What a (Lobby) Day!

Bread activists urge members of Congress to protect programs that help hungry people. Photo: Joseph Molieri / Bread for the World.

By Lacey Johnson

On a scorching hot day in Washington, D.C., roughly 400 faithful activists on Tuesday descended onto Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress as part of Bread for the World’s 2017 Lobby Day. The activists came from as far as Alaska and as nearby as Maryland and Virginia.

Young and old alike started their day at the beautiful and historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, near the Capitol, to worship and receive a legislative briefing by Bread’s government relations department, before heading out to meet with senators and representatives.

Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread, imparted a message to the activists, “For those who are Bible readers, there is a season for everything. There is a season for silence. And there is a season to speak. This is not the time to be silent.”

He asked activists to tell their members of Congress to:

  • Oppose any budget cuts that would increase hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
  • Fully fund domestic safety-net and international development programs that end hunger and poverty.
  • Oppose harmful structural changes to SNAP, Medicaid, and international development assistance.

This year’s Lobby Day occurred during a perilous time. Both the Trump administration and Congress want to make drastic cuts to programs that help poor and hungry people. The administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a $610 billion cut to Medicaid, and that’s on the top of the $880 billion already taken from Medicaid in the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

“Healthcare has a correlative relationship with hunger issues,” said Joseph Evans, a former pastor and current dean of the Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta, Ga. He was one of 10 Bread activists who attended a meeting in Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) office.

“I had a lot of seniors who had to make a decision between whether they were going to purchase their medications or eat,” Evans told Isakson’s legislative assistant, Ryan Evans. At the end of the meeting, Bread president Rev. David Beckmann delivered an award honoring the senator’s leadership on issues affecting hungry and poor people in the U.S. and around the world.

President Trump’s budget also calls for cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, international food aid, McGovern-Dole, development assistance, and makes deep cuts to global health programs.

“This is not just something we can brush aside. People are starving,” said Grace Lauer, 13, who traveled from York, Pa., to lobby with her Sunday school group.

During a packed meeting in Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) office, Lauer told staff members that she helped start a program to send food home with students after learning that children in her community were only receiving meals at school.  

“We have to start elevating these issues here in the Senate more than we have, and I’ll take responsibility for some of that,” said Casey, before squeezing in for a photo with over 20 of his constituents.

Another Bread activist, Michael Forbes, was with a large group from New Jersey who visited with a staff member from the office of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.).

Originally from Jamaica, he was on the receiving end of domestic assistance programs when he first immigrated to the United States. The help allowed him to have a normal life, and he assumed everyone received the same assistance.

Forbes, who went on to earn a master’s degree and become a computer engineer, said he was only able to succeed because his family received assistance. “I reflect on the potential I see in starving countries…It makes me think that cutting back on aid cuts back on the potential of all of society,” he said.

Lobby Day wrapped up with a reception and worship service in the Rayburn House Office Building. U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) were honored for their outstanding leadership toward ending hunger and poverty at the reception. Casey, who was also honored, received his award earlier in the day at his office during a visit with Pennsylvania constituents. 

The evening ended with several people coming forward and giving testimony about their day on the Hill. At times it was both touching and motivational.

“We do not have to give in to any kind of discouragement,” said Sister Doreen Glynn, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Albany, N.Y. “I’m inspired to hear our congresspeople say, ‘we can win this thing.’”

Lacey Johnson is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer. Jennifer Gonzalez, Bread’s managing editor, and Andrew Frey, a summer communications intern at Bread, contributed to this article. 

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