Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

429 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

Mind the Gap

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Passing a responsible budget that includes revenue would begin to reverse the trend of U.S. income and wealth inequality, which is the greatest threat to food insecurity. Photo: The London transit system, May 2013. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

Sound bites from members of Congress these days are more like clips from The Jerry Springer Show than a transcript of moral leadership. Blame and shame should not pass for governance. This approach to policy-making is myopic, increases hunger, and camouflages a real crisis in America – growing income inequality.

The United States has the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any developed nation and the gap is widening. The documentary Inequality for All hits theaters this week and is the basis of a recent interview with U.C. Berkeley professor of economics, Robert Reich, on the Sept. 20 edition of Moyers and Company.

Reich argues that as globalization and technology have changed the structure of the economy and displaced workers, our policies have not adapted to the new rules. The economist says that shared prosperity, a concept previously valued by society, is replaced by an ambition cycle; gains are now channeled to a small group at the top and not reinvested in the economy. “The government can no longer afford to do what the government was doing because they aren’t getting tax receipts,” says Reich. When 70 percent of the economy is based on consumer spending, but consumers don’t have purchasing power, the economy weakens. He points out there is danger in looking at one piece of the economy and not looking at the connections.

Our faith in Christ moves us to advocate for sound policy that invests in programs addressing the root causes of poverty and hunger. In order to end hunger, income inequality – one the biggest threats to food security – must be addressed. We are calling on Congress to pass a responsible budget that includes revenue, replaces sequestration, and assures that all everyone will have a place at the table and economic opportunity.

The richest 400 individuals in this country now have more wealth than the 150 million poorest, a fact that should alarm our leaders. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rev. Gary Cook, director of church relations at Bread for the World, points out that through tithing, Jubilee, and gleaning, God historically made provision for hungry people. Shared prosperity is at the basis of right relationship in a community; the faithful gathered in 2 Corinthians were responsible for one another and, “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (8:15)

Blaming the poor for our economic woes and cutting anti-hunger programs in response is folly. On the eve of a manufactured fiscal cliff, most Americans are earning wages that haven't seen a significant increase in decades. Too many U.S. citizens — through job loss, medical emergency, or an unexpected calamity — have experienced their own financial crises while a small minority have watched their assets rise. What was once a war on poverty has become a war on the poor, and holding the budget hostage for political gain is obscuring a faith-based solution. It is time to tell Congress that enough is enough. 

Tell your members of Congress to pass a responsible budget that addresses sequestration and to raise the debt ceiling without political games.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Can Our Churches and Food Pantries Feed Four Million More?

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By Christine Meléndez Ashley

Late yesterday afternoon, House leadership released the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (H.R. 3102), which includes nearly $40 billion in SNAP cuts. The House could vote on the bill as early as Thursday, Sept. 19.

If enacted, we estimate almost 4 million people would be taken off SNAP through changes to the program's eligibility rules and work requirements. HR 3102 is the nutrition title of the House version of the farm bill.

Kicking this many people off SNAP will place a greater burden on churches and charities that are already struggling to provide food assistance. They would have to nearly double their current food assistance over the next ten years in order to handle the influx. In 2011, private churches and charities provided approximately $4 billion in food assistance—federal nutrition programs provided 23 times as much.

As in the original House farm bill, about 2 million people would be taken off SNAP under HR 3102, since the bill will make every state use the same income and asset tests, regardless of variations in cost of living or the economies of each state. About 210,000 kids will lose access to free school meals and 850,000 households will have their benefits reduced.

Newer provisions in the House bill take away the ability of states to allow adults without dependents to continue receiving benefits when unemployment is high and jobs are scarce. States can currently waive these requirements when unemployment rates are at least 10 percent or there is a demonstrated lack of sufficient jobs.

Regardless of what happens with this proposal, or any farm bill, every SNAP household will see its monthly SNAP allotment reduced on Nov. 1. Benefits are expected to drop to about $1.40 per meal—a family of 4 can expect to lose about $35 a month.

Email or call your representative today and urge him or her to vote against deep and harmful cuts to SNAP. Use our toll-free number, 800-826-3688, to be connected to the Capitol switchboard or click here to send an email.

