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Photo: Praying for senators ahead of the vote on the “skinny repeal” bill. Tessa Cannon/Bread for the World.
By Jennifer Gonzalez and Anh Minh Ta
The Republican’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act came to a halt last month after the Senate couldn’t pass a health care bill. For now, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and Medicaid will continue to be available to those who need it most.
“We thank God for this victory,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “The Senate has decided against deep cuts to Medicaid and against taking health insurance away from tens of millions of people. Each of the health care bills that the Senate considered would have increased hunger, poverty, and disease in our country.”
Beckmann added: “We thank all the Bread for the World members who met with their members of Congress or contacted them through calls, personal emails, and letters.”
The Senate voted on three separate bills, but couldn’t muster enough votes to pass any of its proposed health care bills. The bill voted on last was dubbed the “skinny repeal.” No Senate Democrats voted for the bill and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (D-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also voted against the “skinny repeal.”
And in dramatic fashion, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, cast his “no’ vote with the tilt of a thumb — sealing the fate of the “skinny repeal” and bringing an end, for now, to the seven-year quest by Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known too many as “Obamacare.”
Before Senators voted on the “skinny repeal,” in the wee morning hours of July 28, Bread for World earlier in the day joined with the Circle of Protection to form a prayer circle. Situated right outside of the Capitol chamber where senators were working on the bill, faith leaders took turns to pray for the wise judgement of legislators to keep available health care access and affordability for millions of Americans.
As senators came in and out of meeting rooms, they were invited to join the circle as faith leaders prayed for them, their staff, families, and constituents.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) was the first senator to join the group, followed by Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tim Scott (R-Ga.). They all appreciated the efforts of the Circle of Protection faith leaders. As the Senate continued to meet, faith leaders prayed continuously amidst the chaos and overall suspenseful mood in the hallway.
Beckmann prayed for Scott: “We ask that you bless him, in both his personal and public life, and that you will be with the entire Senate, let your spirit mobilize around and over the senators as they make this really important decision.”
With the health care debate over — at least for now — Congress is expected to turn its attention to other matters after the August recess.
When senators and representatives return next month to Capitol Hill they will have until Sept. 30 (end of the fiscal year) to pass fiscal year 2018 spending bills in order to keep the government open. The bills include funding for WIC, summer meals, global nutrition, and international development programs.
In addition, the House may take up a budget resolution, the Senate may attempt another health care bill, and a decision will have to be made about the debt ceiling too.
Jennifer Gonzalez is Bread for the World’s managing editor. Anh Minh Ta is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.
Photo: Thirty-five faith leaders from 19 states visited with their members of Congress to convey the urgent need for continued funding for U.S. foreign assistance programs. Ari Shaw/Bread for the World.
By Anh Minh Ta
Faith leaders from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., last month for a common cause — to advocate for foreign assistance funding, as the fiscal year 2018 budget takes shape in Congress, and as threats of deep cuts to foreign aid programs loom.
The two-day, Faith Leader Fly-In — a collaborative effort by the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance - provided an opportunity for 35 faith leaders from 19 states to visit with their members of Congress, and tell them directly about the urgent need for continued funding for U.S. foreign assistance programs.
“In the [political] climate that we are in, one of the most bipartisan issues in Congress right now is the protection of funding for [foreign assistance] programs,” said Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread for the World.
He added: “We have Republicans across the board who are speaking up alongside some of the most liberal Democrats [to say] that it is important to support these programs.”
The Fly-In began with a welcome dinner and legislative briefing, followed by caucusing time the next morning — ahead of Hill visits.
“You have stories about your own experience that you can share,” said Martin Shupack, director of advocacy at Church World Services, during a Q&A session after the dinner. “Please don’t get lost in the arguments and the numbers. Think about what’s important to you, and what you want to say, and why this funding matters to people you know, to members of your church, and speak from the heart.”
The faith leaders were able to participate in more than 50 meetings, many of which were member-level. Although Bread for the World led the effort in organizing this year Fly-In, many other organizations contributed their resources. Staff from different organizations based in Washington, D.C. within the network, such as Oxfam, Food for the Hungry, Islamic Relief, or Church World Services, accompanied faith leaders to meetings and provided support.
