A Full Hunger Agenda for 2014
Last year ended with a mixed-bag list of accomplishments for Congress regarding hunger- and poverty-related legislation. However, legislators gave a gift to Americans right before Christmas in passing a budget for the federal government.
Budget and Appropriations
Before Congress left for its holiday recess, it passed a budget bill, which was signed by President Obama. The new budget sets top-line discretionary spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will be busy during the recess deciding how to split up the budget pie for individual programs.
The deal ends the threat of continued fiscal cliffs and budget brinksmanship and provides budget stability and certainty, which benefits the economy and the political system.
The bill's major failure is the absence of an extension to unemployment benefits. Federal emergency unemployment benefits expired at the end of December, which left 1.3 million people without their benefits the week after Christmas. More than five million unemployed workers will be unable to access emergency unemployment benefits in 2014 if Congress fails to extend them. Congress must rectify its omission and extend emergency unemployment immediately upon returning in January.
However, the budget deal did replace some of the automatic/sequestration cuts, equally between defense and non-defense spending. The replacements to these cuts were made from a combination of cuts to mandatory spending programs and increased revenues from fees and sales. The cuts do not affect anti-poverty or anti-hunger programs for the most part.
It should be noted, however, that part of the savings in the new budget comes from a repeal of the requirement that the Maritime Administration reimburse the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture for the extra costs of shipping U.S. food-aid items on American ships as required by U.S. law. This means these agencies must use from $50 to $100 million for shipping costs instead of food-aid items.
This part of the budget deal highlights the need for foodaid reform, the focus of Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters, as it shows that the current law is taking money away from the food-aid budget, funds that could be spent on helping more hungry and malnourished people.
In December, the farm bill conference committee decided to delay the release of its deal until early January. Bread is eagerly awaiting a deal on the bill when Congress returns, one that protects and strengthens SNAP (formerly food stamps) and supports international food-aid reforms.
Poverty-Focused Development Assistance
Along with our 25 partners in the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance, Bread will continue to advocate for the highest possible funding levels for international humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance programs within the FY 2014 State-Foreign Operations bill.
Lawmakers of both parties left for the holidays saying they would return to immigration reform early in 2014. Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said immigration would be a "top priority" in the new year. He said the House would advance a series of bills to strengthen enforcement, improve the legal immigration process, and find "the appropriate legal status for those who are not here lawfully today."
As a way to show that immigration is also a hunger-related issue, Bread has been involved in the activities of Fast for Families and the occupation of the offices of more than 170 Republican and four Democratic House lawmakers for about an hour on a day in mid-December.
Photo: Bread’s 2014 Offering of Letters features the story of Catarina Pascual Jiménez and her children. This family in Guatemala has benefitted from the early days of a U.S. food-aid program.