Christine Meléndez Ashley is a policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Hunger by the Numbers

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Roughly 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (Film still from A Place at The Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

One thing is for certain—the Great Recession and its aftermath have provided us with a lot of numbers, few of them encouraging. 
  • 63.2 percent of people in the U.S. have a job or are actively seeking work — the lowest labor force percentage since 1978.
  • 10 percent was the peak unemployment rate in October 2009, and dropped to 7.6 percent as of May 2013.  Today there are three unemployed people for every job opening.
  • 47 million Americans have depended on SNAP to put food on the table as of February 2013, compared to just over 26 million in December of 2006 before the recession began (Dec. 2007).
  • 15 percent of the population was living below the poverty line in 2011 and 34.4 percent were considered poor or near poor (living below 200 percent of the poverty line).  Pre-recession the poverty rate was 13 percent (2007).
  • $14,500 is what a person working full-time at the minimum wage earns per year. The official poverty line for a family of three—one parent with two children—is $17,568 and most families need to make twice that to afford basic needs.

But surrounding those numbers is a silver lining: the safety net works. Recent numbers released by USDA show that although too many, 14.5 percent, in the United States continue to struggle with hunger, the system has not failed. While jobs vanished and the poverty rate is the highest in decades, the prevalence of food insecurity – meaning a lack of money or resources to provide for the next meal – remained essentially unchanged since 2008. 

  • 42 percent of food-insecure households were aided by the SNAP program in 2012.
  • 15.9 million children lived in food insecure households in 2012, compared to 16.7 in 2011.

Still, 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from in a country filled with abundance. We must do better and we cannot weaken the safety net without seeing those numbers rise. But some in Congress propose to do just that. Here are some disturbing numbers and consequences. 

  • $40 billion is the amount of SNAP cuts in a House of Representatives proposal that expected to be voted on in the next couple of weeks.
  • 6 million people may lose or receive reduced benefits if the cuts are enacted.
  • $167.5 billion is the estimated cost to the country, directly and indirectly, for hunger in 2011, taking into account its effects on health, education, and economic productivity.
  • $96.9 billion is the amount spent on food benefits in federal nutrition programs in 2011, compared to $4.1 billion in food distributed by private charities during the same period.  Churches and charities cannot fill in the gap if the government were to drastically reduce spending on anti-hunger programs.

The numbers add up to a simple conclusion: protecting and reinforcing the safety net, especially during tough economic times, means fewer people go hungry. The sum is greater than its parts.  Tell your member of Congress to vote NO on SNAP cuts in the House farm bill.

Join Us on the Hill Tomorrow: Travel Not Required

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Faithful advocates during Bread for the World's annual lobby day in Washington D.C., on June, 11, 2013 (Rick Reinhart).

Congress is back in session this week and it’s a busy time for legislators. They have only nine working days before the end of the fiscal year and they are facing multiple priorities and pressure from various special interests. On Tuesday, a group of grassroots advocates from across the nation will walk the marble halls of Congress representing God’s special interest: ending hunger and poverty. We are counting on you to help amplify their messages on SNAP and the budget.

On the agenda for the House is a proposal that would cut $40 billion from the SNAP program over 10 years. We can't let this vote be lost in the noise—the consequences are far too serious. For example:

  • Across the country, 2 to 4 million adults without dependents would lose benefits. SNAP already has strict work requirements but this proposal would require individuals to find work at times when jobs are scarce.
  • Nearly 2 million more people, primarily seniors and those in low-income working families, would lose benefits due to changes in eligibility rules.
  • In 2011, private churches and charities provided approximately $4 billion in food assistance, compared to $98 billion provided by federal nutrition programs. Churches and charities would have to nearly double their current food assistance to make up the difference.

Decisions made during the next few months will impact the lives of vulnerable people, both at home and abroad, for years to come. Failure to reach a compromise could mean a government shutdown that would harm vulnerable groups, some of whom have already suffered through program cuts and reductions because of sequestration, such as Meals on Wheels recipients.

The worst-case scenario? If Congress increases defense investments by cutting anti-hunger programs — something they could quietly do if it weren't for advocates like you paying attention. 

Faithful advocates can ensure that members of Congress don’t play partisan games with programs that help people who experience hunger. But in order to do so we must remain vigilant and speak up loudly — or risk losing ground on decades of progress against hunger. We must talk about the real consequences of poverty, both on the Hill and in our hometowns. 

Members of Congress need to hear that they must create a circle of protection around programs that decrease hunger.  They must enact a responsible budget and replace sequestration with a balanced approach that includes revenue. 

Tomorrow, join us from your home or office by making phone calls, emailing, or even using social media to get the message across that ending hunger is a priority. Stay tuned for additional details on how you can join us tomorrow, from wherever you are.

