Thursday, February 14, 2008

Economist: Brazil's "Family Fund" anti-poverty program

The Economist ran an article in on Feb 7 about an anti-poverty program in Latin America that is being tried in other countries, including the US. In Brazil (who got it the idea from Mexico), it's called "Bolsa Familia." It's a conditional cash transfer program. In essence, families living in poverty are able to get receive federal money on a cash card on the condition that their children keep attending school and keep current with medical vaccinations.

The hope is that it will lessen the likelihood of poverty in the next generation through better education and improved health. It is also meant to stimulate economic growth in the poorest sections of the country. Some of the criticisms concern the possibility of fraud related to compliance of families, the possibility of it becoming a long-term program instead of a temporary boost, and the perception of the program being a way for politicians to "buy votes." Nonetheless, these programs are attracting attention around the globe. More kids are being vaccinated and educated while impovershed families are able to improve their own situations.

Here's the full story:

Hunger Justice Leaders

Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging our nation’s decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad, is inviting advocates to become our Hunger Justice Leaders. They’re looking for the best and brightest 18-35 year olds to come to DC this summer (June 14-17) for an all-expense paid organizing training. They’ll then commit to leading advocacy efforts against hunger and poverty in partnership with Bread for the World.

The details are at

We can end hunger in our time. For the first time in history, we have the knowledge, the resources and the capacity to overcome chronic hunger. What we need is the political will. Everyone, including our government must do their part.

Here is a video about the program:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Farm Bill proposal makes CUTS to nutrition title! WHAT!!??!!


I'm usually not this informal and I know this is lowering the reading level of my blog, but I'm rather apoplectic about this. Despite a recent letter writing campaign which resulted in 28 senators and 153 reps signing a dear colleague letter to include permanent funding for Food Stamps and other nutrition title programs which help Americans at risk for hunger for AT LEAST the House approved levels...the Ag committee proposed a Farm Bill that CUTS those programs. All this before the House conferees are even announced!


I just can't, read on....
New Farm Bill Proposal Cuts Nutrition Programs

Washington, DC, February 13, 2008 – Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, issued the following statement today in response to a new proposal sent to the Senate by Representatives Collin Peterson, chairman, and Bob Goodlatte, ranking member, of the House of Representative’s Agriculture Committee:

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte today sent the first proposal to the Senate in order to move the Farm Bill forward. Their outline proposes changes in the commodity title to pay for needs in other parts of the Farm Bill. Yet, significant cuts were made to the nutrition title which provides funding for the Food Stamp Program—our first line of defense against hunger.

“The proposal significantly cuts back the $11.5 billion increase for nutrition programs over ten years passed by the full House in July 2007.

“More than a third of House members recently signed a letter declaring that a final Farm Bill that ‘under-funds improvements in the nutrition title would be unacceptable’ and urges the conference report to ‘include permanent funding at no less than the House-passed levels.’ We couldn’t agree more.

“The final Farm Bill must provide a safety net for people who have the most to lose. Tens of millions of Americans, many of them children and working families, are at risk of hunger every day. Congress cannot compromise the safety net for them.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New News about Malnutrition

We all know that malnutrition is linked to child mortality. This is not new news. But to what extent? According to a recent article in The Economist, hunger has an even bigger impact on children's health than was previously thought. In a paper by Robert Black of Johns Hopkins University,

"underweight births and inter-uterine growth restrictions cause 2.2m child deaths a year (around one every 15 seconds). Poor or non-existent breastfeeding explains another 1.4m. Other deficiencies—lack of vitamin A or zinc for instance—account for 1m. In all, that is 3.5m deaths (once you strip out double counting)—one-third of total child mortality."

The real news shown here and confirmed by Lancet, a British medical journal, is that hunger causes disease and death and can be fatal in and of itself. In the past, malnutrition had simply been treated as something that exacerbates other diseases such as measles, diarrhea, and pneumonia. These findings, however, confirm and emphasize the point that hunger is the gravest single threat to the world's public health. This has serious implications for international aid distribution. Currently, roughly $300m of aid goes to basic nutrition each year (less than $2 for each child below two in the 20 worst affected countries) whereas $2.2 billion goes to HIV/AIDS ($67 per person with HIV in all countries, including rich ones). However, HIV/AIDS causes far fewer deaths than child malnutrition. This is not to say that money shouldn't go into life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS. It does, however, present a far more holistic model for addressing problems of health and nutrition. According to April Harding of the Centre for Global Development,

it forces policymakers to pay attention to health-care systems as a whole, rather than trying to save children “one disease at a time”.

If we can adequately address the issue of hunger, we will be well on our way to dealing with the other diseases it causes and contributes to.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Economic Stimulus Act: How Stimulating Can We Make It?

On Feb 7, the Economic Stimulus Act finished it's rounds at the House and Senate and is on its way to the White House. The goal is "To provide economic stimulus through recovery rebates to individuals, incentives for business investment, and an increase in conforming and FHA loan limits." It's my understanding that every taxpayer is to receive a $600 rebate, meaning $1200 for married couples.

That can be a wonderful windfall for many people who need it badly. And yet, it strikes me that there are a lot more people who need it more than some recipients. More than me, for instance. Can my family use $1200? Sure. Could I improve the lifestyle of my family? Maybe...marginally... But what could this money mean to someone else? Someone not getting it because they don't pay taxes... a food insecure senior or someone who lives on the street? Could it pay for literacy classes? Could it help someone be not so hungry that they could spend their energy on something besides looking for the next meal? Some friends of mine have been thinking about these questions and decided this money can be used for a different kind of stimulus. They've decided to donate their entire rebate to the organization they feel could best stimulate the economic growth of people in need of basic necessities. It might be the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which not only feeds people but provides job training, or somewhere else. They wished me to challenge you folks through this blog and others to consider whether or not you really need it. If you do, that's great...use it in good health as the windfall it is. But if you do not, please consider putting this money in part or whole where it can help the most...where it might stimulate a part of the economy that is not discussed in this Act.