Our Achievements: 40 Years of Faithful Advocacy
“We began with a tiny seed of an idea, but the seed had life and, when planted, God gave growth.”
– Art Simon, The Rising of Bread for the World
In the 1970s, Rev. Art Simon, the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church on New York City’s Lower East Side, often found himself responding to emergency situations caused by hunger and poverty in his neighborhood. But Simon recalled his father saying: “It’s better to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom.”
Simon and a dozen other church leaders in the area—Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Presbyterians—were tired of being “ambulance drivers.” They began meeting to explore how they might address the local and global root causes of hunger. In 1974, they founded Bread for the World with the mission of ending hunger in God’s world by speaking out to their elected officials in Washington.
The original staff included Simon as president; Rev. Joel Underwood, a former Methodist missionary in India, who came on to organize and equip the membership; Brennon Jones, who had worked with Church World Service in Vietnam and who became Bread’s policy analyst; and Barbara Howell as director of government relations. Simon, Underwood, and Howell would serve at Bread until their retirements decades later.
Bread attracted thousands of members who were donating money because they supported our main premise—that by changing policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist, we can provide help and opportunity far beyond the communities in which we live.
But Bread needed to find a way to organize these members and prepare them to reach out to their members of Congress. Bread’s grassroots network was born with the launch of Project 500—an effort to recruit and train 500 advocates. Many of those early advocates, like Pat Ayres and Eleanor Crook, remain active supporters today. And this network, which has grown exponentially since then, remains the true hands and heart of the organization.
Bread launched its first large-scale Offering of Letters in 1975—on the right to food. Despite having fewer than 10,000 members at the time, Bread was able to generate more than 100,000 letters to Congress on this issue because our active membership invited their fellow church members to participate. The landmark Right to Food Resolution, passed overwhelmingly by Congress, states: “…the United States reaffirms the right of every person in this country and throughout the world to food and a nutritionally adequate diet.…”
Nearly four decades later, this simple, brilliant idea—the Offering of Letters—remains one of our core organizing strategies. Year after year, these campaigns have won far-reaching changes for hungry and poor people. And despite all of the advancements in communication in this electronic age, an avalanche of handwritten letters, coupled with personal phone calls and visits, is still the most effective way to influence our members of Congress.
Bread Hunger Justice Leader Krystyna Soljan meets with Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) during Lobby Day in 2010. Year after year, in-person visits with members of Congress have been at the core of Bread’s mission. Photo: Crista Friedli
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In 40 campaigns, Bread’s members have written millions of letters to their members of Congress. All have created help and opportunity for hungry people. A 2007 World Bank report said, “In the contemporary United States, few can rival the voice and energy of Bread for the World, a citizens’ group inspired by its Christian faith to lead the cause to end hunger.” Other studies by independent groups continue to affirm this finding.
The Bread for the World Institute (originally called the Educational Fund) was established in 1975. The Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. Each year since 1990, the Institute has published a highly regarded Hunger Report, an authoritative analysis of hunger trends and a resource for hunger statistics.
In 1991, Rev. David Beckmann succeeded Simon as president. Also a Lutheran pastor, Beckmann had worked for 15 years at the World Bank. Under his leadership, Bread has become increasingly more prominent, with a significantly bigger membership, budget, and staff.
Highlights of Victories for Hungry People
Since our beginning, Bread has consistently campaigned to protect and expand our food safety net—national nutrition programs. As a result of our work, strong programs help one in five Americans put food on the table each year.
Many of Bread’s early campaign victories continue to impact hungry and poor people here and abroad. Two campaigns in 1977 and 1978 resulted in the establishment of grain reserves to stabilize food prices and respond to international food emergencies. In 1979, Bread began a campaign to create a national nutrition monitoring system, which now enables us to accurately measure the extent of food insecurity in the United States.
Bread has always been an ardent supporter of the Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) since it was established in 1974. In 1978, Bread successfully advocated for the expansion of WIC. Today, it benefits 9 million who would otherwise lack adequate nutrition.
Bread helped craft and pass legislation to establish an international Child Survival Fund in 1984. Since then, we have pushed to increase its funding. Every year, the fund helps immunize more than 100 million children in the developing world, and since its inception, the number of children dying daily from malnutrition and preventable diseases has fallen by 50 percent.
