Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Seeing Hunger - and Christ - on Children's Faces in Guatemala


Last year Bread's multimedia manager Joseph Molieri travelled to Guatemala where he saw hunger and solutions to hunger up close. He filmed Catarina Pascual Jimenez,and tells her story in the short video, Food for the Future.

By Joseph Molieri

Reading the news stories of a surge in child migration from Guatemala does not surprise me. Last year I was there, and I saw the devastation that hunger can cause. 

In Guatemala City, the street life is alive with the calls of vendors selling their wares, congested streets, and bustling pedestrians. I took a taxi to a rural region just north of Huehuetenango, about a 200-mile drive from Guatemala City, where life was slower but harder. We had come to Guatemala to observe the impact of food-security programs, which are partially funded through grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and to gather stories for Bread’s Offering of Letters in these western highlands of Guatemala. 

As we traveled farther into the countryside, a palpable feeling of coldness grew stronger.  About halfway into the trip, we pulled over and got out to stretch for a few minutes. The indigenous locals walking by glanced nervously at us before pulling their children to the other side of the road. Roberto, my driver, said this area saw a lot of fighting during the civil war. I knew this, but I was only beginning to see and feel it. 

For many years, the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala has lived in extreme poverty, exacerbated by a political system at times designed to disenfranchise them.  The Mayans have also experienced exclusion from development and wealth. Guatemala has made headlines in recent weeks as the country with the worst malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hotspots where children are leaving to migrate to the United States. During my visit, I began to get a glimpse of why this might be.

At our destination I met Catarina Pascual Jimenez, a mother of four children. Her oldest son, Antonio, now 17, left when he was 15 to work as a migrant laborer. Opportunities and access to nutritious food are severely limited in her remote village. Her youngest children, Roni and Shelia, given their age at 17 months, would become two more statistics of malnourishment and stunting without the USAID program.

As we met with more mothers, we heard similar stories. These women and children had a small opportunity to overcome hunger because of the USAID nutrition program. However, for this one village with the program, there were countless more without it, where children might suffer all their lives as a result of malnutrition.  The issues these women face, like many others in Latin America, are not isolated incidents of a poor economy but rather the result from years of political unrest, bad policies both from their own government as well as neighboring countries, and racial discrimination. 

Matthew 25 asks me when I saw Christ hungry. I saw hunger in Guatemala.  I also saw that when we invest in programs and give people a hand up, we not only live out the Gospel call to “do for one of the least of these” but we alleviate conditions that cause people to migrate for survival. I called my member of Congress, and I invite you to join me.  Children like those I met are desperate and coming to the United States on dangerous journeys because they are hungry. We cannot turn our back on them. What we can do is try to change the circumstances they are fleeing.

*

Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.

Joseph Molieri is the multimedia manager at Bread for the World

Hunger in the News: UN Warns of Hunger Catastrophe, Child Poverty Rates on Rise, the Social Crisis of Mass Incarceration

A regular, non-comprehensive roundup of current news links on hunger and poverty issues from around the Web.

“UN warns of ‘hunger catastrophe’ for South Sudanese children,” UN News Centre.  “Two United Nations humanitarian agencies today called for action to stop a potential famine in South Sudan which they said is being allowed to happen, just as it occurred in Somalia and the Horn of Africa three years ago.”

“From food aid to nutritious, locally produced food: A look at fortifying flour in Ethiopia,” by Jeff Dykstra, Devex. “Nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy and the first two years of life can’t be reversed, but they can be prevented.”

“Summer Program For Hungry Kids Gets Creative With Food Delivery,” by Pam Fessler, All Things Considered, NPR. “More than 21 million children get free or reduced priced meals during the school year. But in the summer, that number drops to only three million.”

“Child poverty rates on the rise,” by Hoai-Tran Bui, USA TODAY. “In its analysis of children's overall well-being, the 25th edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book found that about 23% of children in 2012 are living in families below the poverty line.”

“Obama Presses Central American Leaders to Slow a Wave of Child Migrants,” by Michael D. Shear and Ashley Parker, New York Times.  “President Obama on Friday urged the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to exercise what he called their “shared responsibility” to help stem the flow of migrant children toward the United States border, but the Central American leaders said America shares some of the blame for the crisis.”

