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By Bryana Braxton
The Republican presidential candidates proposed ways to end poverty during their debate on Feb. 13. As the most-watched debate of 2016 up to that point, according to a Nielson report, this discussion brought the issue of poverty to a national stage of 14.6 million viewers.
Bread has been working since last year to raise hunger and poverty as election issues. It counts the brief discussion of the topics at the debate as a success and applauds the discussion of the matter among GOP presidential candidates.
The debate was hosted by CBS. Moderator John Dickerson asked Texas senator Ted Cruz how he has been a “warrior for the poor” during his campaign.
“I think it is a very important question because the people who have been hurt the most in the Obama economy had been the most vulnerable. It's been young people. It's been Hispanics. It's been African-Americans. It's been single moms. We have the lowest percentage of Americans working today in any year since 1977,” he responded.
“And the sad reality is big government, massive taxes, massive regulation, doesn't work. What we need to do instead is bring back booming economic growth, let — small businesses are the heart of the economy. Two-thirds of all new jobs come from small businesses,” he added.
Dr. Ben Carson also talked about reducing poverty by eliminating some government regulations. Ohio governor John Kasich pledged to expand Medicaid to help the working poor receive health care.
“The issue of poverty is critical, because for me, poverty is free enterprise not reaching people. Today, we have antipoverty programs that don't cure poverty. We don't cure poverty in America. Our anti-poverty programs have become, in some instances, a way of life, a lifestyle,” said Florida senator Marco Rubio. He went on to propose turning anti-poverty programs over to the states.
The issue of poverty is a topic of concern for both the presidential candidates and American voters. Many watching the debate tweeted praise for bringing poverty into the debate, including Bread’s president, Rev. David Beckmann.
“3 of 6 Republican candidates mention economic struggles of Americans in closing comments,” Beckmann said.
“We are making hunger and poverty an election issue, so that the president and Congress who take office in 2017 will put us on track toward ending hunger and poverty,” said Beckmann.
More than 100 Christian leaders, as part of the Circle of Protection, sent presidential candidates in both parties a letter asking him or her to produce a video stating how they proposed to provide help to hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad.
Bread has helped distribute 10 videos from the candidates explaining how they would address hunger and poverty on domestic and international levels if elected president.
To learn more about the 2016 presidential candidates’ stances on hunger and poverty, watch the videos on the Circle of Protection’s website.
The Circle of Protection represents a diverse array of Christian denominations, churches, colleges, and agencies across the country. They will not publicly evaluate the policy positions or endorse any candidate.
Bryana Braxton is a communications intern at Bread for the World and a student at American University.
By Bryana Braxton
President Obama submitted his final budget, for fiscal year 2017, to Congress on Feb. 9, proposing new approaches to ending child hunger and poverty.
“Improving the opportunity and economic security of poor children is both a moral and an economic imperative,” the budget says. “There is now substantial evidence that further relations are needed to meet our 21st century poverty challenges.”
The $4.15 trillion budget proposes funding for new initiatives, including an Emergency Aid and Service Connection Grants program, giving short- and long-term financial assistance to families in crisis. The budget will establish a permanent Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program, helping families purchase groceries and feed their children year-round.
The budget will also increase funding for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP (formerly food stamps), and the WIC program, which provides nutrition assistance to pregnant mothers and young children.
These programs are designed to reduce poverty by helping parents find jobs and feed their children year-round. They will support the Improving the Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act passed by the Senate in January.
Bread applauds Obama in taking this important step to end hunger and poverty for low-income families. Bread’s annual Offering of Letters campaign last year focused on child nutrition in the U.S. This remains a major concern of Bread into early 2016 as it awaits passage by Congress of a bill that would renew child nutrition programs.
“The president’s budget would make important investments to help hungry children and ensure they are able to reach their full potential,” said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president. “Bread for the World applauds the president’s continued leadership in addressing child hunger and hopes that Congress will pass legislation this year to strengthen child nutrition programs.”
“The budget is a road map to a future that embodies America’s values and aspirations: a future of opportunity and security for all of our families,” Obama said in a statement on the day he released his budget.