As Bread has grown, the political climate has changed, and as our members’ knowledge has deepened, our campaigns have become more complex.
In 1999, Bread led the legislative coalition of the Jubilee Campaign. As part of this worldwide movement, we convinced Congress to forgive the debts of some of the world’s poorest countries. Debt relief helped many countries expand basic education and health services. Today, this relief has reduced the debts of 36 of the world’s poorest countries by 90 percent.
Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.), Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), and the Illinois senator’s brother, Art Simon, founder of Bread for the World, in 1985 with petitions bearing signatures of more than 230,000 people calling for increased U.S. aid to famine victims in Africa. Photo: Brian Jaudon
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In 2003 and 2004, Bread successfully urged Congress to establish and appropriate funds for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a new way of administering U.S. foreign aid. The MCC, which is focused on good governance, accountability, and poverty reduction, is crucial in helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Since then, MCC has disbursed over $8.5 billion in aid.
Bread and many religious bodies joined forces with environmental and tax groups to campaign for reform of the farm bill in 2007. The farm bill is the major source of funding for national nutrition programs. We won the largest funding increase ever for such programs. But more importantly, we have shaken up traditional farm bill politics and made the House and Senate farm bills better than they would have otherwise been.
In 2008, we began to take on one of our most challenging campaigns yet: making foreign assistance more effective in reducing hunger and poverty. Our legislative vehicle was the 1961 U.S. Foreign Assistance Act. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in overhauling the bill, but we did convince the government to elevate development as a priority. By late 2010, President Barack Obama had outlined his Global Development Policy, which promised better coordination between its development and diplomacy programs. The State Department also initiated its first Quadrrienial Development and Diplomacy Review, which set out a sweeping reform agenda for the department and USAID.
The development and diplomacy reforms also created space for us to improve the nutritional quality of U.S. aid. With Bread for the World Institute’s leadership, we have supported the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Network. With representatives from 33 countries, SUN will lead in advocating for more investments in nutrition programs in poor countries. In May 2014, USAID announced the adoption of a nutrition policy for all of its development projects. A government-wide nutrition policy is also expected to be announced soon.
Throughout the years, Bread has been successful in ensuring that billions of dollars are set aside in the federal budget for poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA). Despite congressional attempts to reduce it in the last three years, we have succeeded in getting PFDA increased.
In 2009, Bread began advocating for comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system. Bread’s unique contribution to this effort has always been on the link between hunger and immigration.
With our partners in the Circle of Protection, which Bread helped create in 2011, we have succeeded in fighting back congressional proposals to cut all funding–national and international–for programs vital to hungry and poor people. In 2011, the House of Representatives proposed cuts totaling $3 trillion over ten years, but cuts of less than $50 billion occurred by 2013.
As a bipartisan organization, Bread has been a servant leader to the larger movement to end hunger and poverty. We have dedicated partners in more than 50 Christian denominations and church bodies. We have given birth to such organizations as the ONE Campaign, served as the secretariat to the Circle of Protection and the Modernizing Foreign Aid Network, and have led various issue coalitions.
In 2004, Bread helped found a second affiliate, the Alliance to End Hunger. The Alliance engages diverse institutions—Jewish and Muslim groups, charities, universities, corporations, and others—in building the political commitment needed to overcome hunger.
As we enter a new phase of praying, acting, and giving, we give God glory and thanks for using us—an ordinary group of people trying to be faithful—to help end hunger and poverty.
Download a comprehensive timeline of achievements »
A Comprehensive Timeline of Bread's Achievements
As the year begins, Congress agrees on a big budget spending bill and a new farm bill. Funding for WIC, Head Start, and poverty-focused development assistance increases. Funding for unemployment insurance and SNAP (food stamps) is reduced, but the cut in SNAP is much less than expected. Both the budget deal and the farm bill make changes in the rules governing how international food aid is shipped, eliminating aid to about 1 million people annually. Despite uncompromising pressure over several years to cut about $3 trillion from low-income programs, total cuts in poverty-focused programs between 2011 and 2013 come to less than $50 billion. Hunger in America surged during the economic crisis of 2008, but the protection of federal programs has kept hunger from increasing further despite increasing unemployment in 2009 and 2010. The surprising expansion of U.S. development assistance during these years helped to maintain the momentum of global progress against hunger and poverty.