Many of the faith leaders who participated are veterans when it comes to advocacy on the Hill, with experience leading their congregations to Congress or leading Offerings of Letters with Bread for the World previously. Some even had extensive first-hand experience with helping the hungry and the poor overseas. Many of them brought those stories with them to their Hill visit; while some were going to Hill meetings for their first time.
Steve and Ky Kurtz, from Kansas, were among some of first-time lobbyists excited to speak with their congressional leaders. At their meetings, Steve Kurtz shared stories of his mission trips and work with Food for the Hungry, an organization in the IWGFA network, that sends American high school students overseas to help “change their outlook on what is happening around the world.”
“We aren’t talking about a lot here,” said Kurtz, as he talked about the cuts to foreign aid programs and the fact that they only account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget. “If you have a dollar and someone drops a penny, most people will walk by it. That’s what we are talking about here: the 1 percent, or even half of it.”
The Fly-in Day concluded with faith leaders reporting successful meetings with their members of Congress. The fight for continued funding for foreign assistance programs, however, still continues, as faith leaders packed their bags to head home and to continue their advocacy work with their local communities.
This story was written by Anh Minh Ta, a government relations intern at Bread for the World. Divya Desai, a church relations intern at Bread, contributed to this article.
By Pat Dougherty
“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” This verse from Psalm 95 challenges me: “Don’t let your heart harden to the call of God, no matter how that voice comes to you.”
I have come to hear God’s call through many voices — the voices of the millions at the center of the current health care debate; the voices of those who are hungry and are looking for help from our church food pantry; the voices of those who fear that Congress will decrease their SNAP benefits; the voices of women and children in countries around the world who rely on international aid; the voices of all of our neighbors, even those whom we may not particularly like.
These are my opportunities to hear God’s voice.
I struggle to keep my heart from hardening. “Why can’t my heart be open day in and day out?” I wonder. But I have come to realize that it takes a daily effort.
My work with social justice groups like Bread for the World helps me keep an open heart. I came across Bread back in the 1970s, and I saw how advocacy for just and merciful public policies can change the world. In fact, this faith-based approach was a key element in my own involvement in politics as I became a state representative and then a state senator. Voices at Bread for the World called me to respond to the needs of hungry people. Time and again, I was given opportunities to keep an open heart. What a blessing.
Do I wish it wasn’t a day-to-day struggle to listen to God’s voice? Sure. But I am grateful that there are others beside me, calling me to listen to God’s many voices and to reply to the needs of others — so my heart does not harden.
Pat Dougherty, a Bread for the World member, is a former Missouri state representative and former senior director of Advocacy for Catholic Charities of St. Louis.
In late June, Michele Sumilas joined Bread for the World as managing director. She replaces Alice Walker Duff, who served as managing director for six years, and retired this summer. Rev. David Beckmann continues to serve as the organization’s president.
“Michele’s experience and lifelong commitment to ending hunger and poverty make her the ideal candidate to guide Bread forward during these uncertain times of budget cuts and crisis in our nation,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “We are ecstatic that Michele is joining Bread for the World. We look forward to working with her to improve the lives of people living in hunger and poverty.”
Sumilas has extensive, successful experience as a manager. For the past six years, she worked at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), including as chief of staff. While at USAID, Sumilas played a key role in the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. USAID is a 10,000-person government agency with 13 bureaus in Washington, D.C., and 75 missions around the world.
Sumilas previously served on the House of Representatives’ appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, where she oversaw the U.S. government's development policy and budget. Prior to serving in government, Sumilas worked at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she led a global health advocacy portfolio. She also served as the director of government relations for the Global Health Council.
She and her husband, along with their two sons, live in Washington, D.C., and are members of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown.
Now is the time to order bulletin inserts and posters for use in your church as you celebrate Bread for the World Sunday on Oct. 15 — or another Sunday this fall. You may also request a new scripture study written by Rev. James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America magazine and author of the bestseller “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” Father Martin writes about Matthew 22:1 -14, the parable of the wedding feast.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and co-author of “Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World,” has prepared a new litany or responsive prayer. The litany, scripture study, and worship bulletin inserts are available in both English and Spanish. To view, download, or order printed copies go here or call 800-822-7323, ext. 1072.
