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Photo: Bread for the World's 2017 Lobby Day opening worship service at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Bread for the World.
By Lacey Johnson
Carol Ann Coppi was disheartened by the news she saw coming out of Washington, D.C. The Trump administration had announced plans to slash funding for programs she cared about, including those that help poor and hungry people. The cuts felt arbitrary and callous.
When she heard that a group of local churches was organizing a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., it seemed like an opportunity to speak out about the issues that mattered to her.
“You need to care for the people. You need to care for the planet,” said Coppi, a 73-year-old grandmother from Long Island, N.Y. “My friends kept saying, ‘If you go, it’s such a wonderful experience.’”
Coppi decided to join roughly 400 faithful activists who descended on Capitol Hill on June 13 for Bread for the World’s 2017 Lobby Day. They came from as far as Alaska and as near as Virginia to tell members of Congress to oppose any budget cuts that would increase hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.
Activists began their day at the historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, near the Capitol, to worship and receive a legislative briefing by Bread’s government relations department, before heading out to meet with senators and representatives.
Eric Mitchell, director of government relations at Bread, imparted a message to the crowd, “For those who are Bible readers, there is a season for everything. There is a season for silence. And there is a season to speak. This is not the time to be silent.”
This year’s Lobby Day occurred during a perilous time. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a $610 billion cut to Medicaid, and that’s on the top of the $880 billion already taken from Medicaid in the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA).
The budget also calls for cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, international food aid, McGovern-Dole food aid program and development assistance, along with deep cuts to global health programs.
“I don’t think compassion is optional,” said former Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) during a meeting with Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and four fellow Bread activists. Aderholt voted in favor of the American Health Care Act, which will cause 14 million Americans to lose Medicaid coverage.
The congressman listened patiently while Bachus recalled eating a free school breakfast with students from poor, working families in Alabama—a state where roughly 1 in 4 children is food insecure.
“It costs like 85 cents a breakfast,” said Bachus. “They eat at school during the year, but in the summer they go hungry.”
At the end of the meeting, Aderholt thanked the group and assured them that President Trump’s budget proposal is “just a blueprint.”
During a packed meeting in Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) office, Bread activists took turns speaking about issues close to their hearts. A lifelong social worker said she wanted the senator to protect healthcare for low-income Americans. A foreign aid worker asked for more funding to combat international poverty. And an elementary school teacher said free lunch programs were making a positive impact.
“We have to start elevating these issues here in the Senate more than we have, and I’ll take responsibility for some of that,” said Casey, before squeezing in for a photo with more than 20 of his constituents.
Casey received an annual award from Bread for his outstanding leadership toward ending hunger and poverty, along with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).
Lobby Day wrapped up with a reception and worship service in the Rayburn House Office Building, where several people volunteered to share stories about their day on the Hill.
Ryan Taylor of Towner, N.D., said his group prayed with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) in her office.
“She gave us 45 minutes to talk about issues with hunger,” said Taylor, standing before dozens of fellow activists. “At the end, she very sincerely thanked God for bringing us to her, and a tear came from her.”
Others said Lobby Day gave them hope that lawmakers could unite behind the common cause of ending hunger. At times it was both touching and motivational.
As for Coppi, she described the day as “unbelievably amazing.” Her group met with representatives for New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), as well as Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY).
“I can’t put into words how touched I am by the things that were said,” she explained. “It gives me hope that there are people who want to change things.”
Lacey Johnson is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer. Jennifer Gonzalez, Bread’s managing editor, contributed to this article.
By Anh Minh Ta
Bread for the World joined forces last month with other faith-based organizations for a 23-hour vigil on the Capitol lawn to advocate against the devastating impact of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) – the Senate health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.
As a gathering space for the faith community to come together, the vigil included testimonies, stories, and prayers from communities as nearby as Washington, D.C., and as far away as the Lakota Sioux tribe of North Dakota.
Rev. Nancy Neal, interim director of church relations at Bread for the World, opened the vigil with these words:
“As we gather, we call our people, people of faith around the country, to speak up during the most patriotic week of the year, to remind our senators that they took an oath to promote the general welfare and secure blessing of liberty of all Americans, and to demand that they reject any health care bill cutting billions off Medicaid while providing tax credits to the wealthiest amongst us.”
The DC Labor Chorus provided uplifting songs praising God’s love for all. Under the scorching sun, participants kept their signs and their spirits high, as they listened to leaders from multiple faiths share scripture readings and wisdom.
Neal referred to vigil speakers as “truth-tellers.” One of them was Rabbi David Saperstein, former director of the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. He echoed Neal’s sentiment by reminding participants of the work they were here in the Capitol to do. “We are here as well for those who do not have a voice, who is vulnerable and do not have the positions and the privilege and the power to ensure that their voices be heard,” he said.
The mission mentioned by Neal and Saperstein resonated with many. Hannah Evans, legislative representative from Friends Committee on National Legislation was enthusiastic to support the vigil.
