Hunger Programs

What does a world without hunger look like? It looks like everyone having the nutritious meals they need to flourish. Churches, charities, food banks, and non-profit organizations cannot get there alone. Government programs and policies play an important role too.

Federal domestic nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), and the school lunch program are just a few examples. These programs keep millions of Americans from going hungry. International humanitarian assistance responds to natural and human-caused disasters (the Indian Ocean tsunami, for example) and ongoing worldwide crises such as the situation in Syria.

But ending hunger requires more than just giving people a meal today. Addressing the root causes of hunger — primarily poverty — is just as important. As long as people don’t have the resources they need to put food on the table, hunger will continue. Bread also works for policy reforms that ensure economic security and self-sufficiency over the long-term for people in the U.S. and around the world.

Countries struggling with extreme poverty do not have the resources to adequately finance their own economic and social development. Development assistance programs are designed to reduce poverty and encourage economic growth in poor countries. They include programs for agriculture, health, education, the environment, and democracy and governance.

When disaster strikes, hunger often follows. Photo: Laura Pohl/Bread for the World

Humanitarian Response to Emergencies

When disaster strikes, hunger often follows. Emergencies include natural disasters and disease outbreaks, or result from climate or economic conditions that slowly build to a breaking point such as food shortages, droughts, and conflict. These emergencies often have disastrous side effects including refugee crises and gender-based violence. Emergency situations can quickly go from bad to worse if the global community does not respond quickly enough to prevent starvation, poor health, and extreme poverty.

Bread advocates for the U.S. government to respond to urgent needs and protect the hungry and malnourished. For decades, the U.S. has lead compassionate responses to emergencies across the world, saving lives and preventing millions of people from falling into hunger and poverty. The federal government provides immediate cash and food assistance, health and sanitation items, and supplies to help communities rebuild. It also funds programs such as education, job training, and counseling services to help refugees adjust and find stability in an unfamiliar environment. 

The U.S. government and nonprofit organizations that respond to these crises recognize the importance of linking short-term emergency response and long-term development assistance. The world has seen immense progress in recent decades including once weak economies growing stronger, and people moving from hunger and poverty into more stable lives.  However, these hard-won gains can deteriorate quickly in humanitarian emergencies, especially if the global community responds slowly or not at all. That’s why Bread advocates for the funding that allows smart, compassionate responses to those at the center of disaster.

For more information, see how Bread is advocating to reform U.S. food aid to make it more effective and less expensive, and to strengthen foreign assistance to build stronger communities.

Assistance from the U.S. government helps people help themselves. Photo: UN / Tim McKulka

U.S. Foreign Programs

The people of developing nations can and should do most of the work in ending hunger themselves, but they need some support and resources. The U.S. government can provide some of it.

Assistance from the U.S. government helps people help themselves. It funds tools and training for improved agriculture. It builds roads to get food to market. It supports efforts to empower women to play more active roles in their communities. It helps governments develop plans to better educate, care, and feed their people.

Development experts agree that the world has the ability to end extreme hunger by 2030. We have already cut it in half since 1990. With continued and increased funding, U.S. foreign assistance can help cut it to zero.

U.S. efforts to end global hunger include:

  • Emergency food aid like the Food for Peace program that provides food during emergencies such droughts, conflicts, and other disasters. 
  • Development food aid that includes programs like the McGovern-Dole feeding program, which provides maternal, infant, and child nutrition in schools around the world
  • Long-term agriculture development programs like United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Feed the Future, which is helping 19 countries improve their agriculture systems and provide nutrition interventions
  • U.S. contributions to multilateral assistance for food security, including the World Food Program and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program
The most direct way to end hunger is through food-assistance programs.  Photo: Joe Molieri/Bread for the World

U.S. Domestic Programs

Nutrition Programs

The most direct way to end hunger is through food-assistance programs. These programs weave a vital food safety net for millions of children, seniors, people with disabilities, and struggling families.

The nation’s largest anti-hunger program is SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). SNAP gives families and people in need a debit-like card to buy groceries. More than 46 million Americans, or 1 in 7 people, were served by SNAP in 2014. Nearly half were children.

One in five children lives at risk of hunger in the U.S. School lunch and breakfast programs provide meals to 21.5 million low-income children so they can focus on learning at school. After school and during the summer months, children can also receive meals through the after-school meals program and the Summer Food Service Program.

