Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

Slight Decline in Poverty Rate, Still Millions Live Below Poverty Line

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According to a Census Bureau report released today, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent. (Todd Post)

The good news is we are making progress on poverty in America. However, the economic recovery is leaving too many Americans behind.

More than 45 million Americans—14.5 percent—lived below the poverty line in 2013, according to a Census Bureau report released today. Poverty decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006. Additionally, child poverty declined for the first time since 2000, from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent.

There is still more to do. The faithful must continue to advocate for even more progress against hunger and poverty, especially during an election year.

Poverty rates are still disproportionately high among Hispanics and African-Americans: 23.5 percent of Hispanics and 27.1 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line.

Mothers like Jacqueline Christian, who try to make ends meet on minimum wage, still wait to feel the effects of the economic recovery. National Geographic told Christian’s story in the article The New Faces of Hunger published last July.

Christian makes $7.25 an hour working full time as a home health aid in Houston, Texas. She and her two sons, who struggle to get enough to eat, were living in a homeless shelter at the time the article was published.

Recent gains in employment, with 2.8 million people returning to the labor market, have helped decrease poverty in America. Wages, however, continue to stagnate for those who have jobs. Low-income employment like Christian’s doesn’t pay a living wage.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2009 and 2013 the top 5 percent of workers saw their wages rise by 1 percent while the bottom 60 percent saw hourly wages fall by 4-6 percent. Higher incomes among high-wage earners and corporations have mainly shown up in higher stock prices, and companies have been slow to invest in the real economy. 

As the economy improves, our elected officials must craft policy to ensure that we don’t leave large groups of Americans behind—people like Jacqueline Christian, who works full time but can’t meet her family’s basic needs.

Encouraged by progress and recent public discourse by both parties about ending hunger and poverty in America, Bread for the World’s President David Beckmann says Congress should focus on employment and reducing income inequality.

“The best defense against hunger and poverty is reliable work,” Beckmann said in a statement to the press today. “As the mid-term election draws near, we must vote for leaders who are committed to increasing job opportunities and pray that their actions are guided by compassion and justice so that we can continue to reduce hunger and poverty.”

Thursday, the Census Bureau will release state-level data.

 

Register for September's National Call and Webinar

PhoneBy Lavida Davis

Congress returned to Washington last week with no shortage of issues to address. But the House and Senate will be in session only for a couple of weeks before heading home to campaign.

What will members of Congress do in the few days they’re in Washington? How will they respond to the current crises here and around the world? How do the upcoming midterm elections impact things? Most importantly, what can you do to affect their legislative agenda?

Join us this month for Bread for the World's montly national call and webinar. Hear the latest inside news from Capitol Hill and predictions for the coming months. Get an additional elections update, and learn more about how you can raise hunger as an elections issue.

We hope you can join us on Tuesday, September 16 at 4 p.m.(EDT).

Submit your questions ahead of time to Tyion Miller at tmiller@bread.org. Check out our comprehensive how-to guide on the webinar conference call and register today.

Lavida Davis is  the director of organizing and grassroots capacity building at Bread for the World

Hunger in the News: Sen. Stabenow Honored, Migration and Gender Violence, South Sudan Famine, Short Session for Congress

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

Small Farm Program Paying Big Dividends,” by Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal. “Fresh from a research trip to Africa, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow last Wednesday received the McGovern-Dole Leadership Award from the World Food Program USA, a private-sector group set up to promote the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that distributes food aid.”

Poverty: It’s More than a Job Market Story,” by Emily Cuddy, Isabel V. Sawhil,l and Richard V. Reeves, Brookings.  “We predict that there will be a gradual decline in the headline poverty rate for the foreseeable future; however, we do not expect it to return to its pre-Great Recession level by 2024 despite the fact the unemployment rate is projected to do so.”

80% Of Central American Women, Girls Are Raped Crossing Into The U.S.,” by Eleanor Goldberg, The Huffington Post. “As the number of Central American women and girls crossing into the U.S. continues to spike, so is the staggering amount of sexual violence waged against these migrants who are in search of a better life.”

Guest viewpoint: September is National Hunger Action Month,” by Andrew Morehouse, The Republican. “September is national Hunger Action Month. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the entire Feeding America nationwide network of 200+ food banks have joined forces to raise awareness to fight hunger.”

