My Blog
  • Rev. David Beckmann

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.”

  • Rev. David Beckmann

We each need to contact our three members of Congress in the next few days. The pandemic has increased hunger in our country and the world, and we could win substantial assistance in the COVID-response bill that Congress will be negotiating through the end of the month. But now is probably our last chance to secure substantial assistance until after the elections, and hunger isn’t a top-line news story right now.

Both parties are aiming to pass another big COVID-response package – something between $1 and $3 trillion. But Republican leaders haven’t agreed among themselves on what they want in the bill, and they have yet to start negotiating with Democratic leaders. Congress reconvenes on July 20 and will be in session for only two or three weeks.

Bread for the World is campaigning for increases in domestic food assistance and international aid. But both parties have other priorities. On the other hand, the proposals that Bread is supporting have some backing from both sides of the aisle in Congress. We need to encourage the people who represent us in Congress to provide leadership on these hunger issues early in the negotiating process.

The Census Bureau is conducting weekly surveys on the well-being of households during this crisis. Among families with children, they are asking whether it was never, sometimes, or often true in the last seven days that the children “were not eating enough” because the family “just couldn’t afford enough food.” One in six households with children reported that this was sometimes or often the case during the week of June 18-23. Lauren Bauer at the Hamilton Project calculated the number of children who had to go without food and found that fourteen million children were not able to eat enough during that week. That is about two-and-a-half times as many as before the crisis.

I find this new, real-time information on child hunger deeply upsetting. It probably hits me especially hard because I just spent time with my own grandchildren. The photo above this post shows them playing on the edge of a lake.

Bread for the World and many partner organizations are proposing to increase food assistance in two ways – an increase of 15% in the benefit level for the neediest families on SNAP and an extension of what’s called Pandemic EBT (electronic benefit transfers). Families receive SNAP assistance through electronic transfers to a debit card they can use to buy groceries. Pandemic EBT provides extra food for children when schools are closed and school meals thus unavailable.

Bread for the World and many other organizations are also pushing for $12 billion in international assistance in the next COVID-response bill. It would help countries respond to COVID and the increase in hunger it has caused.

The World Bank now estimates that COVID-19 and its economic consequences will increase the number of people in absolute poverty worldwide by 70 to 100 million in 2020. The situation is especially dire in the poorest countries, many of them afflicted by conflict. The World Food Program estimates that the number of acutely hungry people in the countries where it operates could double this year.

I am grateful that members of the U.S. Congress have been able to agree on an impressive series of COVID-response bills. But only two-tenths of one percent of the funding they have provided in response to this global pandemic is for international activities.

If you want to send an email to your members of Congress, here is a link to the action alert at the top of Bread’s homepage.

I decided instead to telephone the offices of my three members of Congress. Their websites provided the phone numbers.

  • I live in northern Virginia and first called Senator Kaine, “I want Senator Kaine to provide leadership on two issues that are important to hungry people in our country and around the world – an increase in SNAP benefits to address hunger in this country and an increase in international aid to address hunger around the world.” The staffer who answered the phone took notes on both the issues I raised.

  • Senator Mark Warner’s office gave me the names and email addresses of the staffers who handle these two issues. One wrote back right away with good news about Warner’s strong support for increased SNAP benefits and the extension of Pandemic EBT. My email to the staffer on international aid expressed my disappointment that Warner recently missed an opportunity to weigh in on this issue, and I haven’t had a reply to that email yet.

  • I tried twice to reach a person in Representative Don Beyer’s office, but then settled for a voicemail and asked for a call-back.

This all took less than an hour, my concerns will be tallied and reported, and the follow-up interactions with staff may be influential. I’d be interested to hear back from you about your efforts to influence the upcoming COVID-response bill, and I’ll pass what I learn from you on to Bread’s staff. Write to me at

  • Rev. David Beckmann

Today is my first day after retiring from nearly three decades as the president of Bread for the World.

My heart is awash in gratitude. Many people – Bread’s members, staff, and board, members of Congress, and coworkers in the churches and other partner organizations – have, in lots of ways, used the occasion of my retirement to celebrate what we have been able to achieve together during the last three decades. Hunger, poverty, and disease in the world have declined dramatically, partly because we helped to quadruple and improve the quality of U.S. international aid. On domestic poverty issues, Bread and our partners helped to fend off constant attacks on our nation’s safety-net programs. Without these programs, twice as many Americans would be living below the poverty line. We have also strengthened the advocacy capacity of Bread, the Alliance, and the network of organizations who work with them.

I thank God for what has been achieved, and for the opportunity I have had to be part of it. I am confident that Bread for the World will thrive under the leadership of Eugene Cho. He is deeply grounded in God, Jesus, and work for the kingdom of God. He is very much a pastor and relates to everyone in his life with personal care. He is also super smart and savvy about social media. I have high hopes for the Alliance to End Hunger too. The Alliance has proven its effectiveness in helping organizations build their capacity for policy education and advocacy. In April, the Alliance coordinated a letter from more than 750 diverse organizations to Congress urging an increase in SNAP food assistance.

As for me, I’m planning to keep working on issues related to poverty, God, and politics. I look forward to having more time and freedom to study emerging opportunities to change the politics of poverty, and I’ll share what I learn on social media and this blog. I look forward to your feedback and help in passing useful reflections on to others. I’ll also be providing quiet support for my successors at Bread and the Alliance.

Our country and the world are now struggling with huge problems. Personally, I’m most alarmed about the risks posed by President Trump and Trumpism. I’ve worked with people and politicians from both parties for decades, but this president is singularly dangerous – to all of us and especially to low-income people and people of color.

I am encouraged by emerging evidence that many people are experiencing this crisis as a wake-up call. That’s a biblical way to experience national crisis.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have worked together to pass massive COVID-response legislation, partly because lots of constituents are urging them to take action. A senior Senate staffer told me that their office is hearing from six times as many constituents as before. We all need to weigh in with our members of Congress now to urge passage of another COVID response bill this month. It should include measures to help the people who most need help, notably increases in SNAP food assistance and international aid.

The country is also newly awake, at least right now, to structural racism, especially police abuse. Tens of thousands of people across the country have participated in demonstrations, and two-thirds of Americans say they agree with the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Finally, President Trump’s standing in the polls recently plummeted. Based on Gallup polls, 20 million people who thought he was doing a good job a month ago don’t think so now.

I also take encouragement from my favorite Bible verse, Matthew 17:10. Jesus said, “If you have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, you can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The main message of Christianity is that God loves us. As St. Paul wrote, we are connected to God, not by our own stumbling efforts to be moral, but by the grace of God that we experience through faith. And in this gospel passage, Jesus says that we don’t even need much faith. If we have just a little bit of faith, God will use us to move mountains. That’s been my experience over the last three decades. God has used the people in Bread for the World’s network, with all our weaknesses, to help bend the arc of history toward justice.

As we all now confront an uncertain future, God invites each of us to do our part to overcome our collective problems, and we have this promise: “Nothing will be impossible for you. You can move mountains.”

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