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376 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"
2013 will be a year of reflection on a number of significant events in our nation’s history.
Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King was arrested and wrote his seminal work “Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
Fifty years ago, Eugene “Bull” Connor used fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators prompting people to have a change of heart about civil rights because of the brutality that was seen on TV.
Fifty years ago, Medgar Evers, whose wife will give the invocation at the inauguration of President Barack Obama today, was murdered just outside his home.
Fifty years ago, 250,000 people were inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
Fifty years ago, four young girls (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins) were killed when a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
This year not only marks the 50 year anniversary of all of those events, but the 150th anniversary of one of the most significant events in this country's history. On Jan. 1, 1863 , another soon-to-be-assassinated president signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery. Each year, in thousands of African-American churches across the nation, we still celebrate “Watch Meeting Night” as a way to commemorate that day.
On that day in 1863, one old lady said, upon hearing the news, said “Mr. Lincoln signed the papers, but it was God that set us free.” Given the state of our nation and world 150 years later, the question becomes, free to do what?
Despite the incredible strides African-Americans have made, we continue to suffer disproportionately from hunger, poverty, unemployment, and income and education disparities. When compared with the U.S. population as a whole, we are more likely to be poor and more likely to go hungry. According to U.S. Census bureau figures, more than one in four African-Americans lived in poverty in 2010. And one in four African-American households struggled to put food on the table.
Today, we celebrate not only the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the second inauguration of the President Barack Obama. It is a time to rejoice, but also a time to pray for the president, and also ask him to set a goal and work with Congress on a plan to end hunger. Perhaps, in another 50 years, when we look back on 2013 we'll remember it as the year that marked the beginning of the end of hunger.
Bishop Don DiXon Williams is racial/ethnic outreach associate at Bread for the World and sits on the board of bishops of the United Church of Jesus Christ, Baltimore, Md.
Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. leaning on a lectern (1964). From the United States Library of Congress's prints and photographs division, through Wikimedia Commons.
The 112th Congress (Jan. 3, 2011 – Jan. 3, 2013) could very well be the most unproductive in our nation's history. It was characterized by deficit reduction drama and political brinkmanship – often aimed at cutting programs vital to hungry and poor people.
In the end, persistent advocacy by Bread for the World members, our partner organizations, and other people of faith resulted in reducing our deficit by more than $2 trillion over the next ten years. The White House and the 112th Congress managed to do this without substantial cuts to programs vital to those whom Jesus called "the least of these."
A Circle of Protection Was Created in 2011 in Response to Threats to Vital Programs
It became clear toward the end of 2010 that we were in for a bruising battle during the 112th Congress. Thus, we spent most of our time in 2011 and 2012 defending programs vital to hungry and poor people from unprecedented attacks in Congress. Although our 2011 Offering of Letters focused on reforming foreign aid, we quickly expanded it to protect domestic and international programs vital to vulnerable people.
We worked with other faith organizations to create a Circle of Protection around these programs and to amplify the voice of the faith community in the deficit reduction discussions.
The extent of the attacks became evident when Congress passed a bill covering the FY 2011 budget, which cut poverty-focused development assistance programs and WIC. The budget was eventually enacted (Pub. L. 112-10, the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011) with a few hours to spare before the government would have shut down in April 2011.
Deficit reduction negotiations continued as the country moved closer to reaching our credit limit, or debt ceiling, in August. Congress eventually passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (Pub.L. 112-25). It established a super committee to deal with further deficit reductions. Should the committee fail, across-the-board cuts would be triggered. However, the cuts, or sequester, exempted the biggest anti-poverty programs — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), tax credits for the working poor, Medicaid, and child nutrition programs.
Deficit Reduction Plans in 2012 Propose Severe Cuts to Programs that Help Poor People
The super committee failed to reach an agreement and 2012 opened with Congress vowing to work toward deficit reduction and avoid the sequester.
Our 2012 Offering of Letters focused on expanding the circle of protection around such anti-poverty programs. By then, we also learned that in order to cope with these unprecedented attacks, we had to change the way we campaigned. Instead of focusing on a single issue, we worked on four different issues under a broad campaign theme.
In March, the Republican-led House passed its FY 2013 budget. Had this passed Congress, the proposed cuts would have been so severe that most of the government—aside from health care, Social Security, and defense—would cease to exist by 2050. In fact, 62 percent of the cuts in this budget are to programs vital to poor people.
