459 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"
A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)
by Donna Pususta Neste
One of the problems with hunger is that it’s often hidden or invisible all together, so it can be easy to deny or ignore. Another social problem—homelessness—is more apparent, but often the two go together. Take away one, and you still might have the other.
During the winter season a few years ago, when I was working as the neighborhood ministries coordinator for an inner-city church, I was picking up one of the youth participants of our afterschool program from a shelter. By springtime, his family was able to rent an apartment in the same neighborhood in which they lived before they were homeless. I wanted to think of this as a success story. However, since his family moved out of the shelter, almost every time I picked him up, he complained of being hungry. The family solved the problem of their homelessness, only to encounter the new problem of not enough money to buy food after paying the rent.
One afternoon early into the summer program, the kids were working on an indoor project. This boy again complained of being hungry. I ran upstairs to a small kitchen used by the staff to retrieve a plastic bag containing 10 hardboiled eggs. They were given to me after one of the church’s community meals, and I put them in the refrigerator for anyone to eat. I came back to the work area with the eggs along with some forgotten cinnamon buns. This little boy ate four eggs in a row and a few of the buns. I sent the rest of the food home with him. I used to drop him off last so that I could go into the church and find some food to send home. There was always something left over from a meeting or community meal.
On one of those days, I began to think that maybe he was just not liking what he was given to eat at home, but I responded to his complaints despite my misgivings. Before dropping him off I ran into the church and came back to the car with a to-go box with 15 hot dogs left over from the latest community meal. My feelings of being “played” immediately dissipated when I watched him tear into the box and quickly eat one of the hot dogs cold.
Even people like me who work or once worked close to the bone of poverty are sometimes in denial about hunger in the United States. It’s hard to see the face of hunger in a nation that seems to parade affluence and well-being every place we go. If we can’t see it, then perhaps others, like our legislators, might miss it as well. So that’s why one thing we can do—those of us who are close to the problem or are aware of it because of our work or faith—is to speak up about it. By telling elected officials where hunger exists and how deep it is, we can make it visible. Make a point to speak to your current or potential members of Congress about hunger now—during their campaigns for office. Maybe their eyes will be opened to what is already there.
Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member and former coordinator of Neighborhood Ministries in Minneapolis.
by Beth DeHaven
Note: While Bread for the World engages in advocacy at the federal level, many Bread activists are also involved in efforts to fight hunger at the state government level. Here’s one story.
On June 20, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill that will help hundreds of hungry people across the state. Senate Bill 680 lifts the lifetime SNAP (formerly food stamps) ban for drug felonies, which is a recommendation of Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, and opens the way for a pilot program making it easier for SNAP recipients to purchase fresh food at farmers markets. The Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW) and other faith and justice groups have worked diligently for years to end the ban on SNAP, and the Bread for the World Team in Springfield, Mo., played a part in this success. (See Bread's interview from last year with MASW's executive director.)
For many years, members of Springfield Bread Team have sponsored annual Offerings of Letters in the area's churches, visited the local offices of their representatives in Congress, and traveled to Washington, D.C., for Bread's annual Lobby Day. Team members have hosted informational and letter-writing tables at local events like CROP Walks, Food Day, denominational gatherings, and alternative gift markets. The team has also learned more about hunger issues at its monthly meetings by discussing books like Exodus from Hunger and Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, and the team has hosted screenings and discussions of the film "A Place at the Table." The team even put together a "Hunger Games" interactive event, complete with costumes and games, followed by discussion about the reality of hunger affecting poor people in our world today.
About a year ago, the team came to realize that in order to more fully live out Bread's vision of ending hunger, it also need to join forces with advocacy groups fighting hunger and poverty in Missouri. At that time, many team members did not even know the names of their state representatives. Through further research, the team learned that MASW was a well-established and effective state advocacy group and that it has a hunger task force, which the team decided to join.
This year, with support from Bread's regional organizer, the team has worked closely with MASW to advocate for lifting the SNAP ban for drug felonies and also for expanding Medicaid. On April 23, the team traveled to the state capital to participate in a lobby day. Each team member met personally with his or her state senator and representative on these issues. The team even visited the office of the Speaker of the House to urge him to assign SB 680 (the SNAP bill) to committee.