South Sudan food crisis: Surviving on water lilies,” by Emmanuel Igunza, BBC. “The BBC's Emmanuel Igunza visits a South Sudanese village where people have resorted to eating water lilies, amid fears that a famine is looming.”

Congress tries to rush home for Election Day,” by Jamie Dupree, WSB News. “The U.S. Congress may have only returned to Washington, D.C. last week from a lengthy summer break, and Election Day may still be seven weeks away, but lawmakers could try to wrap up work this week in order to rush back home to campaign for the November elections.”

Voters support a path to legalization for immigrants here illegally,” by Seema Mehta, Las Angeles Times. “Though deeply concerned about the effects of illegal immigration on California, state voters broadly support a path to legalization for the nation's 12 million unauthorized residents, according to a new poll.”

US household food security fails to improve,” by Haya El Nasser, AlJazeera America. “New government report covers depth of hunger and malnutrition problems, which remain at historically high levels”

 

 

Return from Recess

Capitol 2
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

As summer draws to a close, members of Congress return to Washington for a short work period before entering the final campaign stretch before the midterm elections. Here are hunger-related items before Congress this fall:

Food-Aid Reform

Over the August recess, Bread has been urging senators to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). This food-aid reform legislation will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people. Read more about the legislation at www.bread.org/indistrict. While this legislation may not become law this year, more co-sponsors will significantly help push the issue forward in the new Congress.

The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to mark up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill (S. 2444), but that mark-up was postponed before the August recess due to unrelated issues. There is no word on when the legislation will come back up in committee, but Bread will continue to encourage senators to omit the harmful cargo-preference provision that the House had. This harmful provision increases the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged carriers, costing the government an additional $75 million and would leave 2 million hungry people around the world without access to lifesaving food aid.

Immigration and Unaccompanied Children

In the weeks before the August recess, Congress was debating and crafting legislation to address the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Read Bread’s bill analysis on the pieces of legislation that Congress considered before its recess at www.bread.org/indistrict.

Until recently, the debate has lacked much attention to the root causes of the crisis: poverty, hunger, and violence. However, during July, Bread activists sent over 10,000 emails to their senators and representatives, urging them to include these root causes as part of any legislation addressing the child refugee crisis. In meetings with congressional offices over the past few weeks, Bread staff have noticed that members of Congress are starting to incorporate root causes into their thinking about the issue.

When Congress returns, there will be two opportunities for legislators to address the child refugee crisis. Congress could pass a separate emergency supplemental spending bill as both the House and Senate were attempting to do before the recess. Alternatively, Congress could include provisions to address the crisis in the regular spending, or appropriations, bill, which is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to keep the government open. Congress will pass a short-term measure in September to get through the mid-term elections and will then revisit these appropriations decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year in December. Both periods offer an opportunity for Congress to add language addressing the surge of refugee children in the U.S.

Budget and Appropriations

In September, Congress will have to pass some sort of budget as the government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month. Congress may pass a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The easiest route is to pass a clean CR that just extends current funding levels. However, both parties will push for certain spending add-ons, such as funding for the border or wildfires. Some Republicans could also press for additional spending cuts. Any CR is likely to last until mid-December to push any concerns over a shutdown beyond the mid-term elections.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.

World Prayers for Sept. 14-20: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania

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Hungry in Hungary? Why not have the goulash? Nothing is more Hungarian than that! (Photo by bucklava from Wikimedia Commons)

This is a 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. In this blog series, we will be providing a prayer for a different group of countries each week and their efforts to end hunger.
 
This prayer series will follow 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 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 September 14-20, we pray for: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania:

God of the north, south, east, and west, we thank you for the contributions of these countries and their peoples to the world. We thank you for the long history of Christianity there and the work of their churches. Continue to enliven the deep and abiding faith of Christians there. We pray for an end to corruption and organized crime, high unemployment, and limited supplies of food and housing. We ask you to bring healing for those who suffered under Marxist regimes. And we pray for the creation of stable economic and political systems that allow for the participation of all the peoples in these countries so that all may have enough to eat. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Percentage of the population of some of these countries living below the national poverty line (2014 figures):

Bulgaria: 21.2
Hungary:
not available
Romania
: 22.6

Source: World Bank World Development Indicators as found in the upcoming 2015 Hunger Report

Bread's Eric Mitchell Named to The Root 100

EmitchellBread for the World is extremely proud to announce Eric Mitchell, director of government relations, was listed in The Root 100, an annual list honoring the 100 most influential African-Americans.

