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Every year, Bread for the World launches a year-long campaign to urge members of Congress to take action on a specific hunger-related issue.
For the 2018 Offering of Letters: For Such a Time as This, we are asking Congress to invest in and protect key programs that help improve the lives of men, women, and children facing hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
Congress' actions have a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of people living in hunger. Unfortunately, some members of Congress have indicated they will once again target vital domestic and international anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs for deep budget cuts this year.
Through the Offering of Letters, you can help us persuade Congress to invest in programs that help overcome hunger and poverty. Handwritten letters are still the most effective way to make your voice heard in Washington, D.C. And your letter will be amplified by the tens of thousands of letters written by others as part of this year’s campaign.
Some of the domestic programs we expect lawmakers to target include vital nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and school meals. These programs provide millions of children and families with nutritious food. In 2016, SNAP alone kept 3.6 million Americans out of poverty.
International programs likely to be targeted by Congress, including humanitarian relief and international poverty-focused development assistance, have reduced suffering and saved the lives of millions of people around the world. Today, fewer children around the world are dying, and more are thriving than ever before, partly due to our nation’s investments in nutrition and agriculture programs.
It is clear that God not only cares for us, but cares how we treat one another. Throughout the Bible, we find examples of how God’s people promote the common good and speak up for what is right. In the book of Esther, for example, we find the story of an unlikely advocate – Esther, who is persuaded to risk her own position of privilege to save her people from destruction (Esther 4).
“Just as Esther was called to stand up and advocate on behalf of her people to the king of Persia, we too are called to stand up and advocate with and on behalf of our communities to government leaders in Washington, D.C.,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “We must urge our nation’s leaders to protect programs that are vital for people who are struggling with hunger and poverty.”
Like Esther, we must meet the challenges before us and speak truth to power. Mordecai reminded Esther that she could not remain neutral. Action was needed, and she could use her position of influence to change the fate of her people. We cannot be silent in this challenging time. Together, we must urge Congress to develop a federal budget that serves the common good and offers help and opportunity for all people – especially those struggling to put food on the table.
Bread stands with you and people of faith across the U.S. to remind Congress through the Offering of Letters that we must respond to Jesus’ call to help those most in need. The federal budget is the investment of our tax dollars. This investment must reflect our nation’s priorities and values.
We encourage you to take part in this year’s Offering of Letters. You can organize an Offering of Letters event by inviting people in your congregation, campus, or group sit down together and write personalized letters or emails to your members of Congress. For additional information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-822-7323.
To learn more about this year’s Offering of Letters and to download the toolkit, go here.
By Fr. Timothy Graff
Several years ago, when I was a pastor of an immigrant parish, I talked to a young father from Central America who had risked much to bring his family to the United States. When I asked him why they took such risks, he simply said, “Padre, when your children look at you and say they are hungry and there is no food to give to them, you make any sacrifice so that your children do not go to bed hungry every night.”
Immigrants make difficult choices and take great risks to flee from hunger, poverty, and violence. With the recent controversy about the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, one question has not been asked often enough: “What are TPS recipients returning to?”
TPS started as a humanitarian effort to help families escaping natural disasters and other threats. During the current debates about TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), it seems that we, as a nation, have lost sight of that humanitarian spirit. Our elected leaders see their obligation to care for some at the exclusion of others.
Catholic social teaching requires that we integrate our faith life into all facets of our life. In Genesis, we confront this question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We answer this question as people of faith when we acknowledge that we have a responsibility for those whom we have welcomed. Can we now reject people who have sought refuge and send them back to countries they have not called home for many years? Can we have a clear conscience as we send them back to areas of great poverty and violence?
Right now, our elected officials are making important decisions about the status of immigrants, and we are called to prayer and advocacy. May we always remember the conditions to which people are returning as we pray and take action.
Fr. Timothy Graff is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and currently serves the areas of pastoral planning, government relations and social justice. He is also an adjunct professor of theology at Caldwell University.
Bread for the World’s 2018 Offering of Letters: For Such a Time as This is now available on our website. Among the materials include a how-to guide on planning an event, an explanation of the issue, and items to help promote your event.
A condensed, print version of the toolkit will arrive in mailboxes later this month. Spanish materials, both online and print, will be available at the end of February.
During 2018, Bread’s e-newsletter will highlight each month’s theme of our new devotional guide: “In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional Guide for Public Policy Engagement.” The year-long devotional guide was written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign.
In February, the devotional guide seeks to uplift and acknowledge the ancient African Orthodox contributions of our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.
Bread for the World believes ongoing prayer is essential for creating and sustaining the political will needed to achieve the end of extreme hunger by 2030. To encourage this outpouring of prayers, each year we produce Lenten Prayers for Hungry People. This six-panel “table tent” includes the Scripture lessons for the five Sundays in Lent as well as the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday).
Ash Wednesday opens Lent on Feb. 14, 2018. You are welcome to download or order print copies of Lenten Prayers for Hungry People to share with family, friends, and members of your church or parish.
Join us on June 11 and 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C., for Bread for the World's annual Lobby Day. Last year, more than 400 faithful advocates descended onto Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress. Keep reading Bread’s e-newsletter to find out more information as the date draws near.