Voices of Hunger: Hunger Increasing for Seniors

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In 2011, nearly one in six seniors faced food insecurity. (Robin Stephenson)

By Robin Stephenson

The lights have dimmed on the golden years for 8.8 million U.S. seniors who are facing hunger.  The State of Senior Hunger in America 2011: An Annual Report, which was published in August, shows a disturbing trend—increasing rates of food insecurity for elderly citizens. From 2007 to 2011, the height of the Great Recession, the number of seniors experiencing the threat of hunger increased by 42 percent.

One of those seniors is Gloria, a Washington resident in her early 70s. In 2009, she was laid off from her job at a local hotel. After she went through her modest savings and was still unable to find work, getting enough food became a struggle. With the help of an emergency food box program and family support, she made it through—not to the idyllic life of leisure that is the promise of old age in this country, but to a more secure financial state.

“It’s almost impossible when you are older to get a job," Gloria says. "It’s a constant worry if you are going to make it through or you have to go bother one of your kids and live with them.  I know a lot of seniors who feel that way.  I’ve heard my friends say they don’t think the government cares about us.”

Gloria’s story is all too common; she is grateful to have recently found a part-time minimum wage job in the rural Washington community where she has lived most of her life. Social security provides her with a meager $800 per month—barely enough to keep food on the table and cover her bills.

The bulk of her working life was spent in the fruit industry—the sort of blue-collar employment that is a mainstay of rural economies.  “The packing shed didn’t have a 401K,” she notes. “For most women in rural areas, there are not jobs that provide them with a retirement plan.

“You pay into the system when you work, but a dollar doesn’t go as far now," Gloria continues. "At this point in time, with the cost of living, the price of gas, I can’t see that I can retire.”

The report prepared for the National Council to End Senior Hunger concludes with a warning that mounting food insecurity in an aging population will lead to additional public health costs. To stem growing health care expenditures requires reducing food insecurity for older Americans.

For the elderly, health care and medicine are often their largest out-of-pocket expenses. Working helps Gloria afford supplemental insurance to augment her Medicare—for now. 

As members of Congress return from recess, decisions that they will make could have dire consequences for the nearly one in six food insecure seniors. Unless sequestration is replaced with a balanced approach, it will continue to cut senior nutrition programs, like Meals on Wheels. Proposed cuts to the SNAP program would cast a pall on the golden years of even more senior citizens.

How we treat our elders, most of whom have spent a lifetime contributing to our economy, matters. Seniors will choose to experience their retirement differently, but a Christian response must include setting a context where those years can be spent in fullness and dignity—not in hunger.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.

Closing the Gender Gap: Miles to Go

Heather_turner_and_daughterToday is Women’s Equality Day, a time to commemorate the right of women to vote. Although we've come a long way in the fight for equality, there are still miles to go. The face of poverty is most often that of a woman and the lopsided statistics below help make it clear that hunger and poverty disproportionately affect women.
  • In the United States, single-parent households are the most likely to be poor. A snapshot from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice for 2011 reports 34.2 percent of single-parent homes headed by females were poor, compared to 16.5 percent of those headed by males. During that time, more than 5 million more women than men lived in poverty.
  • U.S. Census figures also show that women are still earning an average of  77 cents on the dollar compared to wages for men. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of men working full time increased by 1.7 million, compared to 0.5 million women.
  • Although women account for a little over 50 percent of the U.S. population, only 19 percent of our representatives in Congress are women. Women make up nearly half the labor force but they still only hold 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions.

We have miles yet to go.

  • Globally, women make up 45 percent of the world’s workforce, yet they are 70 percent of the world’s poor.
  • In impoverished nations, girls are less likely than boys to receive a basic education and globally, 584 million women are illiterate.
  • The World Economic Forum has reported that 82 out of the 132 countries improved economic equality between 2011 and 2012, but globally only 60 percent of the gender gap has been closed.

We have miles yet to go.

Each new policy that supports full inclusion and equality as it related to economics, politics, education, and health are mile markers on the road toward closing the gender gap. Closing the gender gap is part of the journey to end hunger. In the United States, policy is influenced and driven by the will of the people through exercising our voting rights. A day that reminds us how precious that right is, especially for women, is a good day to remember how powerful our voice as faithful advocates can be.

Part of the process to build the political will to end hunger includes keeping our legislators accountable, which is why Bread for the World has created the 2013 midyear voting scorecard.  For Christians, voting is part of the work we do to realize a just and equitable society where every man, woman and child has enough to eat. 

Photo: Heather Rude-Turner, 31, kisses her daughter Naomi, 5, after attending church, October 2, 2011.  (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World).

