Hunger Programs

What does a world without hunger look like? It looks like everyone having the nutritious meals they need to flourish. Churches, charities, food banks, and non-profit organizations cannot get there alone. Government programs and policies play an important role too.

Federal domestic nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), and the school lunch program are just a few examples. These programs keep millions of Americans from going hungry. International humanitarian assistance responds to natural and human-caused disasters (the Indian Ocean tsunami, for example) and ongoing worldwide crises such as the situation in Syria.

But ending hunger requires more than just giving people a meal today. Addressing the root causes of hunger — primarily poverty — is just as important. As long as people don’t have the resources they need to put food on the table, hunger will continue. Bread also works for policy reforms that ensure economic security and self-sufficiency over the long-term for people in the U.S. and around the world.

Countries struggling with extreme poverty do not have the resources to adequately finance their own economic and social development. Development assistance programs are designed to reduce poverty and encourage economic growth in poor countries. They include programs for agriculture, health, education, the environment, and democracy and governance.

When disaster strikes, hunger often follows. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

Humanitarian Response to Emergencies

When disaster strikes, hunger often follows. Emergencies include natural disasters and disease outbreaks, or result from climate or economic conditions that slowly build to a breaking point such as food shortages, droughts, and conflict. These emergencies often have disastrous side effects including refugee crises and gender-based violence. Emergency situations can quickly go from bad to worse if the global community does not respond quickly enough to prevent starvation, poor health, and extreme poverty.

Bread advocates for the U.S. government to respond to urgent needs and protect the hungry and malnourished. For decades, the U.S. has lead compassionate responses to emergencies across the world, saving lives and preventing millions of people from falling into hunger and poverty. The federal government provides immediate cash and food assistance, health and sanitation items, and supplies to help communities rebuild. It also funds programs such as education, job training, and counseling services to help refugees adjust and find stability in an unfamiliar environment. 

The U.S. government and nonprofit organizations that respond to these crises recognize the importance of linking short-term emergency response and long-term development assistance. The world has seen immense progress in recent decades including once weak economies growing stronger, and people moving from hunger and poverty into more stable lives.  However, these hard-won gains can deteriorate quickly in humanitarian emergencies, especially if the global community responds slowly or not at all. That’s why Bread advocates for the funding that allows smart, compassionate responses to those at the center of disaster.

For more information, see how Bread is advocating to reform U.S. food aid to make it more effective and less expensive, and to strengthen foreign assistance to build stronger communities.

Assistance from the U.S. government helps people help themselves. Photo: UN / Tim McKulka

U.S. Foreign Programs

The people of developing nations can and should do most of the work in ending hunger themselves, but they need some support and resources. The U.S. government can provide some of it.

Assistance from the U.S. government helps people help themselves. It funds tools and training for improved agriculture. It builds roads to get food to market. It supports efforts to empower women to play more active roles in their communities. It helps governments develop plans to better educate, care, and feed their people.

Development experts agree that the world has the ability to end extreme hunger by 2030. We have already cut it in half since 1990. With continued and increased funding, U.S. foreign assistance can help cut it to zero.

U.S. efforts to end global hunger include:

  • Emergency food aid like the Food for Peace program that provides food during emergencies such droughts, conflicts, and other disasters. 
  • Development food aid that includes programs like the McGovern-Dole feeding program, which provides maternal, infant, and child nutrition in schools around the world
  • Long-term agriculture development programs like United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Feed the Future, which is helping 19 countries improve their agriculture systems and provide nutrition interventions
  • U.S. contributions to multilateral assistance for food security, including the World Food Program and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program
The most direct way to end hunger is through food-assistance programs.  Photo: Joe Molieri/Bread for the World

U.S. Domestic Programs

Nutrition Programs

The most direct way to end hunger is through food-assistance programs. These programs weave a vital food safety net for millions of children, seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling families.

The nation’s largest anti-hunger program is SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). SNAP gives families and people in need a debit-like card to buy groceries. More than 46 million Americans, or 1 in 7 people, were served by SNAP in 2014. Nearly half were children.

One in five children lives at risk of hunger in the U.S. School lunch and breakfast programs provide meals to 21.5 million low-income children so they can focus on learning at school. After school and during the summer months, children can also receive meals through the after-school meals program and the Summer Food Service Program.

WIC provides healthy food to low-income pregnant and nursing women and young children. This allows our country's most at-risk infants and toddlers to get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, senior congregate, and senior home-delivered nutrition services provide healthy food to older Americans. Nine percent of people over 60 are food- insecure and at risk for poor health. These programs help older Americans afford food and other expenses like medicine and housing.