Added to the mix during deficit reduction discussions was the reauthorization of the farm bill. Both the Senate and House proposed cuts, with the House version of the bill including $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP over ten years—$12 billion more than the cuts proposed in the Senate version. As many as 3 million people would have been cut out of SNAP and 280,000 children would have lost school meals. Both bills would have reduced agriculture and nutrition spending over the next ten years.
A Few Signs of Hope in 2012
During the presidential elections of 2012 the Circle of Protection asked the Republican and Democratic candidates to issue video statements on how they would end hunger. In the fall, both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney released statements committing to addressing hunger and poverty. We were able to use these statements to draw attention to the issues.
It is worth noting that before the year ended, outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) introduced his rewrite of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act, the Global Partnership Act. Also, the House unanimously consented to approve the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 to improve the efficiency of U.S. foreign aid. While these bills did not pass, we remain optimistic that similar bills will pass in the 113th Congress.
Congress and the President Avoided the Most Harmful Scenario at the Fiscal Cliff
All the issues that we persistently advocated for during the 112th Congress were dramatically resolved a few hours before we reached the fiscal cliff at the end of December 2012.
President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act to prevent the most economically harmful portions of the fiscal cliff from taking effect. The deal minimizes the negative impact of the fiscal cliff on hungry and poor people and generates about $620 billion towards deficit reduction over the next ten years.
The deal prevents most Americans from seeing an immediate tax rate increase and extends emergency unemployment insurance through 2013. It also extends the current Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) benefit levels for five years.
It postpones for two months the across-the-board cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Most provisions of the 2008 farm bill were extended through Sept. 30 2013, avoiding immediate cuts to SNAP benefit levels or changes in eligibility standards.
On the international side, the temporary extension of the 2008 farm bill authorizes funding for both the McGovern-Dole International Food Program, used for school feeding programs for poor children abroad, and the Food for Peace Program, which allows the United States to respond to disaster with needed food aid.
Ultimately, the American Taxpayer Relief Act raises revenues, helps reduce the deficit, and supports initiatives that lift people out of poverty.
Thank You for Your Advocacy and Prayers
Despite many challenges, 2012 ended on a positive note for us, with many important anti-poverty programs being protected from harmful and disproportionate cuts. Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC were not cut. Many tax credits that help people lift themselves out of poverty were extended. Most critically, the worst effects of the fiscal cliff were avoided.
And for all of this, we are thankful to you, our members, our activists, our donors, and our partners. As the 113th Congress begins its work we pray that it will be more productive than the 112th Congress in protecting programs vital to hungry and poor people, wherever they may be.
This article originally appeared in the Jan./Feb. edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.
From the soundproof room in our D.C. office, Bread experts update grassroots activists and answer questions. Pictured (l to r): LaVida Davis, director of organizing; Marion Jasin, organizing assistant; Eric Mitchell, director of government relations; Christine Melendez-Ashley, policy analyst. (Robin Stephenson)
By Robin Stephenson
"The fight is not over," said director of organizing LaVida Davis during the most recent Bread for the World national grassroots webinar and conference call. "The fiscal cliff is part of a longer conversation. [Members of Congress] still really need to hear from us.”
On the third Tuesday of each month, Davis and Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, along with other expert staff, gather around a phone to give you the most up-to-date information about our work and answer any questions you may have. The conference calls, which also have a webinar component, give our members direct access to our government relations staff. These are the members of Bread's staff who spend many of their afternoons in the offices of your members of Congress and know the ins and outs of the policy behind each of our campaign priorities.
At Bread, we know that every advocate accesses information differently, so we offer a variety of ways in which our grassroots can stay informed. When Congress is in session, we publish written legislative updates on this blog, we send out monthly newsletters, and, of course, our regional organizers are always available to help you plan local actions and answer your questions. The conference calls are yet another tool the you, as an advocate, can use to prepare for action.
During the most recent call, held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, one caller who identified herself as Joanne wanted to know how school lunches fared in the recent “fiscal cliff” bill passed by Congress on Jan. 1. Ready to answer her question on the other side of the phone was Bread’s domestic nutrition policy expert, Christine Melendez-Ashley. She told Joanne that the school lunch program was not affected and that the sequester (or automatic cuts) scheduled for March 1 would not impact the nutrition program either, because it is one of the programs exempt from these across the board cuts.
Melendez-Ashley said that if the sequester is not averted it will affect discretionary programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Both of those programs are part of our 2012 Offering of Letters Campaign and are critically important to hungry and poor people.