“Child migrant crisis: Churches, aid workers on front lines in Central America (+video),” by Seth Robbins, The Christian Science Monitor.  “The presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras meet with President Obama on the Central American crisis today. While their focus is often police and military solutions, others are seeking ways for kids to work or attend school without fear of being killed.”

“America Is Facing Its Greatest Social Crisis In Modern History,” by Matt Ford, The Atlantic, Business Insider.  “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.”

“The Cold War and its aftermath,” by John Norris, Devex. “Nixon defended foreign assistance as “essential to express and achieve our national goals in the international community — a world order of peace and justice.”

House Votes to Push Millions Into Deeper Poverty

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The annual KIDS COUNT Data Book by the Anne E. Casey Foundation shows that child poverty in the United States is on the rise. (Rick Reinhard)

In a disturbing trend that prioritizes the wealthy over the most vulnerable Americans, the House today passed H.R. 4935 by a vote of 237 to 171.  Bread has dubbed it the “reverse Robin Hood” bill, which takes from the poor to give to the rich. The bill could push 12 million people—including 6 million kids--into poverty or deeper poverty while giving a tax break to households making $150,000 to $205,000.  

In a media statement today, Bread for the World president, Rev. David Beckmann said,  “It is unacceptable that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and have one of the highest child poverty rates among developed countries. Our policies should help lower-income working families climb out of poverty - not push them deeper into it.”

We do not expect the Senate to take up the Child Tax Credit Improvement Act of 2014.  Instead, the bill, which does not extend critical improvements to the child tax credit for millions of low-income working families, could be considered as part of a tax extenders bill after the November mid-term elections.  Tax credits, like the child tax credit (CTC) and the earned income tax credit (EITC), keep more people – including children – out of poverty each year than any other federal anti-hunger program.

Although H.R. 4935 passed, 173 members of Congress still opposed the bill, thanks to the calls Bread for the World’s anti-hunger advocates made to their representatives – including hundreds of calls this morning!  Bread is calling for any final bill on the child tax credit to include the 2009 improvements, which enable more low-income working families to receive a larger credit. Your advocacy helped build momentum and educate lawmakers that this is an issue the faith community cares about.

In 2009, Congress made the CTC available to low-income working families, enabling them to begin to receive part of the credit once earnings reached $3,000. Under the recent House-passed bill, a single mother with two children who works full-time at the minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) would completely lose her CTC of $1,725.

Bread for the World has long championed refundable tax credits as a way to reduce hunger in America and will continue to do so.  We encourage advocates to bring up the importance of tax credits with their legislators during the August recess and make hunger an election issue. We will also continue to keep advocates apprised as legislation moves forward this year and use every opportunity to restore the 2009 improvements.

Today’s vote was extremely disappointing, but we should use it to energize our conviction that the direction in Washington, D.C., must change. It is time to buck the trends and make ending hunger a priority.  Child poverty is far too high in the United States - in 2012, 23 percent of U.S. children lived in poor families. Congress unleashed its own version of Robin Hood on millions of children today, but we as the faith community will continue to fight for what’s right.

See here how your representative voted, and read Bread for the World’s press release “Bread for the World Disappointed with House Child Tax Credit Bill.”

Urgent: Don’t let the House take from children to give to the wealthy

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Children eat lunch. (USDA)

UPDATE, 12:42 p.m. EDT, July 25, 2014:  H.R. 4935 passed House by 237 to 171.

By Eric Mitchell

Six million.

That’s how many of our nation’s children could be sent into poverty - or pushed deeper into poverty – by a bill the U.S. House will vote on later today. Why? To give a tax break to households making $150,000 to $205,000.  

This is Robin Hood in reverse – taking from the poor to pay the rich. As people of faith called to stand with people experiencing hunger and poverty, now is the time to act.

The House is about to vote today! Call your representative at 800-826-3688 (Capitol switchboard). Tell your representative to vote no on H.R. 4935. Sending kids into poverty is going in the wrong direction.

