Updated: Aug 3, 2020
“You cannot give up, and you cannot give in.” So said Congressman John Lewis, whose lifetime of prayerful struggle for racial equality we celebrate. In that spirit, I’m writing一not for the first time一to urge ongoing advocacy with our members of Congress to increase nutrition assistance and international aid in the COVID legislation they are negotiating now.
© UNICEF /Al-Adimi
The White House and Senate Republicans have delayed negotiations and are now divided among themselves about how to proceed. But President Trump and Senator McConnell both see that failure to respond to America’s deepening crisis will further depress Republican electoral prospects. A deal is also in the interests of the Democratic Party - and certainly in the interests of the American people.
The many church bodies and networks that are part of the Circle of Protection are focusing especially on increasing nutrition assistance and international aid as part of the deal. Nutrition assistance and international aid would target the needs of very poor people, and maybe for that reason they are not prominent in the talking points of either party. Yet some members of Congress from both parties want to expand nutrition assistance and international aid, and we can as constituents make these issues a somewhat higher priority for our own members of Congress.
The Census Bureau has been doing weekly surveys of U.S. households during the pandemic. Each week, about one in three households with children reports that they haven’t been able to afford enough food for their families. This is much worse than before the pandemic.
My wife Janet is part of a team making calls to Spanish-speaking families in our community (Alexandria, Virginia) who need food and rental assistance. We hear the pain in their voices, the same pain that all the families across the country who are reporting hunger in their households must feel.
This video footage and commentary from David Beasley, the head of the World Food Program, gives us vivid images of acute hunger in some of the most desperate places in the world - Yemen, for example. I’ve pinned a beautiful photo of a seven-year-old Yemeni girl at the top of this blog post.
Surprisingly, the House Democrats put zero international funding in the proposal they are bringing to the negotiation table now. That was a mistake. But 14 Republican senators joined 18 Democratic senators in urging the inclusion of international aid in the final bill. Senator McConnell’s bill thus includes some international aid, although much less than the $12 billion that Bread for the World judges to be the minimum of what it needed.
House Democrats are pushing for an increase in SNAP food assistance benefits and an extension of “Pandemic EBT” - which will provide extra food assistance to families with children when schools are closed. Four Republican senators (Grassley, Gardner, Boozman, and Fischer) have also come out in support of increasing SNAP benefits. Senator McConnell’s bill includes no nutrition assistance, but ironically provides a 100% tax deduction for business lunches.
The increase in SNAP benefits that Bread for the World is campaigning for would cost about $26 billion. That will provide groceries for many families in need over a number of years. But it’s only on the order of 2% of the funding that Congress and the President are likely to approve in this final COVID relief bill before the elections. More than any of the other provisions that are under negotiation, nutrition assistance and international aid would address severe hardship.
Go to the websites of your two senators (find yours here). Nearly all congressional websites invite you to leave a written message. That’s an easy way to let your members of Congress know that you want them to push for two provisions that are important to hungry people in the COVID response bill that is under negotiation – increased nutrition assistance for families in this country and increased international aid for low-income countries. If you left this message a couple weeks ago, another message now will probably double your impact. If your senator is one of those who signed the letter about funding for international aid or is one of the four Republicans who has come out in support of increased SNAP benefits, be sure to say thank you.
If you are willing to go the extra mile, call the office and ask for the names and email addresses of the staff members who work on these issues. Personal emails to those two staffers are likely to have more impact than a written message to the member of Congress. Save those names and emails for future use. The best advocates develop relationships in the offices of their members of Congress.
The dramatic progress that our country and the world have made against hunger and poverty in recent decades is strong evidence that continued progress is possible, and this is certainly something that our loving God wants. If we know anything about God, we know that God wants all children to receive the food they need.
John Lewis’ definition of faith applies to our ongoing work to end hunger: “Faith is being so sure of what the spirit has whispered in your heart that your belief in its eventuality is unshakable.”