She emphasized during the call that funding for WIC and PFDA is especially vulnerable because they are categorized as discretionary, meaning Congress must appropriate funds to pay for the program each year. Mandatory programs are not subject to across the board cuts—the spending levels for these programs are determined each year by the number of eligible participants.
The August 2011 Budget Control Act put spending caps on discretionary programs over 10 years and Congress must decide which programs will see decreased funding as they work through the appropriations process each year. The fiscal cliff bill further lowered those spending caps for the next two years as a way to delay the sequester. Sending Congress a message that these programs need a circle of protection is as critical now as it ever was.
Eric Mitchell cautioned that another perfect storm is brewing, and referred to the events coming down the pike as "March Madness." Between the debt ceiling (scheduled to hit between mid-February and March), the scheduled sequester (March 1), and the expiration of the 2013 continuing resolution (March 27), members of Congress have a lot of decisions to make in less than 60 days.
Mitchell said it is a good time to thank our members of Congress who voted for the fiscal cliff bill— if the bill had not been enacted, poor and hungry people would've suffered dire consequences. The bill extended refundable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for five years. Although the credits were not made permanent, this is a huge victory.
“Now through March 1 is critical," said Mitchell. “We urge you to also ask [members of Congress] not to politicize the debt ceiling debate. We want them to take a thoughtful, balanced approach that protects poor and hungry people.”To find out the next chapter of budget negotiations, ask tough questions of the experts, and hear how you can influence your policy makers to protect vital programs, call in to our next grassroots webinar and conference call on Feb 19. We will be waiting for you on the other side of the phone.
National grassroots conference calls and webinars are held on the third Tuesday of every month. These calls will take place at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST (Please adjust time zones accordingly). To register, visit www.bread.org/events.
We have avoided the fiscal cliff, but we still have mountains to scale. We continue to advocate for programs that help poor as Congress continues tough budget negotiations.
Bread members have been essential in protecting tax credits for low-income families, domestic nutrition programs, and poverty-focused development assistance. However, several key actions by Congress over the next couple of months will again place such vital programs at risk. We encourage you to continue contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you want them to create a circle of protection around these programs. Soon Congress will begin negotiations to replace the sequester (automatic, across-the-board cuts) by March 1 and raise the debt ceiling by at least $1 trillion. The continuing resolution that extended the fiscal year 2013 budget and kept the government funded expires March 27. These events could be accompanied by significant spending cuts. We need you to keep reminding our legislators that they must not balance the budget on the backs of poor and hungry people.
We continue to message members of Congress as part of the 2012 Offering of Letters. Below is an updated sample letter to use when contacting your senators and representative. We will launch Bread for the World's 2013 Offering of Letters, “A Place at the Table,” on March 1, and will keep you apprised of any changes or developments on the Bread Blog. We encourage you and members of your community or congregation to personalize your letters to Congress.
Dear Sen. ____________ or Rep. ____________,
Please prioritize hungry and poor people during the next round of budget negotiations. Over the next two months, your leadership is critical, especially as Congress looks to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget, address sequestration, and raise the debt ceiling.
Specifically, I urge you to ensure adequate funding for programs that address hunger and help people move out of poverty. This will require additional revenues to address our deficits.
I appreciate Congress enacting the American Taxpayer Relief Act. The bill raises revenue for the first time in years, while also extending the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of America’s most effective anti-poverty programs. This bill also largely protects important anti-poverty programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, and international food aid, from major cuts. But the work is not over. Although this fiscal cliff deal is a tremendous first step, more needs to be done to address our country’s long-term fiscal health and ensure funding for programs that fight hunger and lift people out of poverty. I am concerned about the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take place if Congress does not develop a more comprehensive deficit-reduction package. I encourage Congress to balance responsible spending cuts with new revenues in order to address the country's long-term deficits without jeopardizing our nation's commitment to alleviating hunger and poverty.
Allowing these across-the-board cuts will hurt programs such as international poverty-focused development assistance and WIC. Cuts to some international development programs would deny life-saving nutrition to some of the poorest nations, while cuts to WIC could hurt hundreds of thousands of poor mothers and young children in the United States.
Our budget choices must not hurt those Jesus called “the least of these.” I urge you to form a circle of protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people. May God continue to bless you and your work.