The bill would make sweeping changes to the child tax credit, one of our nation’s most-effective tools to help working families escape poverty. The bill would end critical improvements made to the child tax credit for low-income working families. A single mother who works full-time at minimum wage (earning about $14,500 a year) would lose her credit completely. At the same time, the bill would expand the credit so households making $150,000 to $205,000 could get it.

How can we face the future as a nation if we cannot support all of our children as they grow? How can we leave hard-working families without support when a job doesn’t always pay enough to make ends meet? House Bill 4935 is simply the wrong direction for the country and the wrong direction for our children. 

Every call matters today, so please take two minutes and call your representative now. 

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

 

World Prayers for July 27-Aug. 2: The Caribbean

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Father Boniface Sena, Our Lady of Assumption Church, Petit Goave, Haiti (Bread for the World photo)

This is a new weekly prayer series that appears each Friday on the Bread Blog.

One aspect of Bread for the World’s new Bread Rising campaign is prayer (the campaign is asking Bread members to pray, act, and give). Staff of Bread for the World in Washington, D.C., gather every Friday morning for prayer, and as part of our participation in the Bread Rising campaign, we will be praying for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
 
We will be following the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, a list compiled by the World Council of Churches that enables Christians around the world to journey in prayer through every region of the world, affirming our solidarity with Christians all over the world, brothers and sisters living in diverse situations, experiencing their challenges and sharing their gifts.
 
We will especially be lifting up in prayer the challenges related to hunger and poverty that the people of each week’s countries face. In prayer, God’s story and our own story connect—and we and the world are transformed. In a prayer common to all of us—the Lord’s Prayer/the Our Father—we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This line from this prayer can also be a prayer for the end of hunger.
 
We invite you to join Bread staff in our prayers for the world’s countries to end hunger. And we encourage you to share with us your prayers for the featured countries of the week or for the end of hunger in general.
 
For the week of July 27 to August 2, we will be praying for The Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

God of all things good, you show us some of the best of your creation in the countries of the Caribbean – the beauty of their lands and oceans, the rhythms of their music, and the welcome of their peoples. Yet many nations of this region suffer from a lack of bounty, from disasters, and from governments that do not serve all of their peoples. We especially lift up in prayer the people of the Caribbean who experience extreme hunger and poverty on a daily basis, conditions that are a result of many factors. Give the peoples and governments of this region the wisdom and resources to find a path out of hunger and poverty so that all people may enjoy the bounty of your creation. Strengthen the many organizations, including those representing churches in the United States, that work in the region to help create better living conditions, and give those who support those organizations generous hearts. We thank you also for the many immigrants from Caribbean countries who have come to our nation and for the many ways they have contributed to and enriched our country. Embrace our country’s neighbors in this region, and give us a greater sense of solidarity with our brothers and sisters there. Amen.

Percentage of the population below the poverty line in these countries (NA=data not available):

  • Antigua and Barbuda: NA
  • Bahamas: NA
  • Barbados: NA
  • Cuba: NA
  • Dominica: NA
  • Dominican Republic: 40.4
  • Grenada: NA
  • Guyana: NA
  • Haiti: NA
  • Jamaica: 17.6
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis: NA
  • Saint Lucia: NA
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines: NA
  • Suriname: NA
  • Trinidad and Tobago: NA

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the 2014 Hunger Report

August's Bread for the Preacher: Let the Children Come

Forbes with Bible
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


Did you know that each month the church relations department at Bread for the World produces a resource specifically for pastors? Whether you are searching for inspiration for a sermon you're writing, or just a lectionary enthusiast, Bread for the Preacher is for you.

After reading this introduction, explore this month’s readings on the Bread for the Preacher web page, where you can also sign up to have the resource emailed to you each month.

By Rev. Nancy Neal

For weeks, the news has been filled with stories of unnamed, faceless, unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in droves. Americans have greeted them with varied responses, from blocking buses to welcoming children into churches. Our texts this month offer insights into a faithful response to people fleeing danger and hunger in search of safety and security. We are reminded of God’s promise of abundance, God’s steadfastness, God’s miracles, and God’s call for us to be God’s justice-making hands in the world.

Rev. Nancy Neal is associate for Denominational Women's Organization Relations at Bread for the World.