Due to pressure from Bread, USAID and the government adopt a nutrition policy to be announced in May.
Bread members petition President Obama to set a goal and develop a plan to end hunger. In this year, he becomes more outspoken on poverty issues, as do several leading Republicans. Strong public disapproval of a government shutdown in August finally leads Congress to moderate budget brinksmanship. Meanwhile, the reform of U.S. foreign aid continues: USAID is now a stronger agency; development in low-income countries is a higher priority of U.S. foreign policy; aid programs are more transparent and accountable; and local people have a stronger role in U.S. funded projects.
As the two political parties insist on two different visions of how to reduce U.S. budget deficits, creating uncertainty that slowed recovery of the U.S. economy and job market, Bread and our church partners maintain a dialogue with top Republican and Democratic leaders. They agree on some tax increases and spending cuts in 2012, but make almost no cuts to poverty-focused programs. Congress extends the current earned income tax credit and child tax credit benefits for five years, assisting more than 13 million low-income working families, including over 25 million children. On foreign assistance reform, the House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee both unanimously pass a bipartisan bill that endorse improvements in aid accountability.
In the spring, the House of Representatives passes a budget resolution that proposes huge cuts in government spending, including $3 trillion over 10 years targeted to programs that focus on low-income people. Bread helps to enlist many churches and faith-related agencies in a multi-year campaign to maintain a circle of protection around programs focused on hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.
In response to the economic crisis, Congress passes a stimulus bill that expands additional funding for many programs that help low-income people. Bread supports it, focusing especially on tax credits for low-income working families, which are the government’s largest anti-poverty programs aside from Social Security. The earned income tax credit alone lifts 6.5 million people—half of them children—out of poverty. Late in 2010, Congress passes a five-year renewal of child nutrition programs, including an increase of $4.5 billion over 10 years, the largest increase of its kind. Also in this year, President Obama establishes government-wide policies and priorities on international development; the State Department and USAID also began reform processes. Bread also joins global leaders to launch the 1,000 Days Partnership, which promotes targeted action and investment to improve nutrition for mothers and children in the 1,000 days between a woman's pregnancy and her child's second birthday. The first 1,000-day period of the partnership—from the launch in September 2010 through June 2013—has increased attention to the urgency of addressing malnutrition and mobilized support for maternal and child nutrition across governments, civil society, and the private sector.
The U.S. government leads the world in investment in agriculture and nutrition in low-income countries—an initiative that Bread supports and helps to shape. Over a period of several years, the hunger crisis of 2008 was reversed, and the world got back on track toward ending hunger. Bread also joins with many other groups in an ambitious campaign to reform foreign assistance to make it more effective in reducing hunger and poverty. Bipartisan bills introduced in both houses of Congress began the process.
As food prices rise dramatically worldwide, Bread helps to win $1.8 billion in funding to respond to a global hunger crisis. Congress also triples spending commitments for poverty-focused development assistance over this decade—from $7.5 billion in 2000 to $22 billion by 2010.
Bread pushes for broad reforms in the U.S. farm bill, seeking updates to an outdated and unfair system of trade-distorting commodity programs, along with increases in the food stamp program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). Bread and our coalition partners achieve the largest ever funding increase for food stamps and food banks—an additional $10 billion over 10 years—but failed to win significant reforms in the commodity programs. Funding for the national nutrition programs nearly tripled over the decade, from $32 billion in 2000 to $95 billion in 2010.
Bread members continue their winning record of significant increases in funding for programs that address the root causes of poverty in developing countries. A $1.4 billion increase in 2006 goes largely to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Now that millions more people are receiving life-saving medications, more people in the working years of their lives are again able to produce food, care for their children, and contribute to their communities.
Bread works with coalition partners to successfully resist a major push to cut food stamps again. In an effort to achieve bipartisan support of positive change for hungry people, Bread develops and campaigns for the Hunger Free Communities Act, which briefly provides small grants to community coalitions against hunger across the country.
Bread helps win increases in poverty-focused development assistance, $1.5 billion for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and $2.9 billion in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
To support the Millennium Development Goals, Bread helps establish the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a new U.S. assistance program focused on good governance, accountability, and poverty reduction. MCC has provided more than $8.4 billion in investments that support country-determined projects worldwide. This year, Bread also helps win the largest increase in poverty-focused development assistance in nearly 20 years.
