Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

438 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

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.

Join Us This Afternoon for a Twitter Chat on Hunger

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Nadine Blackwell, who is featured in the 2014 Hunger Report, surveys the contents of her refrigerator (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World).
 
Fifty million people in the United States—including one in four children—struggle with hunger every day. But ending hunger in this country is possible. "If we decided we really wanted to do it, we could wake up one morning in 2030 and be living in a country where hunger is rare and temporary, not the shared experience of millions of Americans that it is in 2014," reads the opening line of Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America.
 
Today at 4 p.m. ET, Upworthy and Take Part will host an important #UpChat on Twitter to discuss hunger in America, and solutions to the problem. Bread for the World and Bread for the World Institute are participating in the chat, as are chef Tom Colicchio, director Lori Silverbush, co-creator of the film A Place at the Table, and, hopefully, you.
 
Join in the conversation by following the hashtag #UpChat from your Twitter account beginning at 4 p.m. Ask questions, talk about your personal experiences, and trade information and solutions. 
 
To learn more about hunger in America—and how we can end it in our lifetimes—be sure to watch the documentary A Place at the Table, and read the 2014 Hunger Report.

Food Cannot Be Held Hostage

By Fito Moreno

Last Tuesday, 40 children at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City had their lunches snatched from them and thrown in the garbage. Let me repeat that, so the significance of this sinks in: 40 children were sitting in their school cafeteria, eating with their friends, when cafeteria workers came to their tables, picked up their food, and tossed it all into the trash.

These kids were subjected to this humiliation because a school employee wanted to make a statement about the outstanding balances on their lunch accounts. The school's child-nutrition manager decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue—the child-nutrition manager, a person whose job it is to ensure schoolchildren receive proper nutrition, thought it acceptable to take food away from children in order to make a point to their parents.

I grew up straddling the lines between poor and lower-middle class. Most of my friends were in the same situation. Though we would horse around and play pranks on each other, we made a pact that we would never play pranks using food, because food was sacred and expensive. Our parents taught us that.

In Washington, D.C., where I grew up,  getting a good education meant either living in an affluent area, or going to a private school. My parents managed to scrape together enough cash to send me and my sister to Sacred Heart, a local private school that helped children from low-income families. I remember many kids there being in similar economic situations. Sometimes kids would “forget” their lunches, which was the code for their family not having enough. When this happened, teachers would tell everyone to share their meals with those who hadn't brought anything to eat. I had always assumed this was the norm.

When I first read the article about Uintah Elementary, I thought it must’ve been from a satirical publication, like the Onion—no school system would ever literally take food away from children, right? Sadly, I was wrong.    

The sad lesson that the children learn from this is that food is a privilege, not a right. The children were given milk and a piece of fruit after their food was thrown into the garbage, which sends the message that only people with money deserve to eat real meals. This is unacceptable.

I understand that debts must be paid, but food cannot be taken out of the hands of children. Meals cannot be held hostage. I felt disgusted when I read that this happened in an elementary school, and I feel the same way when I see it in Congress, as I watch politicians hold hostage programs that help poor and hungry people. It is up to us to let our school systems and politicians know that food can never be held hostage, and we must always share with those who don’t have enough.  

Fito Moreno is Bread for the World's media relations specialist.

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"

Capitol
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).

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