“I’m here because I am really fearful for the 23 million people whom will lose their health care if this bill gets passed,” Evans said. “That’s why I’m here, to be loud.”
While most vigil participants learned about the event because they were connected to one of the many organizations involved in putting the event together, others stumbled upon the vigil while on Capitol Hill and decided to join in.
“We need health care for all people in the U.S.,” said Peggy Rainwater, a participant who came to support the vigil as she spotted the signs carried across the street. “I just asked, ‘Is this an event nearby? Can I join you?’” said Rainwater, “I think it is critical that we let our elected officials know how we feel.”
Bread opposes the BCRA because it significantly caps and cuts Medicaid and also rolls back the Medicaid expansion. More importantly, the BCRA would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO also reported that 15 million people would to lose their Medicaid by 2026.
Above all the debate about budget and tax credits, to many, health care issues come down to the most basic level – taking care of others.
“There is a saying by prophet Muhammad, ‘a community is like a body. When a part of it is in pain, the whole body responds to that pain,’” said Dr. Sarah Kureshi, one of the first speakers at the vigil. She shared heartfelt stories of her patients, those who have been able to afford health care under Medicaid. “Similarly, when the most marginalized and underprivileged are hurting, forgotten, downtrodden, and neglected, that is our responsibility to respond with love, kindness and empathy, because their pain is our pain.”
The vigil continued throughout the night, as different faith groups participated in two-hour blocks to testify and to pray. The next day, Rev. William J. Barber II, a well-known social justice activist from North Carolina, stirred and rallied the crowd with an impassioned speech. He spoke eloquently, not only about God’s teachings about the values of community, love, and taking care of one another, but also about the intersectionality between race, poverty and the ability to afford health care.
Anh Minh Ta is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.
By James Standish
I reached down and tied the shoelaces of my plain white sneakers. The sun was high in the tropical sky. The breeze wasn’t blowing. And the air had the oppressive weight of moisture that forced everyone into slow motion. But it was the weekend. No one was telling me what to do. And I was going out to play in the enormous yard of our old home on the Malaysian island of Penang.
The home itself was filled with shadowy stories. Built by British colonialists, occupied by a Japanese officer during the war and, now, the abode of our family. My father, the dedicated missionary physician; my mother, the beloved teacher; we three boys; our dog; five cats; six parakeets; a small flock of ducks; and our pet monkey—who was more fun than all the other pets combined!
On this particular day as I ran under the blistering hot sun, a rail thin stranger came walking down the driveway. I waved. He ignored me. When he arrived at the front door, my mother met him, and he launched into a frothy tirade about treachery and betrayal.
“I was brought here from India by the British,” he said, “to work on the railroads. I worked in the blazing sun every day of my working life. When I got old, they gave me an option—a tiny pension or a lump sum payment in gold. I took the lump sum. I moved in with my nephew. All was good at first. But he found my gold and stole it all! He said he deserved it to cover the costs of keeping me. We had a huge fight and he kicked me out! And now I’m a beggar.”
My mother looked at the broken old man, his eyesight impeded by cataracts, his back bent from years of hard labor, missing teeth, ragged clothes and the kind of smell that comes from days without a bath in tropical heat.
I watched her. She was a good-hearted woman. Maybe she’d give this agitated old guy a dollar or two, and wish him well? Then we’d get back to our life in the big old home.
She didn’t. Instead, she uttered the most astonishing words my young ears had ever heard, “This home has old servants quarters out the back that we don’t use. Would you like to move in there?”
What? Had my mother lost her mind? This angry old man with missing teeth was going to be living at our home? I was stunned. But there it was.
From that day forward, we had a new member of our family. We teasingly called him, “Mum’s boyfriend.” Why? Because he loved her so much.
That was many years ago. My father is now dead. My mother is elderly. Mum’s boyfriend shuffled off this mortal coil long ago. But the ripples from my mum's love continue across the pool of time. Because on that blisteringly hot day, she taught me more about the heart of God than all the words I’ve heard combined. Her actions taught me this:
We all face a similar moment now. We can seek safety in silence, and let the angriest voices in our society prevail. Or we can have the courage to stand, speak, and act on behalf of those most marginalized. Scripture instructs us to “[s]peak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all those who are destitute.” (Proverbs 31:8). Will we? As we decide our course, let’s remember this.
James Standish, a Seventh Day Adventist, is an independent consultant for nonprofits and regularly presents at churches and conferences. He has sat on White House and UN committees, worked for the U.S. government, and in the NGO sector.
You can download or order a printed copy of the Offering of Letters handbook and DVD at www.bread.org/ol or call 800-822-7323.
You may also order free bulletin inserts with sample letter in any quantity. The bulletin insert is available in Spanish and English.
Bread for the World and partner organizations continue in prayer and to fast on the 21st day of each month during this 115th Congress. You can find a Fasting Guide and a Social Media Kit here.
Want to stay involved in Bread for the World activities all through the year? Visit www.bread.org/activist to learn how you can take action today!