Bread campaigns to improve Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and block changes that would make it more difficult for struggling families to lift themselves out of poverty. Bread eventually loses on this issue, but is able to help stall harmful changes for four years.
Bread builds on the success of the Jubilee debt-relief campaign by pushing for increased funding for poverty-focused development assistance. Congress passes the Hunger to Harvest resolution, which calls for significant new poverty-focused development assistance to Africa, and for President Bush to work with other world leaders to dramatically reduce hunger and poverty on the continent. Congress also increases development assistance by $593 million.
Hungry people see a significant increase in their food stamp benefits thanks to an increase in the shelter cost deduction. Congress also restores food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants and reduces red tape, thus providing more than $1 billion in groceries to hungry families each year.
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Bread leads the legislative coalition of the Jubilee campaign to relieve the debt burden of poor countries. The United States leads other wealthy nations and financial institutions in establishing an international program of debt relief for highly indebted low-income countries, allowing them to greatly expand basic education and health services The Jubilee campaign begins a process that has since reduced the debt obligations of 36 relatively well-governed poor countries by 90 percent, or $114 billion. As a result, families in these countries have more food, better housing and health care, and more access to small-scale enterprises.
Bread works to revive U.S. support for agricultural development in low-income countries through the Africa: Seeds of Hope bill. It becomes law in November, redirecting U.S. resources toward small-scale farmers and struggling rural communities in Africa. The same bill expands the emergency grain reserve that Bread helped establish in 1977. The reserve eventually becomes a cash fund, now called the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which finances immediate humanitarian food assistance in crisis situations.
Between 1980 and 2006, this reserve was tapped a dozen times to provide more than 6 million metric tons of food, giving the equivalent of a nearly five-month supply of food to 100 million people. During 2008, USDA sold the remaining wheat so that currently the Emerson Trust holds only cash (about $311 million in fiscal year 2013). The cash can be used to finance activities or purchase commodities to meet emergency food needs. In FY2010, the Emerson Trust provided more than $8 million in food assistance funds to Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Afghanistan.
Bread helps win back $1.6 billion in funding for nutrition programs, which keeps 400,000 people from losing WIC or food stamps. In 1998, Congress approves an additional $818 million in food stamp restorations for 250,000 vulnerable legal immigrants, children, elderly, and disabled people.
Bread’s “Elect to End Childhood Hunger” Offering of Letters campaign educates voters and candidates about widespread hunger among U.S. children and the importance of national nutrition programs. Although many legislators support harsh provisions in the welfare reform legislation of 1996, including deep cuts to food stamps, nearly 700 candidates, including 40 percent of those elected to Congress, commit to supporting federal legislation to help overcome childhood hunger.
As Congress slashes development aid to Africa, Bread helps protect at least $100 million in lifesaving aid.
Bread helps win $260 million in increases for WIC in 1994 and again in 1996, giving much-needed assistance to an additional 350,000 young children and pregnant women.
Bread helps to protect poverty-focused international development programs from funding cuts. Bread also organizes a broad coalition to make sustainable development—the reduction of hunger and poverty in environmentally sound ways—the leading purpose of U.S. foreign assistance. The president’s 1994 foreign aid reform proposals incorporated concepts and language from the resolution.
In 1992 and 1993, Bread helps win almost $2 billion in increases to WIC, Head Start, and Job Corps—three cost-effective federal childhood programs that benefit about 1 million infants, mothers, children, and youth.
President George H.W. Bush signs the Horn of Africa Recovery and Food Security Act, which mandates a shift in U.S. policy from Cold War purposes to peaceful development that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. One provision, for example, makes it illegal for the United States to give aid to dictators in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan.
When a dictator was overthrown in Ethiopia, it allowed USAID to begin assistance to the new government without delay.
Shortly after the end of the Cold War, Bread launches the Harvest of Peace resolution in Congress to urge a redirection of resources from military security to efforts to overcome hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. The resolution generates a strong response from Bread members and churches, receives support from previous Secretaries of Defense and State, and makes significant progress in Congress—until it is eventually derailed by the Gulf War. During this year, Bread also helps to win debt-relief provisions in the farm bill, reducing food aid-related debts of poor countries and freeing money for investment in health care, education, and other needs.