 

Jobs and God’s Concern for the Poor

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at a press conference in March of 1964 (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division).

The following is an excerpt from remarks given by Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, at the March on Washington Anniversary Praise and Worship Service at Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on August 22, 2013.

It comes as no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man guided by God’s love for all people, would speak passionately about economic justice for all, especially for African Americans.  Dr. King said this in a speech titled “Showdown for Nonviolence,” just before his assassination, when American cities had erupted in riots:

A nationwide nonviolent movement is very important.  We know from past experience that Congress and the president won’t do anything until you develop a movement around which people of goodwill can find a way to put pressure on them . . . This really means making the movement powerful enough, dramatic enough, morally appealing enough, so that people of goodwill, the churches, labor, liberals, intellectuals, students, poor people themselves begin to put pressure on congressmen...

Our idea is to dramatize the whole economic problem of the poor. . . We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people and poor people generally are confronting.  There is a literal depression in the Negro community.  When you have mass unemployment in the Negro community, it’s called a social problem; when you have mass unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression.  The fact is, there is a major depression in the Negro community.  The unemployment rate is extremely high, and among Negro youth, it goes up as high as forty percent in some cities.

 We need an economic bill of rights.  This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work.  It would also guarantee an income for all who are not able to work.  Some people are too young, some are too old, some are physically disabled, and yet in order to live, they need income . . . It would mean creating public-service jobs, and that could be done in a few weeks.  A program that would really deal with jobs could minimize ---I don’t say stop---the number of riots that could take place this summer.  Our whole campaign, therefore, will center on the job question, with other demands, like housing, that are closely tied to it. Much more building of housing for low-income people should be done. . .

On the educational front, the ghetto schools are in bad shape in terms of quality . . . They need more and special attention, the best quality education that can be given.

These problems, of course, are overshadowed by the Vietnam War. We’ll focus on the domestic problems, but it’s inevitable that we’ve got to bring out the question of the tragic mix-up in priorities.  We are spending all of this money for death and destruction, and not nearly enough money for life and constructive development. 

In his final Sunday sermon — at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1963 — Dr. King spoke of the need to eradicate poverty in our nation and around the world. 

There is another thing closely related to racism that I could like to mention as another challenge.  We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world.  They are ill-housed, they are ill-nourished, they are shabbily clad.  I have seen it in Latin America; I have seen it in Africa; I have seen this poverty in Asia. . . .Not only do we see poverty abroad. I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. . . . I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. 

I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country, and  I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying. . . America has the opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.  The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty.  The real question is whether we have the will.     

Dr. King was right that the moral character of poverty has changed, because we now know how to get rid of it.  Since Dr. King’s time, lots of countries have, in fact, reduced poverty — countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Great Britain.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, our country cut our poverty rate in half.  The economy was strong, and the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty made a difference.  But we never built the broad movement for economic justice that Dr. King called for, and our poverty rate is now higher than it was in 1974.

But we have an opportunity now to build the movement against poverty that Dr. King envisioned.  African-Americans, Latinos, white people of modest means, and young people came out to vote in large numbers in the last election.  The faith community has been effective in fending off the powerful forces that are pushing to decimate programs for poor people.  The movement for immigration reform has become electric.  And just recently, we have seen growing awareness of the injustice of mass incarceration.  Right now, we are seeing courageous labor actions among fast-food and Walmart workers.   

God, help us to build the broad movement against poverty that Dr. King envisioned.

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study


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A young girl eats lunch at a soup kitchen in a scene from the documentary A Place at the Table. (Film still courtesy of Participant Media).

The anti-hunger community has long known that poverty and obesity go hand in hand. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the percentages are higher in black and Hispanic populations. This week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported modest declines in the obesity rates of low-income preschoolers in 19 states – proof that advocating for better nutrition is bearing fruit. It’s a good start, but the gains could be derailed if current proposals in Congress to take an axe to nutrition programs are passed into law.

The CDC collected data on low-income preschoolers ages 2 to 4; many of the children were enrolled in WIC. In a briefing on the report, CDC director Tom Friedan said that the federal program has improved nutritional standards. The report recommends helping low-income families get affordable and nutritious foods through federal programs like WIC.

However, WIC is one of the programs that has been subject to automatic cuts under sequestration. This past year, WIC has been able to maintain its caseloads with reserve and contingency funds mitigating cuts that could have affected as many as 600,000 women, infants, and children. But back-up funds won’t be available next year. If Congress does not act and replace the sequester with a balanced approach that includes revenue, the program will not have the ability to serve all the mothers and children who need it. More disturbing, appropriations bills in the House would shift cuts affecting defense spending onto programs like WIC and SNAP, reversing positive trends toward reducing both hunger and obesity.