[City, State ZIP]
Photo: A college group writes letters to Congress. (Bread for the World)
Thank you for your extra generosity at the end of the year! Because of gifts from you and other Bread members, we were able to reach and exceed our $100,000 online goal between December 20 and 31, raising more than $120,000. This means that $100,000 of the total will be matched dollar for dollar by several generous Bread donors, bringing our grand total raised to $220,000!
Bread for the World continues to be blessed by the giving spirit of our members. You make our work on behalf of hungry and poor people possible. It is because of you that we’ve been able to make lasting changes that ensure parents are able to feed their children—like the recent extensions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, both of which provide support to low-income working families.
Your support makes a huge difference for hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad. We are truly grateful for your partnership in our work to help end hunger. Thank you!
[UPDATE, 11 p.m. The fiscal cliff bill has passed the House by a vote of 257 to 167 and is expected to be signed by the president soon. Thanks to all those who prayed and advocated for programs that help hungry people. While this is not a perfect deal, and does not fully address our long term fiscal outlook, it is an important first step. We believe that the revenues raised will help reduce the deficit and support initiatives that lift people out of poverty.]
By Eric MitchellYour calls over the past few weeks have been working. Senate leadership and the administration produced a deal that reduces the economic risk of the fiscal cliff and largely protects hungry and poor people.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed the deal 89-8, but its fate in the House is uncertain.
Specifically, the bill accomplishes the following:
- Extends the current Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit benefit levels for five years, including the 2009 improvements. This is something Bread for the World has been pushing for over the past three years and represents an enormous victory.
- Extends emergency unemployment benefits for one year, preventing 2 million people from losing unemployment benefits just one week after Christmas.
The deal postpones for two months the "sequester" (across-the-board cuts) that was mandated by the Budget Control Act last year. The sequester would cut some anti-poverty programs. Cuts to some international development programs would literally cost lives. But some of the biggest anti-poverty programs—including SNAP ( formerly food stamps), child nutrition programs, tax credits for poor working families, and Medicaid—are exempted from sequestration. Bread for the World will be working in the coming months on a more thoughtful approach to spending cuts and protecting poverty-focused international development assistance and WIC.
While this deal isn’t perfect, it will reduce the risk of recession and higher unemployment. It also includes important benefits to hungry and poor people.
Use our toll-free number (1-800-826-3688) to urge your members of Congress to pass the deal.
In these critical times, we also ask that you pray for the president and Congress. Pray that God will give them wisdom, a spirit of concord, and a shared sense of responsibility for hungry and poor people here and abroad.
Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.
[While all eyes are focused on the fiscal cliff, we are pleased to inform you that the House has passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012. This bill helps to ensure that our foreign assistance efforts are more efficient and more effective in reaching our brothers and sisters abroad. The Senate also seems likely to pass it this week. We have been pushing for foreign assistance reform legislation for the past three years.]
Bread for the World organizer Larry Hollar answers questions as Bread advocates prepare to meet their members of Congress at the 2011 Bread for the World Lobby Day. Thousands of citizen advocates provide the support for Bread's campaign to end hunger. Photo by Jim Stipe
By Larry Hollar
Looking back at the past year and forward to the year ahead, I’m reminded that the prayers and spiritual support Bread for the World receives are vital to our perseverance and strength.
As a Bread organizer, I am privileged to work with churches, campuses, and allies of all types in the Northeast. My role is to offer tools, encouragement, and up-to-date information and advice so our grassroots activists feel prepared to invite others to advocate to our nation’s leader on hunger issues.
It’s joyous work—and exhausting. Weariness comes not just because I have a large territory to cover, but because the political process these days is challenging and the issues we work on are often complicated. Sometimes I need to hear good news again and find a spiritual center to sustain me, so I can keep serving our members and leaders well.
That’s why getting this heartening letter recently from one of our most active Bread churches in the Philadelphia area meant so much to me:
Greetings from the Wayne Presbyterian Church! Each week during our Sunday services we select particular mission partners and pray for you and the work you do. The persons who sign this letter want to offer a word of encouragement and thank you for your dedication to the cause of Jesus Christ and the work of God’s kingdom and to let you know that we are also praying for your health and safety.
Our love and prayers are with you in a special way this day. We also offer a word of blessing from the Book of Jude: "To those who have been called by God, who live in the love of God the Father and the protection of Jesus Christ; may mercy, peace, and love be yours in full measure."
