We Need to Protect Vulnerable People
Dear Members and Friends,
Right now, Somalia is in the grip of gruesome hunger. Mothers are carrying their malnourished children long distances to refugee camps to get food. Many children have died along the way—and many more die in the camps due to severe malnutrition.
Congress is considering proposals that would drastically cut international programs for poor and hungry people. In fact, all programs that help hungry and poor people—in our country and around the world—are under attack in Congress.
Bread for the World members, partners, and advocates need to raise our voices as never before. It will take intense efforts to stop budget cuts that could hurt many hungry children.
Throughout the year, the House of Representatives has insisted on deep cuts in spending, mainly from programs focused on poor people. We need to reduce the federal deficit, but it’s not necessary or fair to make people hungrier. They did not create the deficit.
But Bread for World members have spoken up. You wrote letters to Congress. You called, emailed, visited your senators and representatives, and sent in petition signatures. In March, several other Christian leaders and I led an extended fast, joined by tens of thousands of Bread members and concerned Americans across the country.
Bread also brought together coalitions of religious and secular organizations. We took a simple, powerful message in person to top leaders of the House and Senate—and to President Obama. We urged our nation’s leaders to draw a circle of protection around funding for programs that are vital to hungry people.
Our fasting, prayers, letters, calls, media outreach, and face-to-face meetings changed the debate in a Congress better known for gridlock than for bipartisan cooperation. You made a major difference for hungry and poor people in our country and abroad.
While we weren’t able to stop all the proposed cuts to programs that serve poor people, the initial cuts were less severe than expected. Just before Thanksgiving, Congress passed the agriculture appropriations act for 2012 (H.R. 2112). Domestically, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) received $6.618 billion in funding—higher than both the House and Senate funding levels. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which primarily serves low-income seniors, was funded at $176.8 million, enough to continue serving existing caseloads.
Funding for international programs also fared better than we expected. Congress voted to fund the Public Law 480 Title II program, which provides emergency food assistance, at $1.466 billion. This reflects the increased demand for humanitarian assistance due to unprecedented drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program was funded at $184 million, ensuring that school children in the poorest countries of the world will at least have one meal a day.
You have journeyed with us in trying to influence the negotiations of the Super Committee as it tried to recommend cuts to our deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The Super Committee’s failure to provide proposals, however, automatically ensured protections for the largest anti-poverty programs from automatic cuts. This is enshrined in the budget deal (the Budget Control Act of 2011) we advocated for in early August and that led to the creation of the Super Committee. But the battle is not over. There are now proposals aimed at removing these protections.
Seeing progress stalled by a sour economy and dysfunctional politics is discouraging. But please don’t lose heart. We have good reasons to remain hopeful that hunger can be ended in our time.
We know what works. Countries as different as Bangladesh and Brazil have reduced poverty. The economic dynamism in developing countries continues even in today’s troubled economy.
In Ethiopia, fewer people need food aid today than during a similar drought 10 years ago. That’s because of Ethiopia’s agricultural development over the last decade. You and other Bread members helped persuade our nation’s leaders to invest in the productivity of poor farmers in Africa.
In our own country, Bread’s past victories are moderating the impact of the depressed economy. In 2008, hunger in the United States shot up. But even though U.S. poverty and unemployment have increased since then, hunger has not increased further. Changes you and other Bread advocates helped win in 2009 and 2010—improvements in nutrition assistance and tax credits for the working poor—are keeping hunger at bay.
Our most fundamental reason for hope, of course, is that God is with us in our efforts to end hunger. In Jesus, whose birth we will soon celebrate, God poured out God’s love for us. Christ’s birth is also the birth of our new family as God’s beloved children. God loves me, God loves you, and God loves the mother walking miles across the sands of Somalia, carrying her malnourished child.
Our experience of God’s abundant grace in Christ Jesus moves us to share our bread with hungry people. God’s love moves us to work for large-scale change to help hungry people. Moreover, when we speak from our faith to our leaders in Washington, DC, God is with us.
So I ask you to continue to write, call, and visit your members of Congress in the coming months. Urge them to expand the circle of protection around U.S.-funded programs that are vital to hungry people at home and abroad. Our country’s budget debate is about the kind of nation and world we want. Together, we can help our country choose a future that includes help and opportunity for hungry and poor people.
Thank you for your prayers and commitment. And thank you for being a reason there is still real hope for progress against hunger in our time.
In grace and peace,
President, Bread for the World