By 1992, the provisions provided $2.7 billion in debt relief—Bread’s initial foray into seeking debt relief for impoverished countries.
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Through No Child Should Go to Bed Hungry, Congress increases WIC funding by $118 million, which serves an additional 200,000 participants.
Congress approves strong policy provisions to focus development assistance toward women. All U.S. aid projects are required to include women at every stage, from conception and planning to execution and evaluation.
With the WIC: Food for Life resolution, Congress approves a program increase of $73 million, which allows 150,000 more women, infants, and children to receive WIC benefits.
Congress increases support for the Child Survival Fund and earmarks $50 million for a campaign to immunize the world’s children.
The African Relief and Recovery Act provides $800 million in emergency food aid and increases agricultural development aid for Africa in the midst of a severe famine.
Bread helps to craft and pass legislation to create an international Child Survival Fund, which helps immunize more than 100 million children in the developing world each year, among other achievements. Since the fund was created, the number of deaths of children under age 5 worldwide has declined from 13.2 million in 1985 to 6.6 million in 2012. That translates into around 17,000 fewer children dying every day in 2012 than in 1990.
This year’s campaign, to increase aid for basic needs such as water, health, and education, pushes through increases for the International Fund for Agricultural Development and U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) health programs.
At a time when programs for people in need are under severe attack, Bread effectively encourages Congress to squelch massive proposed cuts to U.S. food programs. WIC was targeted for a $100 million cut, but instead receives a $100 million increase, allowing 150,000 more women, infants, and children to be served.
Bread moves its offices from New York City to Washington, D.C.
This year marks the first time that Africa is a specific focus of Bread’s Offering of Letters. Bread members ask Congress to provide more development and humanitarian assistance targeted to Africa and to reform the way the assistance is delivered, including an increased focus on the poorest countries in the world, and women, who are the chief food producers in Africa.
Bread begins a broader campaign to reform food and development aid in ways designed to help countries become more self-reliant. Bread is especially concerned that food assistance does not undermine the livelihood of local farmers by making food too cheap or creating an unnecessary dependency on food aid, causing more hunger in the long run. Year after year, Bread tailored legislation that helped struggling farmers in poor countries increase their food production. Congress often approved these measures in small steps, but we swam against a powerful political tide of receding foreign assistance and neglect of agriculture throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Bread campaigns for the creation of a national nutrition monitoring system. Because of the ultimate success of that campaign, we now have official U.S. data on the extent of hunger and food insecurity in the United States.
In one of our first actions on domestic hunger, Bread joins a campaign to eliminate the purchase requirement in food stamps, opening the program to many people who were too poor to buy stamps up front in order to receive bonus stamps. Bread also won expansions in two key nutrition programs—the School Breakfast Program and the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Bread has been an ardent supporter of the WIC program since it was established in 1974. It now reaches 9 million mothers, infants, and children who would otherwise lack adequate nutrition. The program has significantly reduced hunger and its health complications. WIC for pregnant women has reduced the proportion of low birth weight babies by 25 percent. Every dollar spent on WIC saves taxpayers between $2 and $3 in Medicaid costs in the first two months after childbirth.
Congress creates a farmer-owned grain reserve to stabilize price fluctuations and the supply of grain. Because the United States is the world’s largest grain exporter, the price and supply of grain in our country has an impact on the price and availability of grain worldwide. Late in 1978, Bread helps to enact a second grain reserve to respond to emergencies quickly and adequately in times of international famine, such as the 1985 famine in East Africa.
The Bread for the World Educational Fund is created as the research and education arm of the organization. In 1988, the fund was renamed Bread for the World Institute. The Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it.
Bread holds its first Offering of Letters on the Right to Food resolution, which declares that everybody throughout the world has the right to food and to a nutritionally adequate diet. The resolution passes both the House of Representatives and the Senate, becoming the most sweeping statement on hunger that Congress has ever made. It also becomes the foundation for Bread’s efforts over the next four decades and shows that concerned citizens and faith communities can have an impact on hunger through the political process.
Bread for the World is founded by Rev. Arthur Simon at Trinity Lutheran Church on the Lower East Side of New York City. Bread begins organizing nationally with 300 members; that number grows to 7,000 members before the year ends.