By Todd Post
Bread for the World Institute’s 2018 Hunger Report, The Jobs Agenda: Working to End Hunger by 2030, will be released in March 2018. A “jobs agenda,” plain and simple, is an anti-hunger agenda. No family is more vulnerable to hunger than one in which adult wage earners are unemployed.
A good job is not just any job. Low wages and poor working conditions don’t add up to the kind of jobs, or jobs agenda, that Bread for the World Institute supports. The 2018 Hunger Report focuses on the need to improve wages and working conditions, especially for workers in low-wage sectors such as food service, retail, hospitality, and personal care workers such as home health aides.
The report examines how policies over recent decades have made it much harder for low-wage workers to feed their families. Fifty years ago, workers in minimum wage jobs earned much more, when adjusted for inflation, than they are paid today. They had more money for necessities such as groceries.
It has been a long slog out of the Great Recession, but the economy is performing well and the gains are finally reaching workers at the bottom of the wage scale.
A low unemployment rate and several state-level minimum wage increases suggest that 2017 was another year that poverty and hunger rates in the United State continued to fall. The federal government will not issue its reports on poverty and food security for 2017 until much later this year, but we know that ups and downs in poverty and food insecurity rates are linked closely to the unemployment rate. At the beginning of 2017, the national unemployment rate was at 4.8 percent, and by the end was holding steady at 4.1 percent. This is the lowest unemployment rate since 2000.
Nineteen states gave minimum wage workers a raise at the beginning of 2017, lifting the wages of 4.3 million workers. In states that raised their minimum wage in 2016, wage growth among the lowest wage earners, the bottom 10 percent, was 5.2 percent, versus only 2.5 percent in states that did not.
Minimum-wage workers have gotten little help from federal policymakers. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009. For workers in more than half the states, the state minimum wage is now higher than the federal level. New York and California, the two most populous states, passed legislation to raise the state minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. This year, the federal government needs to take action—after nine years of inaction—to raise the federal minimum wage. About 40 percent of the workforce lives in states that follow the federal minimum wage rate.
Low-wage workers basically have two paths to higher wages. One is for federal or state policymakers to raise the minimum wage. Depending on the amount of the increase, this also raises the pay of workers higher up the wage scale. David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute estimates that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour nationally would mean higher incomes for 41 million workers.
The other path to higher pay can be followed when labor markets are “tight,” meaning that the unemployment rate is very low. Over the past two years, with unemployment averaging less than 5 percent, men and women with a high school education or less have had wage increases of 3 percent and 2 percent respectively. This may not seem impressive, but most years since 2000, the wages of workers in this group, when adjusted for inflation, have decreased.
2017 reminded us of how important the minimum wage and the unemployment rate are for low-wage workers and their families. It can make a big difference in their ability to put food on the table.
Todd Post is senior researcher, writer, and editor for Bread for the World Institute.
By Robin Stephenson
Pennsylvania pastors Tim Seitz-Brown and Joel Gibbel did not mince words when writing an open letter to their members of Congress in the Hanover Evening Sun titled, “The tax reform bill has made it plain.”
In a letter, published on Christmas Eve, addressed to U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.-04), they wrote:
“For me, it is plain. Candidates and political parties who prioritize the poor, the planet, peace, and challenge the powerful — they will get my vote. Those who make unjust laws, issue oppressive decrees, deprive the poor of their rights and prey upon the most vulnerable — they will hear my voice. (Isaiah 10:1-2)”
The tax bill, which was signed into law shortly before Christmas, sets the stage for cuts to anti-hunger programs and will pose a challenge in the year ahead. People of faith are not letting the moment go unmarked. One of the best ways to get a member of Congress’ attention is to publish a letter to the editor, expressing either disappointment or gratitude, in a local news publication as Seitz-Brown and Gibbel did.
"The tax cuts pose a real threat to the programs that we care about," said Eric Mitchell, Bread for the World's director of government relations. "If we want to avert deep cuts, our grassroots will need to use every tool they have to make a lot of noise. We need to be clear that votes for legislation that increase hunger will have consequences."
As faith leaders, Seitz-Brown and Gibbel let their members of Congress know that unjust actions result in more than just losing a constituent’s votes in God’s kingdom. Citing Matthew 25:31-46, the pastors write, “Jesus painted a vivid picture for the nations, describing the joy when we treasure the poor and the tragic consequences we bring upon ourselves when we ignore the poor.”
Margaret Tran, who leads organizing efforts in Pennsylvania, says that letters to the editor and op-eds help let members of Congress know that Bread members are not only relevant, but have a public voice. She hopes more activists will tap into their passion and put pen to paper.
“It’s such a joy to work with Pastors Tim Seitz-Brown and Joel Gibbel who are always ready for the next move as advocates,” Tran said. “When the tax bill passed, they were fired up and ready to write!”
For help and tips about writing a letter-to-the-editor in your local paper, contact your Bread organizer or email email@example.com.
Robin Stephenson is senior manager for social media at Bread for the World.
Dreamers could lose their protected status under The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and risk deportation if Congress doesn’t act soon. Call (800-826-3688) or email your member of Congress. Tell them to protect Dreamers by passing the Dream Act (S.1615/H.R.3440) or the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act (H.R. 4796).
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