"Ending Conflicts, Ending Hunger," the second episode of the Hunger Reports series is now available.
The series is based on the award-winning 2017 Hunger Report: Fragile Environments, Resilient Communities, published by Bread for the World Institute. The video features Anwar Khan, chief executive office of Islamic Relief USA.
The second episode is focused on the refugee crisis and hunger, and debuts as the world is in the midst of a refugee crisis and more than 20 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation.
The new video states that conflict zones are “the last mile” in the goal to end world hunger by 2030.
“Displaced people, the refugees, and the near-famine conditions are all direct results of conflict,” said Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. “Human society relies on infrastructure…When conflict destroys infrastructure, communities, and even countries, can lose decades of progress against hunger and disease.”
Emily Huestis is a wife, a mother of two young girls, and a middle school science teacher living in Ashland, Ohio. She met her husband through her grandmother, who introduced the two of them at church. She cares about the people in her community, and she speaks up when she sees a need.
Recently, Huestis used her warmth and direct nature to help change the world.
In July, Huestis became concerned about a potential policy change that would harm many people. “The Ohio General Assembly had just passed a budget that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act Medicaid Expansion,” Huestis said. “Our Republican Governor Kasich used his line item veto to halt this. But the general assembly was poised to meet the next day, with a plan to override the governor’s veto.” Huestis contacted her network of friends and activists and asked them to urge their state representatives to oppose the override.
Huestis recent advocacy work grows out of her concern that the outcome of last November’s election would lead to cuts to programs that help hungry and poor people.
“I felt fatigue growing in my organizing group here in Ohio,” she explained. Some people in her networking group receive aid of one kind or another, and everyone knows someone who depends upon assistance from state or federal programs. Medicaid has been a big topic of conversation.
Huestis then reached out to her friend Nicole Schmidt, who serves as Bread for the World’s regional organizer for Michigan and Ohio. “I wanted to add something energizing and new,” Emily said.
After talking with Nicole, Huestis made plans to travel to Washington, D.C., for Bread for the World’s annual Lobby Day on June 13. “In our rural area, we feel very far from D.C. and the halls of power,” Huestis noted. “So the opportunity to meet with my members of Congress and advocate for aid was a huge shot in the arm.”
Huestis knew that U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio- 7) is a member of the Agricultural Committee, which has power over the Farm Bill. “Ashland is surrounded by farmland, yet we have hungry children living here,” Huestis said. “Our library’s summer lunch program regularly runs out of food before meeting the need.”
In doing research on Gibbs, Huestis noticed his birthday fell on the day after Lobby Day. “So I decided to organize Bob’s Birthday Bash. I brought a bunch of cards, and encouraged others to do the same. The event was a drop-in, held at a local Mexican restaurant.” Attendees wrote messages wishing Gibbs a great birthday. They included Lobby Day points about positive action on hunger and poverty issues.
“Before Lobby Day, Gibbs’s legislative aide hadn’t been particularly responsive to our emails and calls,” Huestis said. “But when our small group presented him with the birthday cards on Lobby Day, everything changed. He broke into this huge smile as he looked through the cards. ‘I’m going to put these on his desk, as a surprise,’ he said.”
The staff person then invited Huestis and her group to take part in an in-district meeting with the congressman during the August recess.
On Lobby Day, Huestis also met with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (D-Ohio). She urged him to serve as a champion for Ohio by protecting Medicaid, rejecting lifetime insurance caps, and protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The day after Lobby Day, waiting to be picked up at the airport back in Ohio, Huestis saw a familiar figure walk out of the terminal. Recognizing Portman, Huestis seized the moment and chatted with him further about Medicaid.
“We need to see each other as people,” Huestis said. “Once you find a respectful, human connection, we can be seen. Then, we can move the needle.”
Bread for the World members in Ohio, including Huestis, have a long road ahead, but they are energized and ready to advocate for hungry people in their state and around the country.
Huestis said she is more determined than ever to “live out loud” her faith and her belief that changing policy is a powerful way to follow Jesus’ teachings. She said she’s impressed by Bread for the World’s use of best practices to accomplish both.
