Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

12 posts categorized "WIC"

Nutritional Guidance from...Lobbyists?

'Potatoes' photo (c) 2011, jamonation - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Let's pretend, for a moment, that you're the parent of a two-year-old, and you want to make sure you're buying your toddler the most nutritious food possible, so she will grow healthy and strong. You're looking for advice. Whom would you turn to? Maybe a doctor? A nutritionist? Or a lobbyist?

Most people would pick the doctor or nutritionist, but it seems that some members of Congress would be inclined to go with the lobbyist.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee are currently embroiled in a debate about the nutritional value of one of America's favorite foods—the white potato.

Potato growers have recently voiced outrage over the exclusion of the white potato from the approved list of food that can be bought with Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program benefits. WIC provides healthy food to pregnant women and young children, allowing families to buy certain items deemed nutritious by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Milk and fruit are on the list, as are vegetables—save for white potatoes. USDA guidelines exclude white potatoes from WIC because, according to its dietary data, no Americans, rich or poor, are eating too few white potatoes in any form—in fact, we are eating too many. Potato growers maintain, as anyone with a financial stake in selling more potatoes might do, that white spuds are a nutritional powerhouse that should be available to WIC beneficiaries. 

Today, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee sided with potato growers, voting during its agriculture appropriations committee markup process to examine the issue more closely but, in the meantime, add white potatoes to the list of approved WIC foods.

Allowing a powerful special interest to have any say in determining guidelines for federal child nutrition programs sets a dangerous precedent. The move opens the door for lobbyists and special interests to begin promoting their foods. Luckily, there is still time to fix it! You can still contact your senators and tell them that the WIC foods program must address the nutritional needs of children, not the interests of the most powerful lobbies.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has written a piece on the potato battle, and what seems to be a trend toward members of Congress throwing science out the window and considering the profits and needs of special interests, to the detriment of children. It doesn't stop with Congress caving to the demands of potato growers—a recent House bill proposed allowing schools to ignore healthy eating guidelines for school lunches if they find that ridding their cafeterias of junk means they're making less money from food sales.

This week, a large group of national, state, and local organizations penned a sign-on letter to Congress, asking them to continue to let science-based decisions govern federal nutrition programs, whether deciding what foods can be purchased with WIC benefits, or what nutritional guidelines school lunches should follow. Hopefully, members of Congress will realize that science, not special interests, should be determining what is considered the most nutritious food for growing children.

Economic Recovery Misses Long-Term Unemployed


By Robin Stephenson

Dirk Benson lives in Portland, Ore.—so do I. Dirk Benson is a writer—so am I. But Dirk Benson lost his unemployment insurance, sometimes sleeps in the airport or an abandoned house, and struggles to find work. I, on the other hand, can look out my window from the security of my apartment, and feel grateful to have a job. Through the morning fog, I see the Portland hills, filled with mansions and manicured lawns, and Dirk’s story haunts me.

When I first listened to Dirk’s story on National Public Radio, all I could do was sit and wonder "what if?" I wondered why Congress won’t extend emergency unemployment insurance (EUC) when employment rates have yet to reach pre-recession levels. The news is filled with stories of people whose situations have gone from bad to dire.

In a recent Forbes piece, John T. Harvey aptly characterized the debate over extending EUC as “ridiculous.”  The unemployment crisis is not over; there are still three applicants for every job opening.

The economy is slowly recovering and the job market is picking up, but the rate of long-term unemployment is worse than during any other economic downturn since the World War II, and remains at record levels.

“I can’t imagine that anybody in Congress or the Senate can be looking at this thinking that I don’t want to work or that any of us that are out here in this situation don’t want to work,” Clarissa Garcia Jewett, who lost her nursing job last May, tells the National Journal. “We’re looking for work; we’re just not getting it.”

Although some call the jobless lazy and characterize unemployment benefits as handouts, the facts tell a different story. As Harvey points out in Forbes, in just three years the number of unemployed Americans grew from nearly 7 million to more than 15 million. “[W]e have to explain why the United States experiences mass waves of laziness interspersed with periods of industriousness,” he writes.