Mitchell is listed with notable influencers such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J), basketball star Kevin Durant, and Beyoncé. The Root is a black news website and compiles a list of the top African-American influencers who are 45 years old and younger.

“This is humbling to be recognized for the great work that we do to end hunger both in the United States and around the world,” Mitchell says.

When he goes to Capitol Hill, Mitchell knows he carries with him the influence of Bread for the World members who call and write their members of Congress about hunger. “This is just a reflection of the strength of our activists around the country who care about issues related to hunger and poverty.”

Mitchell leads Bread for the World’s anti-hunger policy agenda on Capitol Hill. His leadership has been instrumental in protecting domestic nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC from devastating cuts. Just this summer, Mitchell led Bread’s efforts to protect $80 million in danger of being cut from the 2014 farm bill.

This is not the first time Mitchell has been honored for his work as an anti-hunger lobbyist.  For two years running, he has been named in The Hill newspaper as a top grassroots lobbyist.

Around Bread for the World’s offices, Mitchell’s cheerful demeanor is a joy and his passion for ending hunger a source of inspiration. 

Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, says, “Eric Mitchell is a super nice guy but dead serious about winning change for hungry people.”

Please join us in congratulating Eric!

 

On September 11th, Remember and Recommit

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Children in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan (USAID)

By Stephen Padre

Today, September 11, is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. While we solemnly remember the thousands of lives lost and the destruction of some of our national symbols and other property, we should also remember the other fallout from that day: years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where there is war and conflict, there is often hunger.

Our government took the lead in those wars in what it called a pursuit of justice and peace and a protection of Americans’ way of life. As a result, Afghanistan and Iraq are much different places politically than they were several years ago. Yet these countries still struggle mightily with poverty and hunger. The largest assistance program of the U.S. Agency for International Development, our government’s main anti-hunger agency, is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the U.S. government still has a large military, diplomatic, and humanitarian presence in Iraq, even with a drawdown of troops there.

In the same way that our government took decisive military action in these countries, our government can and should take the lead in addressing poverty and ending hunger there. This has been Bread for the World’s call for the world over – for the U.S. government to do its part, to make hunger a priority and to end it by 2030. When the way of life of an Afghan or Iraqi child is conflict and hunger every day, then our government and we as Americans must do our part to offer that child protection.

For Americans, September 11 was a day of catastrophe, a disaster in our homeland. Today is a day of remembrance. Let’s also make it a day to remember the ongoing “silent disaster” of hunger that will occur on September 12 and every day thereafter in Afghanistan and Iraq, in South Sudan and Central America. And let’s bring the disaster of hunger to an end one day soon.

Stephen Padre is managing editor at Bread for the World.

Ebola Crisis Expected to Become a Food Crisis

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Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. (David Benafel, USAID FED)

By Robin Stephenson

Rice farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County were celebrating a rice surplus earlier this year, helped by a U.S. funded program to increase agricultural productivity. The small-holder farmers, who previously produced just enough to consume themselves, were able to sell 125 bags of rice through their cooperative.

Front Page Africa wrote, “The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers.”

It may, but not because of a banner year for rice.

2014 will go down in the history books for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. More than 1,000 Liberians have been infected and more than half have died since May. The World Health Organization expects the number to increase by 12,000 in the next six months. But Ebola is only the beginning. The collateral damage from the outbreak is hunger, without increased interventions of food assistance. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone face a similar narrative. Now Nigeria and Senegal are also reporting cases of the virus.

Liberia is still struggling to recover from years of civil conflict. Rebuilding the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy economy as well as an effective public health care system takes time. Poverty rates in the West African country remain high and chronic malnutrition stands at 36 percent.

Rice harvests in Liberia, which occur September to December and are expected to be above average this year, will help mitigate hunger in the short term, but the outlook for the next hunger season is bleak. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is predicating increased food insecurity throughout March of 2015 due to market disruptions and labor shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that the majority of Ebola victims are between the ages of 15 and 45, which will reduce household incomes for hundreds of households.

