Unfinished legislative business lingers after the 2016 election

Mothers in a Zambian village learn how to prepare and feed their children a nutritious porridge. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

By Jennifer Gonzalez

After a polarizing election, the American voters have spoken, and the United States has elected businessman Donald J. Trump to become our nation’s 45th president.

With a new president and Congress, next year will bring a lot of uncertainty. However, Bread for the World will continue to pursue opportunities to push policies that put us on track to ending hunger and poverty.

“Bread for the World members are praying for President-elect Donald J. Trump and the new and returning lawmakers who will make up the 115th Congress in 2017,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

Later this month, we will celebrate the unveiling of Bread for the World Institute’s 2017 Hunger Report, “Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities,” and in early 2017, we will roll out the new Offering of Letters.

But before we can turn our attention to 2017, our lawmakers must work together and pass unfinished legislation before the gavel falls on the 114th Congress.

The “lame duck” (final session) begins when members of 114th Congress return to work the week of Nov. 14. They are expected to adjourn by mid-December, which gives them roughly a month to finish a long to-do list.

Global Maternal and Child Nutrition Funding:

Bread’s initial request of $230 million for maternal and child nutrition in global health program has not been met yet. However, that does not mean that we should give up or that the fight for global maternal and child nutrition is over.

Congress still has not drafted and passed a final spending bill for fiscal year 2017. Even though reaching $230 million for global nutrition is unlikely at this point in the budget and appropriations process, there is still an opportunity to advocate for a slight increase of funding during the negotiation process for that final spending bill.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill:

Congress has yet to reauthorize a child nutrition bill, even though we worked hard in 2015 to make it happen. It was the focus of that year’s Offering of Letters.

During the summer, Bread and its partners participated in a rally opposing H.R. 5003, The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. We opposed it because it would change community eligibility and school meal application verification in ways that would reduce the number of children who get school meals. It also proposes blockgranting the school meals program in three states as a demonstration project. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee developed and passed their bill, S.3136, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016, on a bipartisan basis. Bread supports this bill. It is budget neutral. We will continue to press for a vote during the lame duck session.

Criminal Justice Reform: 

The legacy of mass incarceration is a scourge on our society. Nearly 77 percent of returning citizens end up back in prison within five years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study that tracked over 400,000 prisoners from 2005 to 2010.

A large part of the problem is a system that is stacked against returning citizens. They are discriminated against by prospective employers, barred from accessing public housing, and are often ineligible to receive benefits like Social Security income, SNAP (formerly food stamps), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

We want Congress to pass sentencing reform bills that will take the first step toward comprehensive criminal justice reform. The Sentencing Reform Act (H.R.3713) addresses overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. The Recidivism Risk Reduction Act (H.R. 759) expands access to effective rehabilitative programs to formerly incarcerated men and women.

Fiscal Year 2017 Federal Budget: 

Congress needs to pass a fiscal year 2017 federal budget that strengthens and protects international and domestic anti-hunger programs before the budget expires on Dec. 9.  The federal budget needs to be passed or the government will shut down. Our task is urgent and your voice necessary. We need to push for bipartisan cooperation to pass the needed legislation.

The legislative clock will reset when the newly elected 115th Congress arrives in January. Any unfinished business from the previous Congress must be reintroduced — meaning the arduous process to pass legislation starts anew. It would be a shame, and a waste, to lose momentum on child nutrition reauthorization or a smarter sentencing bill, especially when passage could begin alleviating hunger for vulnerable people.

“Make phone calls, write emails, or set up an in-district meeting with your current members of Congress and urge them to work together and pass four key pieces of legislation in the final days of 2016,” said Beckmann. “We have come too far to turn back now.”

Jennifer Gonzalez is the interim managing editor at Bread for the World.

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