Cutting EUC during a crisis does not help job seekers. Long-term unemployed already face diminishing returns in their search. Those who are unemployed for more than six months have a less than 15 percent chance of finding a job in today's market. For Dirk Benson, living rough means that he spends five hours of his day finding food and a shower instead of applying for work.

Last Friday, Congress left for a three-day holiday without giving long-term job seekers a break. Members of Congress still have not passed an extension of EUC, and every additional week they fail to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers continue to lose their benefits.

When I hear Dirk Benson’s story, I realize that he and I are only separated by a job. I get paid for these few words, while his story of struggle doesn’t come with a paycheck. In a country as wealthy as the United States, where most are riding the rising tide of a recovering economy, I shake my head in exasperation when I see that our leaders will not throw job seekers a life preserver.

Robin Stephenson is national lead for social media and a senior organizer at Bread for the World.

The Faces and Facts Behind Hunger

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.


Prioritizing Hope in the Farm Bill and Budget Negotiations

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

The farm bill and 2014 budget conference committees continue to meet, and we continue to ask Bread for the World advocates to keep calling and writing their members of Congress. At stake in these negotiations is more than making columns of numbers balance; at stake is the funding for nutrition programs that allow Alli Morris of Bend, Oregon, the opportunity to move on and move up.

The story of Alli and her infant son Andre, told in the video above, shows that nutrition programs are a hand up. The Bend community takes advantage of federal programs to care for those who experience need in their midst. SNAP (formerly food stamps) is the life preserver Alli needs as she makes her way to solid ground. WIC provides the nutrition baby Andre needs to fight a pituitary disease he was born with.

The decisions made by Congress in the next two months must prioritize nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC that value both Alli and Andre's health and future. Some proposals, if enacted, would mean both programs might not be there for another family and community that need them. The automatic cuts called sequestration are chipping away at WIC funding. SNAP, a program that so many Americans have seen as a blessing during the recession and slow recovery, is at risk of being slashed by nearly $40 billion.

Alli and Andre's story reminds us that even if life throws us a few curve balls, there is always hope. Most of us have experienced hardship and can probably recall what it took to overcome difficulty, but not everyone has the same access to a helping hand. Alli insists that she can make a better life for herself and Andre. Her hard work is the essence of the American dream. This family has a chance because there is a community with the tools they need to provide an opportunity for Alli's commitment to take responsibility for her family's future.

It may be easy for members of Congress, sitting at a conference table in Washington, D.C., with reams of paper in front of them, to focus on the columns of dollar figures without seeing that a family's hope is a line item they may cut. It's might be easy for Congress to forget that programs like WIC and SNAP help communities thrive as we care for one another. But it won't be easy if the people the members of Congress represent tell them to prioritize hope. Perhaps you have a story to remind them that hardship can be overcome with the right tools and opportunities. SNAP and WIC are not just programs of hope, but ladders to move lives on and up. 

Making Progress on Obesity: New CDC Study

Girl eating cropped
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.

Double Your Impact: Protecting Food Aid and WIC

Final SM Email 2 Graphic

At Bread for the World, ending malnutrition is an essential part of the work to end hunger at home and abroad.

Globally, an estimated 165 million children under the age of five are stunted. Inadequate nutrition during the 1,000 day-window from a woman's pregnancy through her child’s second birthday impairs development. Research shows that adults who did not receive adequate nutrition as children can lose up to 10 percent of their lifetime earnings. In the United States, child poverty rates are on the rise, yet the WIC program, proven to lower infant mortality rates and improve school performance, is in danger of losing funding because of sequestration. When a nation’s children begin their lives with challenges created by malnutrition and hunger, it becomes more difficult to make good on the promise of a prosperous future.

But faithful advocacy has the power to change the future.

To advance the millennium development goals of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty while also reducing child mortality and malnutrition, food aid with improved nutrition that targets vulnerable mothers and children must be central to development programs—and it must be properly funded. Yet, unless Congress acts to end sequestration it is estimated that more than 571 thousand children could lose food interventions that can prevent the irreversible damage caused by malnutrition.

God’s kingdom is without borders; nutrition during the first 1,000 days matters as much if you live in Bangladesh or Baltimore. The WIC program provides nearly 9 million pregnant or nursing mothers and vulnerable children access to adequate nutrition, education, and health care referrals.  As sequestration continues, it will erode the effectiveness of the program.  Congress must replace the automatic cuts with a balanced plan that includes revenues.