In 2010, Bread for the World and our partners urged Congress to improve nutritional quality in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and make it possible to reach more low-income children with nutritious food. In the past two years, Bread for the World members have successfully advocated to create a circle of protection, mitigating cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and tax-credits such as the EITC, all of which help hard working low-income families stave off hunger and buy nutritious food.

More progress is needed and more progress is possible. Both quantity and quality of food make a big difference in the health of children. In communities that are considered food deserts, distance to a supermarket may be an insurmountable obstacle to healthy eating. Low-income households with limited resources often need to stretch their food budgets and opt for cheaper, low-density, calorie-rich processed foods in lieu of more expensive fruits and vegetables. Nutrition assistance programs like SNAP and WIC provide these families with healthier options.

Taking into account health, education, and economic productivity, a group of Brandies University economists calculated the cost of poverty in 2011 to be a staggering $167.5 billion. Poverty, complex as it is, affects everyone. Investing in programs now will mean a lot less expense down the road, helping ensure a labor force that is healthy and productive.

Programs like SNAP and WIC help stave off both hunger and obesity, but both programs continue to be at risk of grave cuts. August recess presents an opportunity to get in front of your senators and representative and help influence the decisions they make when they return to Washington in September. Set up in-district meetings with your members of Congress, attend any town hall meetings that they hold, and write letters to the editor about protecting and strengthening SNAP and replacing the sequester with a balanced approach.

What members of Congress hear over the next few weeks will determine the decisions they make this fall.

Living Day to Day

“Is this what America is supposed to look like?”

The question that Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson asked Rep. Matthew Cartwright (PA-17) was in reference to a survey by AP that found that 4 out of 5 Americans struggle financially. It's a trend Henderson calls an epidemic of poverty.

In this short Washington Post “On Background” video, Henderson also interviews filmmaker Harry Gantz, who discusses his HBO documentary American Winter, which profiles families in Oregon dealing with hunger and financial stress. Diedre Melson, one of the film's subjects, is interviewed as well. When asked what Americans need to know about people who are living in poverty, Melson said “it’s not their fault.  People don’t necessarily dig a hole for themselves.”

Melson shares more of her story about living day to day in the video below.'

Families like Melson's need jobs that pay a living wage and a strong social safety-net during difficult times. When Congress returns from August recess, they will be making decisions that have real consequences for the most vulnerable Americans.  The time to speak up is now.

The Continuing War on Poverty

OurdailybreadBy Traci Carlson

Forty-nine years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty in response to a national poverty rate of 19 percent. President Johnson believed that the U.S. government could eliminate crushing poverty and created policy initiatives such as Head Start, Volunteers in Service to America, and Job Corps. Although the poverty rate has decreased since 1964, it remains unacceptably high at 14.5 percent of U.S. households, with nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children living, in poverty

On July 31, House Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) held a hearing on the progress of the War on Poverty. Although both want to revitalize the American dream so that more people have the opportunity to achieve a better life, they offer starkly different paths to alleviating poverty. Rep. Ryan favors decreased taxes and incentives to get people off of assistance programs. Rep. Van Hollen argues that the budget put forth by congressional Republicans is akin to waging war against the poor, citing calls to block-grant SNAP and cut other federal anti-poverty programs.  To illustrate their respective viewpoints they called on witnesses, including as Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK.

Sister Simone Campbell said that we, as people of faith, need to love and care for the poor, and she also addressed the vital importance of the federal government and the private sector in lifting people out of poverty.  She also discussed how low wages, a major driver of poverty, make it extremely difficult for working families to put food on the table. An increased minimum wage is, along with SNAP (formerly food stamps), our most effective tool in helping people lift themselves out of poverty.  A faithful budget is needed to end hunger and poverty in the United States.

At Bread for the World we know that the best way to alleviate poverty is to create good jobs that pay a living wage. No one should go hungry while working full time at the federal minimum wage. We also know that the current sequester will hurt working families and increase hunger in the United States. Congress should replace the sequester’s indiscriminate and catastrophic cuts with a balanced plan of increased revenue and responsible spending reductions. The only thing holding America back from ending poverty is a scarcity of political will. It will take not only faith but patriotism to lift 49 million Americans out of poverty.

To learn more about how to end hunger in the United States, read the background paper "Ending Hunger in the United States."

Traci Carlson is Bread for the World's government relations coordinator.

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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