Efforts to expand Medicaid in Missouri have not been successful yet, but the team will continue to work with MASW on the issue in the year ahead. The team has also signed on as an endorsing organization of the Missouri Health Care for All movement, and members have met with the movement's statewide grassroots organizer to begin planning an educational forum to be held in Springfield in September.
The Springfield team is excited to continue advancing Bread's policy-change agenda and strengthening its partnership with advocacy organizations in Missouri. Hunger is a complex problem, but through collaboration and by addressing related issues like health care, the team believes it can do more to end it.
Beth DeHaven is a leader on the Bread for the World team in Springfield, Mo.
This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.
by Eric Mitchell
We need to move past the Great Recession of 2008. But for families that are still unable to regularly put food on the table, how can they? The recession caused the number of families at risk of hunger to increase by more than 30 percent! But because of anti-hunger programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), we haven’t seen that number go up any higher since then. Unfortunately, despite (slight) improvements, nearly 1 in 6 Americans (49 million) were still struggling to put food on the table in 2013.
In recent years, the 10 hungriest states (see chart below) have seen no relief. Since 2001, the percent of households struggling to access food has increased in all 10 of these states. The economy is improving but not fast enough for many Americans who are struggling to feed their families. In 2013, more than 45 million Americans still lived in poverty.
Statistics alone do not tell the full story. Hunger and poverty impacts the lives of children, older Americans, veterans, and the disabled especially hard. (See state fact sheets, which you can link to in the chart above.) In states with the highest rates of poverty and food insecurity, it’s even worse. For example, in Mississippi, 24 percent of people live below the poverty line, including a staggering 1 in 3 children. In Arkansas, more than 1 in 5 Americans are at risk of hunger. People are hurting.
Americans At Risk of Hunger
Nearly 1 in 6 Americans (49 million) were still struggling to put food on the table in 2013.
You would think these staggeringly high numbers would propel these congressional delegations to do something, fueled by an outrage over the conditions of poverty and hunger in their own states. But that’s not necessarily true. Many have actually voted for proposals that would have made conditions worse. Take this example: In 2013, 217 members of the House of Representatives voted to cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion. Fortunately, this proposal did not make it into through Congress. But if it had, 2 million people would have been kicked off of SNAP, and the number of families at risk of hunger in the 10 hungriest states would have gone up even further.
A job used to be a safeguard against poverty and empty stomachs. That’s no longer true. People who receive SNAP also work. But people are working harder while earning less. Since 2009, most middle- and low-income workers have seen their wages go down. The bottom 60 percent of workers have seen their income decrease by 4 to 6 percent. Meanwhile, Congress has yet to pass legislation that raises the minimum wage. Such action would help lift many Americans out of poverty.
To truly end hunger in the United States, we must demand federal policies that boost our economy and ensure a strong safety-net for those in need. That’s why our political leaders must make this a national priority. See how hunger and poverty are affecting the 10 hungriest and poorest states. Then, judge your member’s commitment to ending hunger and poverty. See for yourself if their votes help or hurt those caught in a tough place.
10 Hungriest States
10 Highest Poverty States
(Links in the chart above are for fact sheets on those states produced by Bread for the World.)
Faith by itself is not enough. It is also important to take action. We do this by holding our elected officials accountable. Each member’s vote counts. Maybe your representative cast a critical vote that blocked SNAP cuts, or maybe your member’s votes are contributing to these startling statistics. Find out and take action. During this campaign season, remind congressional candidates that we need a Congress that is serious about ending hunger and poverty.
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
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:
- Mississippi, with a poverty rate of 22.5 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.1 percent.
- New Mexico, with a poverty rate of 21.7 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 13.2 percent.
- Arizona, with a poverty rate of 20.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 21.2 percent.
- Kentucky, with a poverty rate of 20 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.4 percent.
- Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 19.2 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.5 percent.
- North Carolina, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.3 percent.
- Tennessee, with a poverty rate of 18.1 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 17.4 percent.
- Nevada, with a poverty rate of 17.4 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 16.2 percent.
- West Virginia, with a poverty rate of 17.3 percent and a food-insecurity rate of 14.4 percent.
- 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.
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.
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.
Donna Pususta Neste is a Bread for the World board member from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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.
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.
President, Bread for the World
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.
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