Both chambers of Congress are working on spending bills, and the House numbers assume sequestration is here to stay. And unlike the provision in sequestration whereby cuts are split evenly between defense and non-defense programs in the budget, the House proposal moves all cuts to non-defense programs. A unified and faithful chorus of voices must again tell Congress that the federal budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable.

Being faithful advocates during one of the most polarized political periods in history, with a constant barrage of proposals to cut programs for poor and hungry, is difficult, but we know that your advocacy on behalf of hungry and poor people works. Even with $2.7 trillion in deficit reduction already enacted, programs that help hungry and poor people have been largely protected. Calls and emails helped stop a recent proposal to cut the SNAP program by $20.5 billion, protecting the program at current levels, for now.

These victories and the challenges ahead in the journey to end hunger are possible because of the engagement and support of Bread for the World members. Please consider joining our summer effort to help hungry people by making a gift to Bread. Because of a few generous donors, between now and July 12 your donation will be doubled!

Cutting WIC Not the Right Formula for Healthy Moms and Babies

Gromek_hospital_resizedBy Jon Gromek

You might not know it by looking at me now, but I was two months premature when I was born, barely weighing three pounds. My birth and the weeks that followed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit must have been a harrowing time for my parents, especially my mom.  It took some time, but I eventually grew strong, gained weight, and became a healthy child—and eventually a healthy adult. One of the things I credit to my recovery was the healthy food I received both before and after I was born. My parents thankfully had the resources to make sure I had all the nutrition I needed, yet because of the sequester’s 5.3 percent cut to the WIC program, more than 600,000 moms and babies are going to find those resources harder to come by. 

I recently got to sit down with some of the staff at the “Moms-2-Be” program in Columbus, Ohio.  Moms-2-Be (M2B) is a unique program designed to help pregnant women who live in Weinland Park /near Eastside of Columbus have healthy pregnancies, deliveries, and babies. 

The Weinland Park neighborhood has the highest density of poverty in all of Franklin County and, until recently, an alarmingly high infant mortality rate. For the moms who reside in the neighborhood, WIC is one the best resources they have to help their babies.  The sequester means that more than 18,000 Ohio moms like the ones in Moms-2-Be in Weinland Park are going to have a harder time beating the odds and giving their babies what they need to grow and develop.  Staff told stories of the struggles moms will go through to make ends meet and the tough choices they will have to make to be sure their children are fed.  Sometimes that means cutting formula with water to make it last or having to graduate their babies to solid food long before they are ready. 

With Mother’s Day around the corner, take a moment to reflect on everything that moms do to fight for their children. This Mother’s Day, tell Congress to stand up for mothers and children. Email Congress right now and tell your senators and representative to stop these cuts and instead enact a balanced, responsible budget deal that protects our mothers, our children, and our economy. Mothers protect us. Make sure Congress protects them.

Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub states, at Bread for the World.

Photo: Jon Gromek, as a newborn, being held by his mother, Angie Vrettos-Gromek. (Photo courtesy of Jon Gromek)

Choose Mothers Over Inconvenienced Travelers


By Alice Walker Duff

How will you honor your mother this Mother’s Day? What will you do to let your mom, grandmas, aunties, and mentors know that you learned their lessons of love and care for others?

This Mother's Day, honor your mom, and all the amazing women in your life, by telling Congress to stand up for mothers. Congress can act quickly and decisively—its members recently fixed flight delays caused by sequestration cuts. But nutrition and other programs that help moms in the United States and around the world are still on the chopping block.

There’s only one way to fix this and protect mothers and children from harmful cuts!

Email Congress right now and tell your senators and representative to stop these cuts and instead enact a balanced, responsible budget deal that protects our mothers, our children, and our economy. As a thank you, we will send a free e-card to any of the women in your life. We will let them know that you honor them by standing with mothers everywhere!

Mothers protect us. Make sure Congress protects them! Email Congress now and celebrate Mother's Day in a way that makes a difference. Together, we can make sure that mothers and children in the United States and around the world have the nutrition they need to thrive.

Thank you for joining me in standing with mothers everywhere.

Alice Walker-Duff is Bread for the World's managing director.

