An Opportunity to Make A Grim Situation Better
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.