Friday, May 23, 2008

Recent Call-in for McGovern-Dole

Ever wonder if those group advocacy call-ins to Congress are effective? Wonder if your call does any good or if anybody else is calling? Here's a little anecdote from a Bread for the World colleague of mine that is quite inspiring! It refers to the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program which passed with only $84 million instead of $840 million that the House approved. Disclaimer: The source is not on staff at Bread for the World, so it's just a feel-good anecdote and not an official press release.
"By the way - here's another story to lift the spirits of activists: About 3 weeks ago, BFW folks who had members of Congress on the farm bill conference committee, received an appeal for calls to support the House funding for McGovern-Dole. At that point the funding level in the conference bill was $60 million. Following the appeal, it was raised to $84 million. Afterwards, my BFW regional organizer said typically 1300 to 1400 calls are generated by their quickline appeals. For an increase of $24 million, assuming 1400 calls, each call was worth $17,000 for hungry kids- a pretty good return for about 3 minutes of effort."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Farm Bill a Mixed Blessing

My response to the Beckmann op-ed from yesterday's post. Printed in the Washington Times.
The 2008 farm bill is indeed a mixed blessing ("The minority farm-bill vote," Editorial, yesterday). For hungry Americans, it's a relief that this bill, so late in coming, finally passed. At long last and much needed, the Emergency Food Assistance Program increases will start flowing in a time of rising prices and rising need. Yet it's shameful that the legislation doesn't address some root causes of hunger and poor health.

If ever there was a tool to fight poverty on both domestic and international fronts, this was it. We missed an opportunity to limit commodity subsidies that are damaging to our own farmers of modest means and poor farmers overseas who cannot compete with our artificially cheap crops. We kept in place the subsidies that make unhealthy processed foods much cheaper than fresh vegetables.

I sincerely hope that in five years we can have this debate again and pass a bill that will limit our destructive behavior instead of just giving ourselves another Band-Aid.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Farm Bill Op-ed by David Beckmann

Op-ed in the May 19th Washington Times...
By David Beckmann - Many praise the recently passed 2008 farm bill as 'the best we can do.' But for us at Bread for the World, it is only half a loaf. We know that the United States can and should do better. True, there are things to commend in this half a loaf. We rejoice that additional funding amounting to $10.3 billion has been given to nutrition programs, especially in light of the growing global hunger crisis that is hindering the efforts of struggling parents to feed their children. The $300 billion farm bill increases benefits for the food-stamp program and opens it up so that more can participate. About 28 million low-income Americans receive help from this critical program each month, yet the benefits do not last beyond the third week.

Passage of the Hunger Free Communities grant program as part of the nutrition title will enable community-based organizations to work together to plan and implement local strategies to end hunger. The long-overdue increase in funding for TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) will help food banks meet the 20 percent increase in demand for their services.

We are also encouraged that the farm bill contains a pilot program that allows for local or regional purchase of food aid from sources closer to those in need. This will lower transport costs, speed up delivery and free up more money to buy food. Under our current system, food aid must be purchased, processed and packaged in the United States and transported only by U.S. ships.

While we commend the relief that the 2008 Farm Bill will bring to more low-income Americans, it is the missing half of the loaf — the lack of substantial reform of the bill's commodity programs — that worries us. This missing half has long-term and pernicious effects on global agriculture and trade. Current policies have helped stymie agricultural development in poor countries, leaving millions of people mired in poverty, and have helped create the current hunger crisis worldwide.

Rather than respond to the new reality of global agriculture, the 2008 farm bill locks the United States into another five-year protectionist system that hampers the desperate efforts of small farmers to feed their families. For the 10 million people in Africa who earn roughly $1 to $2 a day and depend directly on cotton farming for their livelihood, cotton subsidies in the farm bill will continue to depress their markets in Africa.

In negotiating the farm bill, funding for the highly successful McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program was reduced from $840 million in mandatory funds passed by the House to only $84 million. Congress missed a once-in-five-year chance to guarantee that funding will be available to ensure that schoolchildren in poor countries, for whom education is crucial to escaping poverty, get at least one nutritious meal a day.

Congress has also failed to make our commodity programs significantly fairer and more equitable for our own farmers here at home. The bill does little to target subsidies to where they are most needed, but continues to concentrate payments to the largest and wealthiest landowners.

At a time of record farm income and commodity prices, this farm bill will continue direct payments at around $5 billion annually and institutes a new $3.8 billion permanent disaster fund. This new fund provides the clearest evidence that the current 'safety net' programs are not functioning properly for our nation's producers.

When the House passed the 2008 farm bill last Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that "this will be the last time the farm bill looks like this." We certainly hope so and we will hold her to her promise. There is much more work to make reform a priority in the Senate. Unfortunately, too many of our senators do not realize that voters — and especially people of faith — are ahead of them on food and farm policy.