The First Step Toward Justice? 'Come and See'

Jeanette_Mott_Oxford_blogBy Zach Schmidt

Bread for the World member Jeanette Mott Oxford is a former Missouri state representative who now directs the Missouri Association for Social Welfare. Jeanette played a leading role in Bread’s recent actions in Missouri. She recently sat down with me to talk about her time as an elected official and her years of faith-based advocacy.

Tell us about your faith journey. Were there any significant shifts or defining moments?

I grew up in the Christian fundamentalist tradition in rural southern Illinois. My parents were in a gospel quartet, and my uncle was a tent evangelist. As a child, I attended a lot of revivals! We were encouraged to personally witness to others, and I have carried with me the belief that there should be unity between what you say you believe and what your actions demonstrate.

I left the church for a while and then came back through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA]. Eventually, I settled on a United Church of Christ [UCC] congregation and have stayed with the denomination ever since. I found that these denominations had a focus on “corporate sin.” This was a significant shift for me, from a focus primarily on individual practices and a pious life to thinking about who we are as a part of systems and nations, and thinking corporately about questions like, “Are people being fed? How are we treating the least of these?”

How did you come to see advocacy as an important part of helping people in need?

Bread for the World played an integral role. When I first discovered Bread in the 1980s, I thought it was about sending money to care for someone in a famine-torn corner of the world. All I had known about responding to hunger was through charity-type actions. Then I started getting letters from Bread encouraging me to write to my members of Congress, and I quickly became an advocate and tried to learn as much as I could about how domestic and international policy affect hunger.

I also worked with Bread as an intern while studying at Eden Theological Seminary in the St. Louis metro area. At the time, Bread was working on a campaign to increase funding for WIC, and it was an eye-opening experience for me to learn that we could save four dollars in health costs with one dollar of healthy food!

Continue reading "The First Step Toward Justice? 'Come and See'" »

Replacing Sequester Will Require 'A Snowball Effect'

By Robin Stephenson

“It’s going to take a snowball effect” to replace the sequester, said Bread for the World’s senior policy analyst, Amelia Kegan, during a recent webinar with Interreligious Working Group on Domestic Human Needs (DHN) coalition partners. “There needs to be a political cost where there are proposals that harm poor and vulnerable populations, and we need your help."

DHN members, including the National Council of Churches, NETWORK Lobby, and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), joined Kegan for an informative hourlong webinar last week. The event began with an overview of the sequester, from the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established sequestration, to the present-day reality of what the enacted legislation means for poor and hungry people. 

The reality is bleak. Raechel Banks, Eisendrath legislative assistant at the RAC, ran through the list of consequences that will occur if the 5.1 percent across the board cuts of the sequester are not replaced with a balanced approach. Nationally, approximately 600,000 women and children are expected to lose nutrition assistance through WIC and 100,000 formerly homeless people will lose housing. 

Further complicating, and potentially worsening, the effect of the automatic cuts is the FY14 House-proposed Ryan Budget, which shields defense and balances the budget in ten years on cuts alone—with the majority targeting programs that assist poor and hungry people.

Banks emphasized the need to tell stories at the community level and pointed out that the Coalition on Human Needs has state fact sheets that can be helpful when preparing to speak to members of Congress or write a letter to the editor. Turning the statistics into stories, though, is critical in moving legislators to action.

The importance of turning the issue of the proposed cuts into a public dialogue, versus a political one, was echoed by special guest speakers Darrel Thompson and Bruce King, both senior staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“I really believe the faith community has an authentic voice that can speak above and beyond the partisan nature on the Hill,” said Thompson. “It's an opportunity to speak about things from compassion— from a human needs perspective.”

King emphasized the importance of local media and its ability to translate broad issues to the community level. “The more you can highlight the local impact of people affected in your community, the more likely to influence Congress,” he said.

The bottom line is this:  whether or not Congress takes action depends on how much they hear from an outraged public. We must demand that the sequester be replaced with a balanced plan that protects poor and vulnerable populations. Consider how you can make noise. We are encouraging Bread for the World members to make their voices heard by making local visits to members of Congress, writing letters to their senators and representatives, and joining the public discussion through writing letters to the editor. Here is a simple guide to assist you.

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

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