The political environment for efforts to provide help and opportunity to people in poverty is extraordinarily difficult. President Trump’s policies are almost entirely opposed to the policies Bread for the World favors. Also, bitter political polarization makes it hard to get anything done in Washington, especially with national elections on the horizon. Yet as shown on the attached one-pager, Bread for the World was able to report several advocacy achievements.
- Mar 11, 2020
- 3 min read
Updated: May 28, 2020
I’m coming to the close of nearly 30 years as president of Bread for the World and the Alliance to End Hunger. I’m excited about the next generation of leadership in both organizations, and I'm also excited to reorient my own efforts toward learning, with a focus on new strategies to build political commitment to overcoming poverty.
I hope this blog will attract a community of people who are also drawn to this challenge.
My experience at Bread and the Alliance has convinced me that we can build political will. During my tenure at Bread, its staff, board, and members across the country dramatically increased Bread’s size, effectiveness, and policy impact. This work was done step by step – constituent communications with Congress, prayers, creative ideas, financial gifts, and individual efforts to organize in churches and communities across the country.
The Alliance to End Hunger now includes 150 national and community organizations, all of them growing in their capacity to build public and political commitment to ending hunger. Auburn University, for example, has organized Universities Fighting World Hunger, which now includes 300 colleges and universities. The Indy Hunger Task Force has developed community awareness that federal food programs like SNAP and school meals provide five-sixths of food assistance that struggling families in Indianapolis receive. With that awareness, the volunteers who staff Indianapolis’ 200 food pantries also work to sign people up for SNAP and urge their members of Congress to protect funding for SNAP.
But we clearly have more work to do to get our government to do its part to make the progress against poverty that is so clearly possible. Politicians routinely push for deep cuts in domestic safety-net programs and in international aid.
Here is what I plan to write about:
The COVID-19 crisis broke just as I was planning my retirement, and Congress jumped into a series of huge COVID-response bills. I'll write about advocacy issues we are facing now as well as reflections on many years at Bread and the Alliance.
We are also in the run-up to an extraordinarily important election. I'll focus on what candidates might do to address the heavy impact of this crisis among low-income people, especially people of color in the U.S. What can we do to help elect candidates who will provide leadership in addressing poverty around the world? Once the election is over, how can we make the most of the resulting political environment in terms of addressing poverty?
This blog will also explore long-term strategies to better address poverty. How can we make our country’s politics more supportive of people in poverty? I especially want to learn more about the changing politics of low-income people and people of color.
I’m also interested in the spiritual problems that lie at the root of our society’s tolerance for gross inequality and widespread poverty. How can so many churchgoers vote for politicians who want to cut programs that help people in poverty? Why do many people who are politically progressive know very few low-income people? That's a spiritual problem too.
I plan to report on promising efforts to tap into spiritual resources for social justice. Surveys on religion in America suggest that, in general, people who experience God as a loving presence in their lives are more likely to support food stamps and foreign aid. Yet many people who experience God as a loving presence don’t go to church or use religious language, and many people who go to church experience God as remote or judgmental.
I welcome feedback on these ideas, and suggestions of related topics, too.
- Mar 11, 2020
- 3 min read
I’m starting this blog during my final months as president of Bread for the World and the Alliance to End Hunger. After my retirement, I plan to focus mainly on the 2020 elections and new learnings about strategies to change the politics of poverty. But this is a moment of extraordinary uncertainty and importance, and I want to share on my blog some of what I’m thinking and writing for Bread and the Alliance now. I’ll tag the blog posts in the series “Bread for the World” and “Alliance to End Hunger.” The essay below first appeared in Bread of the World’s January 2020 newsletter. It is a faith-grounded reflection on my years at Bread for the World.
We are bombarded by bad news—war, violent weather, violent policies:
"O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words…They crush your people, O Lord…" (Psalm 94)
But we have reasons for hope and persistence. The world’s unprecedented progress in recent decades—shown on the right side of the graphic below—is a powerful reason for hope. At Bread for the World, we have come to see this progress as a contemporary experience of our saving God—a great exodus from hunger.
The left side of the graphic shows that we have made progress in our country, too. Nearly all this progress was made in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the nation set up programs like Medicaid and SNAP for low-income people. We learned from that experience that we can reduce hunger and poverty in our country too, and we have maintained and improved those programs over the years.
Bread for the World and its members have played a significant role in the advances shown in this graphic.
Over the last few decades, Bread for the World has been an important voice as U.S. international aid has quadrupled in scale and steadily improved in effectiveness. President Trump has pushed for deep cuts in international aid, but—thanks in part to our advocacy—Congress has continued to increase aid. In fact, the average annual appropriation for international aid during the Trump administration has been higher than in the last year of Obama’s presidency.
Starting in 2011, powerful political forces have pushed for massive cuts in programs that help low-income families in this country. Budget after budget proposed to cut about $2 trillion from these programs. That’s what the government shutdowns and the fiscal cliff were about.
Bread for the World has been a leader of the faith community’s response to the budget debate. Remarkably, Congress has, in the end, made virtually no cuts in poverty-focused programs. At the end of 2019, Congress finally approved some much-needed increases in low-income programs.
Despite all the bad things happening now, progress against hunger and poverty continues. Although the number of people who cope with calorie-deficient diets has gradually increased over the last five years, most of the international indicators of human welfare (including the number of stunted children in the world) are still moving in the right direction. In our country, the Great Recession was a huge setback, but hunger and poverty are now inching downward again.
Decades of progress, the clear impact of advocacy, and continued progress—these are reasons for hope and persistence.
More fundamentally, God is our source of hope. We draw hope from the abundance and resilience of creation, the biblical pattern of moral failure and divine rescue, and the worldwide explosion of faith in a gracious God that began in the resurrection of Jesus.
Psalm 94 promises that “the Lord will not forsake his people.” And Jesus taught his disciples “to pray always and not give up” (Luke 18:1).