Here are some blog stories that appeared on Bread Blog in June that you may have missed or you may want to read again. Learn how Bread activist Stephen Panther of Iowa is driving Bread’s success, and what can be done to deal with today’s famine and near-famine conditions in four countries in Africa and the Middle East. Also, don’t miss a blog story about a gathering of Christian leaders speaking out against Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget.
Moments before Aisha Suleiman’s village broke their fast one evening during Ramadan, Boko Haram militants attacked. Aisha, her children, and husband managed to flee, walking for days before finding transport to Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State and a safe haven for 445,000 internally displaced persons. In Maiduguri, Aisha’s family began participating in a USAID-supported program that provides vulnerable, food-insecure households with cash transfers to purchase food in local markets.
Sadly, Aisha’s story is not unique. Boko Haram-related conflict has displaced more than 1.7 million people in northeastern Nigeria. Unable to farm or earn a living, an estimated 5.2 million people are projected to face severe food insecurity by mid-2017. Acute malnutrition is prevalent among children, and the risk of famine remains high, particularly in areas that are inaccessible to humanitarian organizations.
To address widespread food insecurity, USAID is supporting the UN World Food Program (WFP) to scale up operations and provide life-saving assistance in northeastern Nigeria. Since October 2016, WFP has significantly increased the number of people it reaches each month, from 200,000 to more than 1 million people in March 2017. WFP emergency assistance includes cash transfers and food vouchers where markets are functioning, as well as distributions of nutrition supplements and food commodities, such as cooking oil, rice, and legumes.
In response to alarming levels of acute malnutrition, USAID has integrated nutrition interventions into its emergency food assistance programs. Activities like the Porridge Mums mother-to-mother support group, in which Aisha and her two young children participate, support pregnant and lactating women to improve nutrition conditions by providing information on infant and young child feeding practices, hygiene and sanitation, and dietary diversity.
Donor resources have been critical to the successful scale up of emergency food and nutrition assistance in Nigeria. WFP plans to continue expanding relief activities in the coming months and aims to reach up to 1.8 million people by the lean season in mid-2017, when needs are most acute. Without further resources and support for food assistance operations, however, this scale up will not be able to continue when it is needed most.
This article first appeared on the USAID website.
Photo: Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, at the National Press Club, surrounded by other faith leaders. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.
By Andrew Frey
Christian leaders from across the theological and political spectrum gathered last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to express their condemnation of President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal.
Their message was simple: The budget was amoral at best and cruel at worst.
It was the first time that the Circle of Protection — a broad coalition of leaders from all the families of U.S. Christianity who have come together around the biblical mandate to protect poor and vulnerable people - has responded to the ongoing budget debate. The administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget calls for a $610 billion cut to Medicaid, and that’s on the top of the $880 billion already taken from Medicaid in the American Health Care Act (AHCA).
Trump’s budget also calls for cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, international food aid, McGovern-Dole, development assistance, and makes deep cuts to global health programs.
Speakers offered stern statements as to why as Christians it is their duty to oppose deep cuts to programs that would hurt hungry and poor people. Rev. Sharon Watkins, chair for the National Council of Churches, put it simply, repeating three times: “This budget makes American children go hungry.”
Watkins said she condemned cuts to SNAP because it would increase hunger and sickness in children, and also cuts to international assistance in a time of “four famines of biblical proportion.”
Currently, 20 million people are at risk of starvation in famine or near-famine conditions in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria.
Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, national community relations and development secretary for the Salvation Army, expressed his concern for cuts to domestic aid. The cuts, he said, would lessen the ability for the Salvation Army to provide mortgage assistance, addiction counseling, housing, and food, among other programs. “The Salvation Army provided 28,000 beds last night,” Busroe said. “And will serve 25 million people this year.”
Medicaid has become central to the debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Medicaid cuts by the House-approved AHCA and the administration’s proposed budget would result in health insurance taken away from 14 million low-income people, and 23 million Americans overall.
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick III, presiding bishop for Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, shared his concern that Americans “still are people who must decide between food or medicine, rent or food.”
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said: “Budgets are moral documents that reflect our values, what does this budget say about us? That we are spiritually bankrupt and headed for moral ruin.” Copeland Tune criticized the budget for cutting programs that were “proven to move people out of poverty.” Job training, housing vouchers, and disability insurance were among the programs she mentioned.
Churches and food banks are often the types of places individuals turn to in times of need, especially when it comes to feeding their families. However, our country’s religious congregations would have to add $714,000 to their annual budgets each year for the next decade to make up for the drastic cuts found in the president’s proposed budget, according to a Bread for the World analysis.
“One trillion dollars will be cut from Medicaid alone,” explained Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president. “There will be more disease, more disabled people, and quite a few people will die.”
Andrew Frey was recently a summer communication intern at Bread for the World.
That’s a lot of tithing! Could your church pick up the slack needed to help poor, hungry, and vulnerable people? Call (800-826-3688) or email your members of Congress today. Now is the time to urge Congress to reject budget cuts that will increase hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world.
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