Bryana Braxton is a communications intern at Bread for the World and a student at American University.
By Rev. Nancy Neal
“Early one morning, for no earthly reason, Sara Miles, raised an atheist, wandered into a church, received communion, and found herself transformed — embracing a faith she’d once scorned … Before long, she turned the bread she ate at communion into tons of groceries, piled on the church’s altar to be given away.”
So reads the description on the back cover of Miles’ book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (Ballantine Books, 2007).
In her appeal to the members of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in the Mission District of San Francisco to support The Food Pantry, Miles wrote:
"The first time I came to the table at St. Gregory's, I was a hungry stranger. Each week since then, I've shown up — undeserving and needy — and each week, someone's hands have broken bread and brought me into communion. Because of how I've been welcomed and fed in the Eucharist, I see starting a food pantry at the church not as an act of ‘outreach’ but one of gratitude. To feed others means acknowledging the amazing abundance we're fed with by God. At St. Gregory's, we do it now on Sundays, standing in a circle with the saints dancing bright above us. I believe we can do it one more time each week — gathered around the Table under those same icons, handing plastic bags full of macaroni and peanut butter to strangers, in remembrance of him.”
The Food Pantry started the same week that Miles was baptized. As she followed her call, she became not only the pantry’s director, but also director of ministry at St. Gregory’s. She led and wrote liturgies at the church, all while wrestling with the impossibility of being a Christian without a community and the ups and downs of living and breathing and engaging with real people.
The ritual of the Eucharist was expanded from a Sunday morning gathering of church members and visitors around the altar to the Friday afternoon distribution of free food from that very same altar for anyone in need. The ritual expanded again when volunteer after volunteer joined in running the pantry because they needed it. The group grew closer over a literal communion around a meal that was cooked during the setup and served before the church doors opened to the crowds.
Just as the ritual of communion changed Miles, the pantry communion changed the volunteers. It wasn’t some magic, overnight cure for their poverty and addiction, but they were changed on the inside for the better.
In the midst of Lent, I am struck that, while writing letters and emails and making phone calls as part of our advocacy work for Bread for the World doesn’t really take us into the streets, it does take us to the halls of Congress to proclaim the Gospel. We communicate with our members of Congress as a sign of the gratitude we have for all that God provides us just as the people of St. Gregory’s opened The Food Pantry.
Miles’ reflections remind me, though, that letters, emails, and phone calls are not enough. Our words are empty if we are not engaging in the real world out where Holy Spirit moves as freely as the wind. If we are not loving and listening and feeding and sharing in real relationships with people who are wildly different from us, we limit the ways we can grow and stretch and follow Jesus.
Nancy Neal is the deputy director of church relations at Bread for the World.
In early March of each year, you and other Bread for the World members are encouraged to renew your membership by making a financial contribution. You should have received your 2016 membership card in the mail, along with a renewal form and return envelope. Please return your membership renewal as soon as possible or renew online today.
Gifts in response to our annual membership appeal are the largest single source of the funds Bread has to support our advocacy efforts with Congress. If you made a recent contribution, your membership has been renewed. Thank you!
The season of Lent is an ideal time for your congregation or community to conduct an Offering of Letters. This year, Bread for the World is seeking to persuade Congress to increase funding for programs that improve nutrition for mothers and children in developing countries so they can survive and thrive.
The 2016 Offering of Letters kit includes background information, a biblical reflection, prayers for worship, and tips for organizing your letter-writing event. A DVD provides vivid stories from Zambia of how U.S. assistance is helping mothers provide better nutrition for their children. Worship bulletin inserts with a sample letter are available in English or Spanish. Order your kit or download resources today. For more information, call 800/822-7323, ext. 1140.
African-Americans continue to suffer disproportionately high rates of hunger and poverty compared to other Americans, according to a new analysis by Bread for the World. Unemployment and low wages, lack of access to healthy and affordable food, and higher incarceration rates are just a few of the factors that contribute to this problem.