 

Charting a Bipartisan Path Out of Hunger

Nadine
Philadelphia, Penn. resident Nadine Blackwell lost everything after a medical emergency. She tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

An unfortunate trend in the United States is that living costs are increasing but incomes are not – and it’s increasing hunger in America. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived below the poverty line.

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat—let’s all agree that America deserves better,” said Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a speech today at the American Enterprise Institute. Ryan unveiled a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

“We want to start a discussion,” said Ryan this morning. The discussion draft Expanding Opportunity in America is an important contribution to a serious bipartisan dialogue about ending hunger and poverty.

"We are pleased to see such a high-ranking member of Congress take poverty seriously and offer his own plan to address it," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "We may have disagreements with some of his proposals, but we hope others in Congress will take note and offer their own plans."

Bread for the World supports some of the proposal's recommendations.

  • Bread believes sentencing reform is necessary, starting with reducing sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
  • Bread supports expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC) for adults without children.

However, Bread for the World strongly disagrees with other recommendations.

  • Turning SNAP (formerly food stamps) into a block grant would increase food insecurity when there are spikes in need.
  • Job creation and economic growth are critical to ending hunger and poverty, but work requirements are not effective if there are no jobs available.

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Read Bread for the World’s full press release, “Bread for the World Encouraged by Paul Ryan’s Plan for Poverty”.

Urgent: Voting on Child Tax Credit Tomorrow Could Push More Than Six Million Children Into Deeper Poverty

6481919653_93c2491182_oIn a reverse Robin Hood move, the House could pass a bill that would take from the poor and give to the rich – unless advocates convince them not to.  Call your representative today and tell them to vote no on this bill that would harm our nation’s children.

Update: Vote postponed until Friday.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 4935 - a bill that changes the Child Tax Credit, one of our country’s key anti-poverty programs. Disappointingly, this bill expands the credit for higher income families and cuts the credit for low-income working families.

Bread for the World has long championed the Child Tax Credit and even made it, along with the Earned Income Tax Credit, the focus of our 2010 Offering of Letters.  Tax credits help working families make ends meet so they can provide for their families. We have been urging Congress to make the credits permanent because studies have proven that these programs pull more people out of poverty than any other federal anti-hunger program.

Given the alarming rates of child poverty in the United States, altering programs that are helping kids makes no sense. Recent data from the KIDS COUNT Data Book reports that about 23 percent of children in 2012 lived in families below the poverty line – more than 16 million children. To our shame, the United States ranks below other wealthy countries in child poverty.

Currently the Child Tax Credit provides taxpayers up to $1,000 for each dependent child under age 17 and is available to families at most levels of income. If made law, H.R. 4935 would take away the credit from the single mother who works full-time at minimum wage (about $14,500 a year). Passage means that 12 million people, including 6 million children, would be pushed into poverty or deeper poverty. The bill also targets immigrant families, requiring parents who claim the credit to have Social Security numbers, regardless of the status of the children who would benefit.  An estimated 5.5 million children would be affected.

At the same time, families earning between $150,000 and $205,000 could now claim the credit — families who do not need offsets nearly as much to help raise their children.

Tax credits and a strong faith in God helped Heather Rude-Turner of Northern Virginia to move herself and her children from a homeless shelter to the security of a home. Tax credits gave her the boost she needed so her story of struggle had a good ending. Her children, Naomi and Isaac, have better opportunities and a brighter future because of tax credits.

How can we face the future as a nation if we cannot support all of our children as they develop? How can we leave hard working families without support when a job doesn’t always pay enough to make ends meet?  House Bill 4935 is simply the wrong direction for the country and the wrong direction for our children. 

Call 1-800-826-3688 and ask for your representative today – voting is expected tomorrow. Tell him/her to vote “no” on H.R. 4935.

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

Smallholder Farmers Key to Ending Hunger—But They Need Support to Do It

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Martha Togdbba of Kpaytno, Liberia, grows vegetables, including tomatoes and chili peppers. She irrigates her small farm with water from a nearby stream that she walks back and forth to with a watering can. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

In a recent interview with Devex, Roger Thurow says a key ingredient to global food security is the smallholder farmer. “Smallholder farmers haven’t been at the center of agriculture development efforts.” We have programs today that can change that.

