By Rev. Eugene Cho
U.S. Census data from last year found that poverty in the United States was at its lowest point since the government started tracking it. Since then, we have experienced personal and economic hardship in ways that were unimaginable at this time last year.
Twelve percent of all adults in the country – nearly 26 million people – said that their household didn’t get enough to eat in the last seven days. Nearly 40 percent of Black and Latino families with children are struggling to put food on the table. Globally, hunger could reach 270 million people.
Congress passed the CARES Act earlier this year, and the number of poor people in the U.S. dropped by 4 million. Yet 8 million Americans have slipped into poverty since those benefits ended, and Congress and the administration have provided no additional support to a nation in distress.
Elected officials have shown they can provide help and opportunity to all Americans. Now they must continue to provide it as need swells.
Our government’s inaction is an injustice. Injustice is not a politically right or left issue – it’s a right and wrong issue. Bread for the World members and churches have increased their advocacy urging Congress to address hunger because they cannot be silent in the face of this injustice.
Throughout the course of this year, despite challenges, we have achieved palpable successes together.
Secured Broad Bipartisan Support for Global Nutrition
In a clear signal of bipartisan support for U.S. leadership to end maternal and child malnutrition, the Senate and House passed resolutions calling for accelerated progress. The Senate Global Nutrition Resolution (S.Res. 260) passed with 41 cosponsors and the House Global Nutrition Resolution (H.Res. 189) passed with 154 cosponsor
Expanded and Extended Availability of School Meals Replacement
In September, Congress extended the Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) to Sept. 30, 2021. Bread advocates played a unique leadership role in a critical moment to ensure this extension and its expansion to Puerto Rico. P-EBT provides money for groceries to families whose kids qualify for free or reduced-price meals if their child’s school closes. In the spring, when everyone was receiving school instruction virtually, it helped an estimated 30 million children in the U.S.
Ensured Hunger was Addressed in CARES Act
Bread joined coalition efforts to urge Congress to pass sweeping pandemic response legislation in March – the CARES Act – that gave immediate cash assistance to low- and middle-income households and expanded unemployment insurance. By boosting child nutrition and work support measures, poverty went down in the early and mid-phases of the pandemic. Internationally, the bill provided funding for global disease detection and prevention and growing humanitarian needs.
Bread advocates were successful in their advocacy for key priorities in the House of Representatives’ HEROES ACT, which included a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and $10 billion in emergency supplemental resources to ensure the U.S. continues to lead global response. While this legislation did not move forward in the Senate, Bread worked with partners to get a Senate leadership letter signed by 16 Republicans and 16 Democrats urging international response funding.
Protected Food Aid
Working in partnership with the World Food Program U.S.A., Catholic Relief Services, and ONE, Bread successfully urged the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to drop harmful language in a Defense Authorization amendment that changed non-availability determinations and tonnage requirements for food aid, which would have reduced food aid at this crucial time.
Helped Provide Immediate Access to SNAP for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals in California
Bread for the World and state partners advocated for Assembly Bill 3073, which allows eligible individuals in California to pre-enroll in the SNAP program while still incarcerated so they can immediately access food assistance for themselves and their families upon their release.
Secured Video Statements from Presidential Candidates and Raised Hunger’s Profile in the Election
Bread and its Circle of Protection partners secured eight presidential candidate video statements about what they would do, if elected, to address hunger and poverty. Bread’s digital outreach connected 750,000 people to the videos. Due to the efforts of many anti-hunger and anti-poverty organizations, as well as the swelling crisis brought on by the pandemic, a question about poverty was asked in the final presidential debate.
These successes show that our lawmakers can be motivated to put aside partisan differences and direct our tax dollars toward policies and programs that provide help and opportunity to all in our nation and our neighbors around the world.
2020 has been a challenging year. Yet, Bread and its members achieved significant results for those struggling with hunger in part because we know that our ultimate allegiance is to the kingdom of God, not to any political party.
In 2021, let’s continue to speak to our elected officials loud and clear: make ending hunger a priority.
Rev. Eugene Cho is president and CEO of Bread for the World.