May 5, 2017
By Joyce Rothermel
Global efforts, including that of the United States, have made great progress toward ending hunger and poverty over the last three decades. Around the world those living in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 a day, have been cut in half over that time. It is not enough. Now, nearly 800 million people in the world go hungry. Here in the U.S., one in six children lives in a household that struggles with hunger.
The U.S., along with many countries around the world, has agreed to work to end hunger, as well as for other sustainable development goals by 2030. Leaders from many sectors believe this is possible. It will require the efforts of families, churches, businesses, non-profit organizations and, most crucially, the governments. This year, the U.S. federal budget process has already begun. If the President’s proposed budget for 2018 is any indication, we could stand to lose much hard-earned ground. The focus must now be on Congress, as the various committees begin their work. Only the Congress can make funding decisions that put us on track for the achievement of the 2030 goals previously stated. Through the budget, we invest in many anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs that help people stay out of poverty and thrive.
This year Congress is expected to use two budget tools that can lead to drastic cuts and changes to anti-hunger programs: sequestration and budget reconciliation. Sequestration (automatic budget cuts) imposes tight limits on discretionary spending on programs like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, humanitarian assistance, and global nutrition. Budget reconciliation is a legislative procedure that enables Congress to make big changes to programs and policies at the same time. Reconciliation bills have fast track privileges, allowing them to more easily get passed. Many in Congress want to use this year’s reconciliation bills to drastically change the structure and funding for Medicaid and SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly the Food Stamp Program).
The budget has a moral aspect, as it is a statement of our country’s values and priorities. It should be evaluated on how it treats the most vulnerable people at home and abroad. The funding decisions that Congress makes this year will have far-reaching impact on the lives of people who are struggling here and around the world. If investments for strategic programs are cut, people will suffer and many die. On the other hand, positive investments and funding decisions can accelerate progress against hunger, save lives, and move us toward the 2030 goals.
NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT. Contact your Congress members, asking them to invest in and protect:
1) SNAP, which provides millions of eligible low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to purchase nutritious food. SNAP moved 4.6 million Americans out of poverty in 2015.
2)WIC, which provides 8.2 million low-income women and young children nutritious food and nutrition education annually.
3)Poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) programs, which provide improved nutrition and food security, access to safe water and sanitation, better farming techniques and agricultural productivity, and more. Fewer children around the world are dying and more are thriving because of investments in these programs.
4)Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (the refundable portion), which move more people out of poverty than any other program, aside from Social Security.
Cutting funding or drastically changing these programs would dismantle the progress made in addressing hunger and poverty over the past 50 years.
Over the next several months, advocates will be visiting local offices of our U.S. Congress members, conducting letter-writing campaigns, participating in national lobby days. Locally organizations like SouthWest PA Bread for the World, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Just Harvest, and faith-based congregations will be gathering advocates to participate in their advocacy efforts. Join them.
Here is a sample letter:
Dear Senator ______ (U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510) or Dear Representative ___________ (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515):
As Congress works on the 2018 budget and spending bills, I ask you to make funding decisions that will put us on track to end hunger by 2030. I urge you to adequately invest in programs like WIC, SNAP, tax credits for low-income workers, and international development assistance. These programs are helping millions of people escape from hunger.
We have made great progress reducing hunger and poverty in our country and around the world, but our work remains unfinished. My values and civic responsibility lead me to urge you to make public investments that will reduce and move us closer to ending hunger.
(Your Name, address, city, state and zip code)
To participate in visits to local Congressional offices, and/or to participate in the Bread for the World Lobby Day in Washington, DC June 12-13, contact me at 412-780-5118 or at email@example.com I can also assist your faith-based congregation or non-profit organization in organizing a letter-writing campaign. To find out about other advocacy efforts on this issue, go to www.pittsburghfoodbank.org and www.justharvest.org
Your voice joined with others can make a critical difference. This is what democracy looks like!
Joyce Rothermel is co-chair of the SW PA Bread for the World Team.