The analysis comes in a new fact sheet titled “Hunger and Poverty in the African-American Community.” The fact sheet was produced by Bread and released last month.
“African-Americans continue to suffer from some of the highest rates of hunger and poverty in the U.S.,” said Eric Mitchell, Bread’s director of government relations. “Unemployment and the lack of good-paying jobs are primary causes. But we also have to look at issues like mass incarceration and access to healthier food options to get a complete picture of why this persists.”
African-Americans are more likely to be unemployed and to hold low-wage jobs with few or no benefits. The median income for African-Americans in 2014 (latest data) was $35,398, which is $20,000 less than the median income for other households. Almost 50 percent of black children younger than 6 live in poverty.
Only 8 percent of them live in areas with a supermarket, and almost 94 percent of the nation’s majority African-American counties are food-insecure. Food-insecure means that a person or household does not have regular, reliable access to foods needed for good health. The lack of nutritious food causes serious medical conditions, including obesity and diabetes.
The problem is worsened by mass incarceration. African-Americans are more likely than others charged with similar offenses to be incarcerated. Soaring incarceration rates deplete family resources through court fees and lost work hours. Many states deny returning citizens access to such programs as SNAP, even while they look for work. For those who are lucky to land a job, their yearly earnings are reduced by as much as 40 percent.
“The best way to reduce hunger and poverty is with a good-paying job,” added Mitchell. “But we also need to support strong safety-net programs, as well as policies that end mass incarceration and offer individuals returning home a second chance.”
Bread timed the release of the fact sheet for February, which is Black History Month. The fact sheet also comes as the Democratic presidential candidates intensify their competition for the African-American vote as the primary election season moves to southern states. Bread has been working to raise hunger and poverty as election issues, matters that it wants the candidates to discuss in their campaigning. By highlighting the disproportionately high rates of hunger and poverty among African-Americans, Bread hopes to spur all presidential hopefuls to discuss these issues more publicly.
By Patricia Bidar
Decatur, Georgia-based architects Ann and John Gerondelis met in their “first class on the first day of school” at Georgia Tech. Before they both graduated with master’s degrees, they were married — and members of Bread for the World.
As newlyweds, Ann and John were members of St. John's Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Atlanta, where they still worship today. At St. John’s they heard Bread for the World’s message being preached in their pastor’s sermon, taught in the Sunday school, and operated at full steam during Offerings of Letters. As a Bread for the World Covenant Church, St. John’s has participated for decades in the annual Offering of Letters campaigns.
The congregation supports other ministries that address poverty and hunger. When the weather turns cold, St. John's provides overnight refuge and food to unsheltered people. The congregation also participates in a partnership that mentors and assists refugee families and that advocates on behalf of the refugee community.
In the mid-1980s, Ann and John were eager participants in Atlanta’s Bread Group. The group, led by Bert Hahn, met monthly. “A big focus at the time was WIC [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children],” remembers Ann. “My eyes were opened by our studies as part of this group.”
Between 1993 and 2001, John and Ann lived and worked as architects in Singapore. Although they were in their 30s and hadn’t yet started a family, they created their will before departing the United States — and included a bequest to Bread. “It was a time of reflection for us,” explains Ann.
“Bread for the World does good work, in the right way,” adds John. “We knew we wanted to make the most of whatever we had when we are gone, and that has not changed.”
As expatriates in Asia, they were not represented by a specific member of Congress. But that didn’t keep John and Ann from participating in the Offering of Letters. They wrote letters to then-President Bill Clinton. In addition to continuing her Bread-related advocacy in Singapore, Ann belonged to a group called AWARE, which provided direct care ranging from a suicide hotline to services for battered women.
Today, Ann serves as undergraduate program coordinator for the School of Industrial Design at the Georgia Technology Institute in Atlanta. John helps direct a large architecture firm that specializes in high-rise residential, retail, and office projects.
Ann and John have two daughters. One attends Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. The other, a high school student, leads a service group at her school. Both daughters have positive memories of the family’s participation in Bread’s annual Lobby Day in Washington, D.C.
