citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States will reduce poverty by giving them access to additional education and employment opportunities. Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform would not only decrease poverty levels, but boost the strength of the U.S. economy.

In the Fast for Families tent, the group’s organizers said that they normally ask a few things of those who visit their site. First, they ask that people fast. Whether it’s for one meal or one day, there is power in standing in solidarity with those who regularly go hungry. Second, they ask that all visitors take action. Taking action can take a variety of forms—sharing your story, contacting members of Congress, or supporting immigration reform campaigns with your time or monetary gifts. Finally, the group asks that everyone pray. Prayer is powerful, and Scripture tell us that people who come together in prayer can achieve amazing things. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  (Bread for the World is hosting evening prayers at the tent on Wednesday, Dec. 11.)

We ask that you join us in fasting, taking action, and praying. If you're able, please sign up to fast, participate in an action in your area, and be sure to contact your representative and tell him or her that it's time for the House of Representatives to move immigration reform forward.

Allie Gardner is a media intern at Bread for the World.

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