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My Blog
  • David Beckmann

Updated: Apr 16

Our nation and world are still suffering the pandemic, our nation’s politics are still broken, and most white Christians would vote again for Donald Trump. I'm now launching a series of webcasts - and a companion series of blog posts - about how faith communities are interacting with the politics of poverty.

I have been teaching a graduate course in Berkeley to next-generation leaders who are preparing for careers in either public policy or religious leadership. The webcasts are drawn from guest presentations of ten national leaders at the nexus of poverty, communities of faith, and politics. I am now launching a series of 30-minute webcasts drawn from these presentations, We will release one of them every Sunday morning from now until the 4th of July.

Click here to watch my first webcast episode.

You can receive the link to each webcast in a weekly blog post. Please also sign up for my blog posts if you aren't receiving them now. My blog posts will be sharing reflections on the presentations, insights from readings and discussion with the students, and the events of recent months.

You will also be able to find the webcasts on my website, my new YouTube channel, or the website of the Goldman School of Public Policy.

The ten webcast episodes are listed below:

Episode 1

David Beckmann, President Emeritus, Bread for the World and Alliance to End Hunger

Series introduction

Episode 2

Josh Dickson, Former National Faith Engagement Director, Biden For President

How effective outreach to faith communities helped win the White House and what this has already achieved for people in and near poverty.

Episode 3

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, CEO of Skinner Leadership Institute

& Congresswoman Barbara Lee, United States Representative

How the Black church has helped the African American community build electoral power.

Episode 4

Gabriel Salguero, Founder & President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Examining the extent of support among Latinos for policies to reduce poverty and church efforts to encourage more support.

Episode 5

Henry Brady, Dean, Goldman School of Public Policy

How churches foster democratic participation, but often shy away from needed conflict.

Episode 6

Eric Sapp, Founder, Public Democracy

How tech and artificial intelligence can be used to strengthen support for progressive causes among faith-based voters and strengthen the voice of low-income voters.

Episode 7

Galen Carey, Vice President, National Association of Evangelicals

The strengths of the Evangelical movement and the NAE’s poverty-related advocacy.

Episode 8

Anna Eng, Senior Organizer, Industrial Areas Foundation

How faith-based community organizations build the capacity of low-income Americans to speak for themselves.

Episode 9

Amy Reumann, Director of Witness and Society, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Why and how her church influences Congress and how they work with other faith partners.

Episode 10

Tom Hart, North America Director, ONE Campaign

How faith-based and other advocacy groups have helped to increase international aid and support progress against global poverty.

Episode 11

John Carr, Founder and Director, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, Georgetown University

The resources and liabilities of the Catholic community for this work. Catholic social teaching and Pope Francis.

Episode 12

Eugene Cho, President, Bread for the World

How people and congregations across the country repeatedly convince Congress to do the right thing on issues of importance to hungry people.

Episode 13

David Beckmann


  • David Beckmann

President Biden’s first big piece of legislation, the American Rescue Plan, is already delivering very substantial help to low-income communities and communities of color. Now, the President is releasing his Build Back Better proposals - first, the American Jobs Plan; and, in the weeks to come, the American Families Plan.

The American Jobs Plan aims to foster just and sustainable prosperity. The plan is designed to strengthen America’s competitiveness and economic growth, and it is focused on improving job opportunities for low-income workers. The proposed public investments, mainly in infrastructure, would also reduce the ongoing U.S. contribution to climate change - by installing charging stations for electric cars on highways across the country, for example.

We tend to think that economic growth, help for people in need, and protection of the environment are competing goals. But Biden’s team has put together a strategy that pursues all three goals at the same time.

Our country hasn’t made much progress against poverty for decades, mainly because wages have been pretty much stagnant. The Jobs Plan that Biden announced last week features strategies to improve the EARNED INCOME of relatively low-income workers:

Lots of well-paid, union jobs. The companies that implement the Plan’s massive investment in infrastructure would be required to pay decent wages and allow people to join unions. The availability of these good-paying jobs would put upward pressure on wages in other sectors. The increase in union membership would stem the decline in U.S. labor unions, thus strengthening the power of workers to defend their interests.