The 2008 farm bill sustains the injustice that keeps low-income people, not just in the United States but all over the world, mired in poverty and hunger. Our faith mandates us to keep working to reform the legislation until it truly serves the needs of poor farm and rural families and all people around the world who struggle to feed themselves and their children. The abuses in the 2008 bill are now exposed, and they will not just be swept under the rug.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging an end to hunger.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Farm Bill passes Congress w/ votes to Override a Veto

So a couple of farm bill updates came out and they strike me as a little odd. America's Second Harvest is urging supporters to contact Congress to ensure Congress overrides the imminent Presidential Veto. Bread for the World states that it's pretty much a done deal and calls for no action. In fact, the presidential veto is based on Bush's viewpoint that US subsidies in the Farm Bill need to be capped...something that Bread has been advocating for all year. So, what is an anti-poverty advocate to think?

I think two things:
1) This is one of those times where the desire to eradicate domestic and international poverty diverge. Domestic hunger interest groups would want the bill passed quickly, while International hunger groups would want the veto to prevail. Groups like Bread for the World that advocate for everybody are just trying to cut the best deal as fast as possible, but it seems no longer possible to get everything for everybody.

America's Second Harvest wants this done and over with so that the increases in nutrition programs can start flowing to Americans who desperately need help. The longer we operate under the 2002 Farm Bill, the harder it is for them in this time of rising food and gas prices. Bread wanted those nutrition increases as well, but they could have been achieved with the subsidy caps to pay for them. Doing that would have helped poor farmers in developing nations as well as farmers of modest means in the US who are often on Food Stamps themselves. It would have been a more comprehensive approach. In this respect, President Bush is pushing for the more intelligent, forward-thinking plan(wow!), but his attempt to help is failing as well.

2) Advocacy at this point one way or the other wouldn't be effective because they passed with enough votes to override a veto. I'm not sure why advocacy would be necessary at this point.

This is where I could use a little feedback. Does anyone out there have more insight on this? Is my understanding amiss on points #1 or #2?

Here are the press releases I'm talking about...

From America's Second Harvest:
"Last week, the House and Senate passed the Farm Bill with an overwhelming majority. In fact, both houses were able to muster enough votes to override a presidential veto. However, the work is not yet done. The President still plans to veto the Farm Bill, sending it back to Congress before it can become law. Therefore, if your Member of Congress voted in favor of the Farm Bill, it is critically important to contact them, thank them for their vote, and urge them to override the President's veto. If they opposed the Farm Bill, you can explain why the Farm Bill and federal nutrition programs are important to you and your community. We encourage you to contact each of your legislators through the Hunger Action Center to ensure that the Farm Bill will be passed once and for all! "

From Bread for the World:
"The Farm Bill passed the House and Senate this week, in numbers large enough to withstand a presidential veto. In the House, the final vote was 318-106 in support of the bill. The Senate passed it on a vote of 81-15. It takes two-thirds of each chamber to override a presidential veto. The bill clearly has enough support in Congress if President Bush follows through on his stated intention to veto the legislation."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Recipe for Hope: Responding to the Hunger Crisis, Week #3

From Bread for the World's Recipe for Hope action event. Here is the third installment:
Ingredient for Despair: The Weather Connection

Environmental degradation and climate change are already having far-reaching effects on food production, particularly in tropical regions of Africa, Latin America, and India. In Africa's Sahel, warmer and drier conditions have led to a shorter growing season. Receding Himalayan glaciers in India mean more floods in the monsoon season and more water shortages in the dry season.

But we can’t simply blame the weather—even extreme weather conditions like Australia’s continuing drought. Australia is one of the world’s top wheat exporters, and the drought has reduced its production by 98 percent in the past six years. However, more than 90 percent of the world’s wheat crop is produced elsewhere.

For more on this, download Bread for the World's June Background Paper: Responding to the Global Hunger Crisis.

Ingredients for Hope:

Our Recipe for Hope has two components—something you can do; and something you can say to our nation’s leaders.
Flood your local food bank with canned and boxed food contributions. With more people seeking help from food banks, shelves are being emptied quickly. Locate a food-rescue organization that serves your local community through America's Second Harvest: The Nation's Food Bank Network.

The local Web sites often provide lists of most-needed items, guidance on holding food drives, and drop-off information. If you don't find the information you need online, you will also get contact emails and local phone numbers for assistance.

Write to Congress:
Urge your members of Congress to include an additional $1.8 billion in the supplemental appropriations bill to help address this hunger crisis. Send an email to Congress. Send an email to Congress.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Half in 10

Last week, John Edwards announced the launch of his new campaign to dramatically reduce domestic poverty. There don't seem to be many details on line, but I'll be watching with curiosity to see where this goes.
Campaign to Cut Poverty in the United States in Half in Ten Years

Half in Ten plans to reduce poverty in the United States by 50 percent within 10 years. Under the leadership of Senator John Edwards, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF), the Coalition on Human Needs (CHN), and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), have joined forces on the campaign to:

(1) Elevate and sustain a focus on the situations facing the poor and middle class today

(2) Build and strengthen an effective constituency to demand legislative action on poverty and economic mobility

(3) Advance specific legislative and policy proposals that will deliver real benefits to struggling American families

For more information on how to reduce poverty in America, see From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half by the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty.