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Creating a Circle of Protection

July 2011

Thousands of Christians, people of other faiths, heads of denominations, corporations, and nonprofit organizations have stepped forward to form a Circle of Protection around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people here in the United States and abroad. These programs are threatened by budget cuts proposed by Congress.

More than 13,000 Americans have signed a memorandum to their members of Congress, supporting the need to substantially reduce deficits but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.

The Budget Debate

"Everything we have achieved for poor and hungry people in the last 35 years is under severe threat of budget cuts—nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and SNAP (formerly food stamps), as well as poverty-focused development assistance," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "We have had to rapidly shift our campaign priorities to meet this unforeseen onslaught on hungry and poor people from Congress."

Early this year, Bread helped organize a coalition of Christian denominations and organizations committed to resisting budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.

"It is a testament to our faith that more than 60 denominations and church organizations have signed on to form the Circle of Protection," said Rev. Gary Cook, who helped convene the coalition. "The circle is a diverse group whose members include leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, Sojourners, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and the Salvation Army."

During the launch on April 27, circle participants emphasized that, as Christians, "we believe the moral measure of the (budget) debate is how the most poor and most vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called 'the least of these.'"

Recently, the Alliance to End Hunger, a coalition partner, circulated a letter supporting the principles of the Circle of Protection. Forty-five heads of nonprofits, corporations, and development agencies signed the letter.

As the coalition was forming, Rev. Beckmann, Tony Hall, executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, and Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, began a fast during Lent to draw attention to FY2011 budget proposals that drastically cut programs for hungry and poor people. Thousands of activists, leaders of nonprofit organizations and corporations, and people of other faiths joined them in urging Congress to protect these programs. When the FY2011 budget was passed, the cuts to these programs were lower than had been originally proposed.

"We also realized then that our campaign to protect these programs within the FY2011 budget was actually the start of a longer campaign on budget issues that could stretch through 2012," said Monica Mills, chair of Bread's campaign steering group. "We have had to quickly revise the 2011 Offering of Letters—focused on foreign aid reform—since poverty-focused development assistance is also on the cutting block. Talking about reform helps protect these vital programs."

Thus, when nearly 300 Bread members and activists from 36 states converged on Capitol Hill on Lobby Day 2011, members of Congress and their staff were urged to create a Circle of Protection around funding for programs vital to hungry and poor people both here in the United States and around the world. Nearly 200 meetings were held with various members of Congress and their staff.

The FY2011 budget campaign, the Lenten fast, and the Circle of Protection generated extensive print, radio, and television coverage. The story has so far been covered by more than 50 media outlets in both English and Spanish media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, the Voice of America, Catholic Channel, Associated Press radio, PBS, CNN and Fox News.

This publicity has helped Bread and its partners secure high-level meetings with senior staff at the White House and with leaders in Congress, including Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

As this issue goes to press, it is unclear what kind of agreement—if any—will be reached by Congress. But as the debate continues, Bread has developed a set of briefing materials that break down in simple terms arcane budget concepts and a timeline marking important milestones in the federal budget process. They can be downloaded from www.bread.org/go/circle.

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