Investments in projects focused on poverty before the outbreak will lessen the need for assistance later, but it won’t be enough. The WFP is bracing for more humanitarian need throughout the region.

Food insecurity in West Africa will just add to an already over-taxed food assistance system. Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and people threatened by looming famine in the Central African Republic and neighboring South Sudan are already in need of precious food aid resources.

It sounds overwhelming but we can do more with some of the resources we already have. By creating more flexibility in the U.S. food aid program, we can reach more people. Pilot reforms, such as those that buy food near a disaster instead of shipping commodities from the United States, have helped get food to millions more people and build resilience against future disasters.

If Congress passes the Food for Peace Reform Act (S.2421), we can reach 9 million more people and, during emergencies, deliver food two months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Smarter food aid can do more than reach more people. It can build on progress already made. Liberia has worked hard to make progress on hunger, with help from foreign donors like the United States. Sending commodities will help deal with hunger today, but buying locally will help strengthen their economy tomorrow.

When the last case of Ebola goes into the history books, smart food aid means Liberia can return to making progress on ending hunger.

The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill.

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

 

What Our Faith Can Bring to Our Country’s Political Discourse

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Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) meets with Margaret Edmondson (center) and Bread for the World President David Beckmann during Bread for the World's Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (Rick Reinhard)

By Mike McCurry

One ritual these days in Washington, D.C., is to bemoan the lack of civility in our national discourse and the breakdown in regular order when doing the nation's business. Ask any elected official or congressional staff member why things seem so broken, and you'll get some version of the same answer: No one trusts each other anymore.

When I worked in the White House in the 1990s under President Clinton, we certainly had sharp disagreements with the Republican leaders of Congress. I probably said some things about Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that went over the top, but when I used vocabulary that was too pointed, either Leon Panetta (our chief of staff) or the president himself took me aside for a scolding and told me to dull the sword. At the end of the day, we – Republicans and Democrats and members of the administration and Congress – had to sit down and come to terms with each other.

I'm not sure there is anyone in official Washington these days telling their hot-shot press secretaries to tone it down. The language gets even more bitter and personal, and the atmosphere for problem-solving and serious legislation gets more poisonous.

I thought of this recently as Democrats responded to a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to fundamentally change our national programs that help the poor.  There are ample reasons to worry about Ryan's concept. Turning many of the federal programs critical for those at the economic margin – SNAP (formerly food stamps), housing benefits, temporary assistance for the needy – to the states in one giant block grant might put at risk people who live in states that take a dim view of helping those less fortunate. And given enormous budget pressures at the federal level, some in Congress might be tempted to gut funding for these programs altogether, although Ryan made clear his proposals were not being put forward to reduce deficits.

Whatever the substantive merits of his ideas, Ryan immediately came under criticism about his motives, his ambitions, his authenticity as someone who "claimed" to care about the poor. The attacks were political and personal, not directed at policy.

I kept thinking: Here is a true conservative who has spent time learning these programs, who has spent hours and hours visiting with those in need to hear their stories, and who is the first Republican leader in a long time to proclaim that government has an important role in dealing with shortcomings in our society that markets and individual effort cannot solve. Instead of "Hurray, let's talk," it was "let's demonize and ignore."

We are making such progress in fighting hunger, both here in the United States and around the world. We now have strategies for ending childhood hunger as states use school-based food programs combined with the private efforts of the faith community and other local organizations to make sure kids are surrounded by better nutrition and information about healthy eating. Groups like Share Our Strength (which I serve as a board member) are helping enlist governors and other state officials in campaigns called "No Kid Hungry."

Meanwhile, we are seeing serious progress in combating malnutrition and famine globally with strong leadership from Bread for the World. We won't quite meet the ambitious targets set out in the original Millennium Development Goals, but as work begins on the next round of targets for global development, hunger and malnutrition seem to be at the top of the list for world leaders.

Those are things to celebrate. When there are moments when the political right and left come together on an agenda, the church should be there to say, "Amen!"  And people of faith can help build trusting relationships that will allow leaders work through their differences on the way to real progress and solutions. That's what public theology can bring to a dispirited national government.

Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton, is a distinguished professor of public theology at Wesley Theological Seminary and a supporter of Bread for the World.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.

Quote of the Day: 1 John

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

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

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