The family continues to be involved in community outreach activities through their church, including the Offering of Letters. John adds, “Although I’m socially liberal, I’m fiscally conservative. Bread for the World helped me to understand the power of using finances wisely.”
“Bread for the World has proven itself to be a powerful venue to provide a voice for the voiceless,” says Ann. “Today loud voices very close to the microphone are building a base of power upon people’s fears. I am committed to doing all I can to ensure the voice of love and care is heard.”
Patricia Bidar is a freelance writer for nonprofits.
Participants in the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference took part in some letter-writing advocacy to Congress during its annual meeting, which was held Feb. 15 to 18 in Houston. They urged members of Congress to reform the country’s criminal justice system.
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference is a leading social justice network for the African-American faith community. African-Americans are seven times more likely to be incarcerated as whites, contributing to high rates of hunger and poverty.
“When men and women are not home working for their families and when they can’t work after leaving prison, more children are at risk of suffering from hunger,” said Bread’s president, Rev. David Beckmann, who addressed the conference. “We need swift, bipartisan action to ensure that prison reform allows families to live free from poverty and hunger.”
Conference participants urged Congress to support and pass sentencing reform laws without further delay. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), S. 2123, represents a major first step in serious criminal justice reform. If passed, it would place limits on mandatory minimum sentences, allowing more parents to support their families.
“Congress needs to pass comprehensive prison reform soon, because too many children are going hungry,” said Beckmann. “The letters to Congress from the Proctor Conference are an encouraging sign and are critical to keep the momentum to reform the criminal justice system.”
The U.S. is home to five percent of the world’s population but 20 percent of its prison population. The sharp rise in levels of incarceration in the U.S. since 1980 has contributed to the rise of hunger and food insecurity in the country.
Mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses have left many parents behind bars, unable to provide food for their children. Those leaving prison also face difficulties in securing employment, further reducing their ability to keep their families from poverty and food insecurity.
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference was named after Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, former pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City and president of Virginia Union University.
Bread for the World’s president, Rev. David Beckmann, urged Christian leaders from across the nation to advocate for the end of hunger and poverty at Christian Churches Together’s 2016 annual convocation in February. Church leaders attended the conference, titled “What God Can Do When We Come Together,” Feb. 16 to 19 in Arlington, Va.
The solution to poverty “involves both direct response to people and also changes in the policies of our government,” Beckmann said. “Churches and charities can’t do it all. We also need our government to do its part.”
He stressed the need to prioritize hunger and poverty as a nation, especially in Congress. He described how churches can play a role in eradicating hunger and poverty by contacting their senators and representatives.
They can advocate for anti-poverty programs, such as SNAP and Medicaid, to protect them from budget cuts. The churches and the groups in partnership with Bread have won increases in international poverty-focused development assistance every year for the last five years, according to Beckmann.
Furthermore, the 2016 elections provide the opportunity to essentially vote to end hunger through our choices of who we put into office. Bread is committed to end hunger by 2030. In order to reach that goal, the next president and Congress need to focus on opportunity for all, including hungry and poor people, according to Beckmann.
“I hope you will encourage your members to think about their participation in this election as part of their Christian discipleship,” Beckmann said.
He mentioned the Circle of Protection, an alliance of over 100 Christian leaders who sent presidential candidates in both parties a letter asking each to produce a video stating how they propose to provide help to hungry and poor people in the United States and abroad. Bread has helped distribute 10 videos from the candidates explaining how they would address hunger and poverty on domestic and international levels if elected president.
Christian Churches Together provides a venue for churches from all major denominations, representing over 100 million Christians, to come together for prayer, dialogue, fellowship, and witness. This year’s conference celebrated the organization’s 10th anniversary.
“For the last 10 years, the church leaders who have participated in Christian Churches Together have found ourselves in agreement that social justice is an integral part of our experience of God’s love in Jesus Christ,” Beckmann said.
Bryana Braxton is a communications intern at Bread for the World and a student at American University.
Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.
Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.
The United States has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies. Food assistance that includes nutritious food for pregnant women and young children is both a life-and-death matter for individuals and an economic imperative for countries.
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