WIC provides healthy food to low-income pregnant and nursing women and young children. This allows our country's most at-risk infants and toddlers to get the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, senior congregate, and senior home-delivered nutrition services provide healthy food to older Americans. Nine percent of people over 60 are food- insecure and at risk for poor health. These programs help older Americans afford food and other expenses like medicine and housing.

Anti-Poverty Programs

In a low-income budget, food is often the most easily squeezed line item. Rent, child care, utilities – these are fixed expenses. Food is one place where families can cut corners and adjust. Nutrition programs help millions of families, but giving food is not enough. Progress against hunger requires helping families move out of poverty.

Tax credits are one way to support families working to get out poverty. The earned income tax credit (EITC) helps families keep more of their income, which they can use for essential expenses. The EITC moves more children above the poverty line than any other government program. In 2013, the EITC lifted 6.2 million people, including 3.2 million children, above the poverty line.

The child tax credit (CTC) is worth up to $1,000 for each child under age 17 claimed on a worker’s tax return. Families making as little as $3,000 a year can receive the credit. In 2013, the CTC kept 3.1 million people out of poverty, including 1.7 million children.

UN Photo by Eskinder Debebe

International Programs

The United States is an international leader in addressing global hunger. By designing programs that enhance global food security, including both short-term emergency food assistance and longer-term development, hunger has been cut in half since 1990.

Most often, the U.S. provides food and agriculture development assistance directly to countries through a specific U.S.-led initiative such as Feed the Future or a legislated program like Food for Peace. Other times, it works through international organizations to deliver, provide, and implement humanitarian aid and related assistance. These multi-government institutions are often formed to work on issues that are important to all those in the organization.

For over 70 years, the U.S. has provided resources, technical expertise, and guidance to several multilateral organizations working to combat global food insecurity and malnutrition. Some of these institutions include such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

The MDGs showed us that it’s possible to achieve ambitious goals such as cutting poverty in half.  Photo: Margie Nea/Bread for the World

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals are an unprecedented effort to better the lives of people who are hungry and poor around the world. In 2000, at a special session of the United Nations, the member nations committed to upholding human dignity and “making the right to development a reality for everyone.”

From this commitment a set of eight goals emerged- the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). When the MDGs expire in December 2015, the United Nations will launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The MDGs build on decades of knowledge and success in development work. Each MDG has targets that can be measured so the global community can track progress and make improvements.

MDG 1 aimed to cut the number of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger in half between 1990 and 2015. The poverty goal was met 5 years early and the world will be close to achieving the hunger goal by December 2015!

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will continue the progress of the MDGs and recommit nations to ending hunger and poverty and improving the lives of vulnerable people wherever they live.

Currently there are 17 working goals, including SDGs 1 and 2 which aim to end poverty and hunger by 2030. The MDGs showed us that it’s possible to achieve ambitious goals such as cutting poverty in half. Achieving the SDGs will be possible with strong U.S. support, individual country ownership, and a commitment to leave nobody behind.

Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, feeding programs aimed at children are particularly important. Photo: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank

Domestic Child Nutrition

Hunger among children is a major problem in the U.S. One in 5 children — nearly 16 million in total — live at risk of hunger. While hunger affects people of all ages, it is particularly hard on children. Even short-term hunger during a child’s development can cause lasting damage.

Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, feeding programs aimed at children are particularly important.

A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years, not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.

We have the tools to end child hunger in our country. Strong child feeding programs provide an immediate and direct way to reduce child hunger and improve health and education outcomes. Programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), school breakfast and lunch programs, and preschool, summer, and after-school meal programs are vital in providing children the food they need for healthy development.

Unfortunately, child feeding programs do not reach every child who needs food.

For every 7 low-income child receiving school lunches, only about half also get school breakfasts, and only 1 also gets meals during the summer. Many children lack access to feeding programs or find it difficult to participate. A program may not be offered in a child’s community, or transportation may be limited. Child feeding programs could do far more to reduce hunger simply by giving more children access to them.

"We can't 'food-bank' our way out of hunger. The government must do its part."

Rev. David Beckmann, Bread's president

from our Resource Library

For Education

For Faith

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

  • In Times Like These … A Pan-African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement

    This devotional guide invites deepened relationship with and among Pan-Af­rican people and elected leaders in the mission to end hunger and poverty.

  • Sermon by David Beckmann at Duke University Chapel

    Remarks delivered October 1, 2017 at Duke University Chapel in Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

    Thank you for inviting me to preach here at Duke University Chapel. And I especially want to thank the Bread for the World members who have come this morning.

    Bruce Puckett urged...

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November 22, 2019


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