Schmidt is grateful for Huestis’ active involvement. “Emily has quickly become a strong leader in Ohio. She’s a thoughtful and compassionate leader who is driven to create a better world for her family and neighbors,” Schmidt said. “I love getting the chance to work with a passionate leader, who chooses to express love for her neighbors through advocacy.”
Photo: A fountain in St. Peter’s Square. Wikimedia Commons.
By Faustine Wabwire
I remember Rome like it was yesterday.
Last fall, in 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Rome on pilgrimage and to soak in the majesty of the eternal city. As a first-time pilgrim, I marveled at the 17th century regal fountains of St. Peter's Square, among other masterpieces. These memories remain very fresh in my mind.
That is why a news item of July 25, 2017, immediately caught my attention: The Vatican turned off all of its 100 fountains, including two Baroque masterpieces in St. Peter's Square and interior fountains in the Vatican Gardens. The objective? To save water due to an ongoing prolonged drought. Did you know that the city of Rome is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades? The drought is said to have affected almost two-thirds of Italy's farmland as well as its capital, Rome.
It makes perfect sense to me.
Rome is not alone. Today, the effects of severe droughts are a shared experience of millions of children, women, and men. This year, droughts have brought millions to the verge of starvation. Drought is part of a wider-scale event sweeping across swathes of the Horn of Africa region, for example. In Somalia, the effects of three consecutive failed rainy seasons, coupled with the cumulative impact of more than 20 years of civil conflict, have meant severe water and pasture shortages in pastoral regions, decimated livestock, and reduced milk production. A people’s livelihood destroyed. Today, more than 6 million people in Somalia — half the population — need urgent humanitarian assistance. The most vulnerable populations in the most affected areas are living at a higher risk of starvation than others.
Looked at one way, we are at a crisis moment that should force us all to act. That is why, in my recent testimony before Congress, I emphasized that climate change is not a myth, that it threatens to undo the steady progress we have made against global hunger and extreme poverty. I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of climate change on communities that are already struggling with hunger. It is undercutting the gains we have made in development over the past decades.
Recently, I asked a mother of four in northern Kenya about her thoughts on climate change. She said, “It is destroying the dreams of my young family. I want to abandon this farm. It no longer produces enough to nourish my family ... yet I have nowhere to go.”
Prolonged drought not only reduces the ability of households to feed themselves, but also erodes assets. The loss of valuable animals such as cattle makes it difficult for families to recover. It is still more difficult to be prepared for future droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events that have become more frequent due to climate change. Millions of people all over the world, particularly children, are suffering from these effects today.
To make matters even worse, current severe droughts are triggering disease epidemics such as cholera. In many of the areas affected by famine — in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and northeastern Nigeria — inadequate quantities and quality of water because of drought, the inaccessibility of safe water sources due to ongoing conflict, and high water prices beyond the reach of many, has forced people to drink unsafe water. As a result, devastating outbreaks of cholera, a deadly water-borne disease, could kill thousands of people in all four countries.
The Vatican is doing its part to conserve water, which is a shared resource for all of us, no matter where we live. The dry fountains in Rome are telling us a bigger story.
The scientific evidence points to more frequent and prolonged droughts, both now and in the future. Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si, released in June 2015, makes a strong moral argument for why all peoples must confront climate change. It makes a clear connection between changing global weather patterns and hunger. By shutting down the city-state's 100 fountains, Pope Francis is again sending a message to all of us, especially world leaders, to pay close attention to the plight of the 20 million people on the brink of starvation — and to act. Large-scale, coordinated humanitarian assistance is critical to save millions of lives, especially those of children under 5, who are more vulnerable to death from malnutrition than older children and adults.
Faustine Wabwire is senior foreign assistance policy advisor in Bread for the World Institute.
Find out how your senators voted on the “skinny repeal” bill. If your senators voted “no,” call (800-826-3688) and thank them for protecting Medicaid. If they voted “yes,” call (800-826-3688) and express your disappointment. Urge your senators to oppose any legislation that cuts, rolls back, or repeals Medicaid.
Feed the Future, launched in 2010, grew out of the U.S. response, led by President George W. Bush, to the 2007-2008 global food price crisis. Prices of basic foods doubled or tripled in some countries and pushed an additional 150 million people into hunger and malnutrition.
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