Thurow is a senior fellow on global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.

Thurow says reversing the pattern of neglect is a major challenge of our time if we want to face a food-secure future. “These smallholder farmers who have been so badly ignored and neglected by a kind of collective us… [they] are now really indispensible to our future of feeding the planet.” Deficiencies in global agriculture become even more urgent when factoring in climate change and population growth, which will put increasing pressure on global food resources in the future.

Evidence suggests that agriculture-led growth is a key to ending hunger and poverty. Faustine Wabwire writes that the missing link is women. In A Global Development Agenda: Toward 2015 and Beyond, Wabwire, senior foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute, takes a closer look at the composition of smallholder farmers, the majority of which are women. In sub-Sahara Africa, women produce up to 70 percent of the food for their households and markets.  She writes, “An estimated 12 percent to 17 percent reduction in global malnutrition could come from enabling female farmers to match the yields of male farmers by allowing them equal access to resources.”

USAID has been leading the charge with a new kind of development that addresses smallholder agriculture and women as change agents. Programs like Feed the Future are already charting a course toward self-sufficiency. Investing in and reforming U.S. food aid to allow flexibility, improve nutrition, and build long-term resilience is also critical to a future free from hunger. 

Congress must make these investments a priority in their 2015 spending bills if we are to end global hunger.  However, appropriators in the Senate have approved a $100 million cut to Feed the Future in the State-Foreign Operations bill. Investments in food aid reform, although minimal, have been proposed for House and Senate Agricultural appropriation bills and pushed through with the help of persistent urging on the part of anti-hunger advocates. We will continue to support amendments that allow U.S. food aid to reach more people.

The nightly news shows us we face daunting problems: children fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, Somalia on the brink of famine, the incomprehensible human suffering of refugees in South Sudan – the list goes on. At the root of each of these crises is hunger and poverty.  Solutions that address root causes are solutions that last. Looking at smallholder farmers as the engine for poverty reduction can help end what Thurow calls a medieval affliction of our time – child malnutrition.  He asks, “Why in the fourteenth year of the 21st century are we still afflicted by all these problems?”  Why indeed.

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

Faith Leaders to Congress: Oppose Revisions to Anti-Trafficking Laws

Guatamal children
Poverty and violence have caused a surge in child migration to the United States from countries like Guatemala, which has the highest child malnutrition rate in the Western Hemisphere. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

“Few people are elevating social and economic conditions that compel people to take such dangerous risks by crossing the U.S. border or sending their unaccompanied children in search of a better life, but they are conditions that must be addressed if we are serious about fixing this crisis.” - Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World

 

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are crossing the border, fleeing unspeakable conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed our borders. By year’s end, we are expecting that number to grow to between 70,000 and 90,000.

Some members of Congress would like to deport the children faster by amending a 2008 anti-trafficking law that was originally meant to protect migrant children. Faith leaders are speaking up for the rights of the children. Today, members of the Evangelical Immigration Table – a coalition of which Bread for the World is a member – sent a letter to Congress opposing revisions to the 2008 law.

The faith leaders write:

"Children are vulnerable even in the best of circumstances and warrant special protection beyond that offered to adults. This vulnerability is compounded among children who flee situations of criminal gangs, sexual violence, trauma and extreme poverty, without their parents to accompany them.”

Urging concern for the children’s well-being first, the leaders are clear that the humanitarian crisis is an issue that concerns people of faith:

“As we pray for these children and also our nation, we are reminded of Matthew 19:13-14 in which Jesus said, “ Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.’ Churches and faith-based organizations have long partnered with the federal government in serving immigrant children and families in the United States. Many churches and faith-based organizations are ready and committed to provide the same type of assistance and pastoral care in the case of these unaccompanied children.”

Bread for the World is urging our government to focus on the root causes that are driving the surge of migration from Central America to the United States, such as  the economic, social, governance, and security conditions.

Read the letter here and add your voice. There are two things you can do right now to help.

  1. Pray. Pray for these children, their parents, and the often poor and violence-stricken communities they have left behind. And pray for the children who still remain in Central America, many of whom, like Emilio, go without enough food for days on end. You can use these prayers or your own.

  2. Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.

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