The letter, dated Dec.16, 2012, was then personally signed by more than 100 parishioners at Wayne Presbyterian. It reminded me that I am not alone—that I’m buoyed in my work by those who write their letters to Congress, give generously to help Bread financially, and also take time to pray for all of us in the Bread movement, including staff members like me.
Thank you, brothers and sisters at Wayne, for lifting my spirits and giving me heart today.
- Action: As 2012 comes to a close, we value your prayers for the Bread for the World and your generous financial support to continue our efforts to end hunger. A generous donor has committed to matching any other donation that comes in before the end of the year. Your gift today will go that much farther.
Thank you for your spiritual and financial support.
Larry Hollar is a senior regional organizer for Bread, working from Dayton, Ohio, and serving Pennsylvania, Delaware, and parts of New Jersey and New York as well as assisting in New England.
By David Beckmann
This weekend, as faithful congregants across our nation gather for their final service of 2012, we are mindful of the great significance of the budget discussions taking place among our political leaders. Whatever the outcome of these discussions—whether that means striking a deal or going over the fiscal cliff—hungry people in the United States and around the world will feel the effects the most.
We urge Bread members, Bread churches, and every concerned citizen to pray that our leaders choose a wise and just course. Please pass this prayer along or compose your own:
"Almighty and loving God, we pray for our nation. We are divided by ideology and interest groups. Our leaders find it difficult to make decisions together. We face pressing problems. Our economy is still fragile. But urgent questions go unresolved.
"We pray for the president and Congress as they continue to negotiate taxes and government spending. Give them wisdom, a spirit of concord, and a shared sense of responsibility for hungry and poor people. Open doors to a solution that will serve the common good. Amen."
It has been my experience that many college students are blissfully unaware of the poor and hungry people living in their hometowns. Many of these students are shocked and horrified to learn that millions of Americans live below the poverty line.
I, however, have always been aware of the prevalence of poverty in the suburban neighborhood just outside of Washington, D.C., where I grew up. As a child, I knew people who faced hunger on a daily basis. I witnessed firsthand some of my neighbors visiting food pantries and relying completely on the generosity of others to make ends meet. Although I did not realize it until I was somewhat older, whenever my mother and I went to the local supermarket, many of our neighbors were purchasing their groceries using SNAP benefits.
After years of this exposure, I thought hunger was just another unavoidable social issue. Some people would go hungry, and there was not much anyone could really do to change that. I believed that if anybody truly cared about the parents who lived on my street who were skipping meals in order to give their children enough to eat, they would have done something by now. So, I gave money to charity, donated food during Thanksgiving food drives, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a local food bank all throughout high school. But, deep down, I did not think anything would ever be done to solve the overall problem of hunger. However, my internship at Bread for the World this semester showed me a completely different side to the fight against hunger.
At Bread, people are doing something to stop hunger in the neighborhoods like the one where I grew up. Every day during my internship, I saw a group of people working together to achieve one common goal: to change the lives of millions of people by eliminating hunger for good. Their dedication and passion are inspiring and allow me to envision a day when I will return to my old neighborhood and see families with healthy meals on their tables. This is a much bigger and better dream than I could have ever imagined, and I am pleased to have been a part of such an important and necessary mission. I wish the entire Bread team the very best in their continued effort to end hunger and poverty.
Jaylynn Farr Munson is a media relations intern at Bread for the World. She is a senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in both English and communications.
Photo: A Sept. 2008 food bank distribution at ALIVE, in Alexandria, Va. Food Bank Distribution (Rick Reinhard)
By Eric Mitchell
Christmas is the time when we reflect on God's love and the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a time of hope and promise. As we celebrate this Christmas season with our friends and families, let us not forget that the Good News was first delivered to poor and humble people.
But this holiday season has a different tone for our congressional leaders, who are primarily focusing on the wealthy as they negotiate a deficit reduction package with the president that will prevent going over the fiscal cliff. What's at stake is our nation's ability to feed the hungry, care for the poor and less fortunate, heal the sick, and tend to the elderly. Now, more than ever, is the time for us to pray for our leaders and ask that they fight for hungry and poor people.
Our faith teaches us that we have a responsibility to the most poor and vulnerable people. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up — how it treats those Jesus called "the least of these" (Matthew 25:45). Of all days, this is a time when Christians must bring that spirit to our political leaders struggling to agree.
A diverse group of Christian leaders have agreed on policy recommendations that will best accomplish this. You can amplify their message by sending a special holiday message to the members of Congress at the negotiating table, and ask them to create a circle of protection around programs for hungry and poor people.Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.