Universal broadband Internet. This will powerfully boost businesses in low-income areas, especially depressed rural areas. More high-income people will move to rural areas to live and work.

Public transportation between low-income communities and employment centers. In most cities, people who live in low-income neighborhoods have a hard time getting to the parts of town where the jobs are.

An expansion of labor-law enforcement. There is now very little enforcement of labor laws, so abuses such as wage theft are widespread.

Expanded job training and apprenticeship programs.

Rapid growth of the economy and job market. Almost everybody benefits when the economy is growing, and the overall state of the economy is of pressing importance to low-income Americans. It’s especially tough to be poor when unemployment is high.

While the American Jobs Plan would fund a wide array of much-needed infrastructure improvements, 40 percent of the investment in infrastructure would target disadvantaged communities - the replacement of all lead pipes, for example, and the construction or rehabilitation of 2 million houses and commercial buildings. The Plan also includes provisions to address structural racism, notably the earmark of some of the R&D money for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The tax cuts of 2017 reduced the corporate tax rate from 28% to 22%. To pay for the public investments in the American Jobs Act, the rate would return to 28%.

Thirteen religious leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity sent the President a letter about what we think should be included in Build Back Better legislation. These leaders represent church bodies and organizations that include almost 100 million people.

One of our recommendations in the letter is to roll back the 2017 tax cuts, “Our shared conviction on this controversial point is grounded in Jesus’ teaching, ‘From those to whom much has been given much will be required.’” We also noted that the wealth of the nation’s highest income people and hunger among U.S. children have both soared during the pandemic.

The letter from church leaders concludes, “The Hebrew prophets were clear that nations sometimes need to make big changes, and we think now is such a time.”

  • David Beckmann

This is an unusually personal post. Eight months after retiring from Bread for the World, I’m now teaching in Berkeley and, at the same time, coordinating the intensified advocacy of the church bodies and organizations who are part of the Circle of Protection. You might be interested in what I’m doing and learning.

I’m a joint fellow of the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. The graduate seminar I’m leading includes students of public policy and students preparing for religious ministry. After some introductory studies, the course is featuring a series of guest speakers starting with:

Josh Dickson, who directed the successful faith engagement program of the Biden-Harris campaign. He is now deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. U.S. presidents sometimes have an influence on U.S. religion, and I hope Joe Biden will remind many Americans that opportunity for poor and vulnerable people is a religious issue.

Eric Sapp is a leader in the use of technology and artificial intelligence to promote democracy and the public good. His projects have included work to neutralize Russia-financed advertising among Evangelicals in 2020 and a current effort to better understand and address vaccine hesitancy among many people of color. Check out his website at www.publicdemocracy.io

Henry Brady is dean of the Goldman School. His most recent book, Unequal and Unrepresented, shows how unequal participation in U.S. politics is and how inequality in economics and politics are mutually reinforcing. He has also written repeatedly on the role of churches, unions, and other voluntary groups in strengthening democratic participation.

I’m also learning from my students. I’ve again been struck by how many people in the rising generation have experienced periods of economic hardship. I am really enjoying the different perspectives that an international student from Myanmar and a Chinese student who logs in from Nanjing have brought to this seminar. The Chinese student notes that Chinese people are proud of their progress against poverty, but her grandmother is the only religious person she has ever known.

Teaching remotely has required me to learn a lot in a hurry about digital communication. I have come to appreciate that technology is a new literacy. It takes effort to learn, but allows the human mind to think and communicate in ways that are not possible otherwise.

One of my sons, Andrew, lives in San Francisco, and I have enjoyed seeing him more often.

Meanwhile, the American Rescue Plan is moving through Congress. It will help us get COVID under control and powerfully help people and communities who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and its economic fall-out. The church groups in the Circle of Protection are working to pass it through the Senate with more than 51 votes. But Leader McConnell is urging Republican senators to oppose it as a bloc, and no Republican senator has so far indicated support for the bill.

Passage of the American Rescue Plan is extraordinarily important, and its passage is not a sure thing. Call your senators’ offices (especially Republicans or conservative Democrats) and ask them to push for its passage.

Seventy-five percent of U.S. voters, including 60 percent of Republicans, say they favor this legislation. If Republican senators hear from their constituents, some may decide to vote for the final version of the bill.