Anti-Poverty Programs

In a low-income budget, food is often the most easily squeezed line item. Rent, child care, utilities – these are fixed expenses. Food is one place where families can cut corners and adjust. Nutrition programs help millions of families, but giving food is not enough. Progress against hunger requires helping families move out of poverty.

Tax credits are one way to support families working to get out poverty. The earned income tax credit (EITC) helps families keep more of their income, which they can use for essential expenses. The EITC moves more children above the poverty line than any other government program. In 2013, the EITC lifted 6.2 million people, including 3.2 million children, above the poverty line.

The child tax credit (CTC) is worth up to $1,000 for each child under age 17 claimed on a worker’s tax return. Families making as little as $3,000 a year can receive the credit. In 2013, the CTC kept 3.1 million people out of poverty, including 1.7 million children.

UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe

International Programs

The United States is an international leader in addressing global hunger. By designing programs that enhance global food security, including both short-term emergency food assistance and longer-term development, hunger has been cut in half since 1990.

Most often, the U.S. provides food and agriculture development assistance directly to countries through a specific U.S.-led initiative such as Feed the Future or a legislated program like Food for Peace. Other times, it works through international organizations to deliver, provide, and implement humanitarian aid and related assistance. These multi-government institutions are often formed to work on issues that are important to all those in the organization.

For over 70 years, the U.S. has provided resources, technical expertise, and guidance to several multilateral organizations working to combat global food insecurity and malnutrition. Some of these institutions include such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

Join Bread for the World's Offering of Letters to Congress. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World

Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for an end to hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Little more than a decade remains before the due date of SDGs, which was set in 2015 when nearly every country in the world adopted the SDGs. That deadline is December 31, 2030.

The level of ambition in the SDGs is the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, which ended in 2015, focused on developing countries. Targets were ambitious and included cutting the hunger and extreme poverty rates in half. The world met the goal of halving poverty but fell just short of the hunger target. Although it is impossible to say exactly how much of the progress was due to the MDGs, it is clear that they were a catalyst for cooperation to tackle some of the most complex human problems. 

The SDGs, which end in 2030, are playing the same role today. The goals serve as our impetus for collective action and offer a clear definition for ending hunger. Goal 2: Zero Hunger calls for ensuring “access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.” The word “nutritious” is important because hunger is more than a lack of calories. While hundreds of millions of people do not consistently get enough calories, the number of people who are malnourished because they lack essential vitamins and minerals, a condition sometimes described as “hidden hunger,” is estimated at 2 billion.

The power of the SDG framework, which relates all 17 goals to one another, is its recognition that none of the SDGs can be reached in isolation. Ending hunger depends on solving other problems such as poor health, gender inequity, and climate change. Poor health affects people’s ability to earn a decent living and support their families. Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being seeks to ensure better health—for example, by preventing or curing diseases. Goal 5: Gender Equity includes improving the social and legal environments that sustain pervasive discrimination and violence based on gender. Climate change affects agricultural production, threatening farmers’ ability to supply food for everyone, so there is Goal 13: Climate Action. Sustainable progress—progress that is intended to be, and is capable of being, enduring—depends on addressing all of the issues in an interconnected manner.

Every year, governments that signed onto the SDGs meet to assess progress. The meetings also draw the world's largest for-profit businesses and many not-for-profit organizations. They come to exchange experiences and ideas on how to achieve the goals, to make it clear that they want to work with governments and intend to hold them accountable.

Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, feeding programs aimed at children are particularly important. Photo: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank

Domestic Child Nutrition

Hunger among children is a major problem in the U.S. One in 5 children — nearly 16 million in total — live at risk of hunger. While hunger affects people of all ages, it is particularly hard on children. Even short-term hunger during a child’s development can cause lasting damage.

Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, feeding programs aimed at children are particularly important.

A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years, not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.

We have the tools to end child hunger in our country. Strong child feeding programs provide an immediate and direct way to reduce child hunger and improve health and education outcomes. Programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), school breakfast and lunch programs, and preschool, summer, and after-school meal programs are vital in providing children the food they need for healthy development.

Unfortunately, child feeding programs do not reach every child who needs food.

For every 7 low-income child receiving school lunches, only about half also get school breakfasts, and only 1 also gets meals during the summer. Many children lack access to feeding programs or find it difficult to participate. A program may not be offered in a child’s community, or transportation may be limited. Child feeding programs could do far more to reduce hunger simply by giving more children access to them.

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