Senate Ag Committee Advances Its Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

Yesterday, by an overwhelming 20-1 vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced its version of the farm bill, S. 3042. The markup of the bill, when members of the committee offer their amendments and have those amendments voted upon, ended up being largely conflict-free. We applauded the Senate bill because it did not include the harmful Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions that were included in H.R. 2, the House version of the farm bill.

Meanwhile, GOP leadership in the House has committed to holding a vote on an immigration measure supported by the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. With that vote scheduled, Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has committed to vote in favor of H.R. 2. Meadows’ support of the bill could clear the way for other conservative members to vote for the bill before the June 22 deadline for reconsideration. (H.R. 2 failed by a 198-213 vote the first time it was considered. See our previous coverage here.)

The Senate and House bills diverge in many ways, most notably over their respective treatments of the SNAP. No members of the Senate Agriculture Committee offered amendments to the Nutrition title addressing SNAP because of the strong, bipartisan support for the program in that chamber. However, divergent opinions on the Nutrition title caused a breakdown of negotiations on the House side that stymied initial efforts to pass H.R. 2.

The House and Senate will need to come together once they pass their respective versions of the bill to negotiate a combined version that can pass both chambers, in a process called a “conference.” We will continue meeting with members of both chambers to discuss the harmful SNAP provisions in the House bill and urge that they not be included in the conference legislation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Debuts Its Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The Senate Agriculture Committee introduced its version of the 2018 farm bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, on June 8. As expected, the bill takes a very different approach to authorizing agriculture and nutrition programs compared to the House of Representatives’ version of the bill. (As you may recall from our previous post, the House version (H.R. 2) was defeated by a 198-213 vote.)

Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) plans to give committee members a chance to add their amendments to the bill tomorrow, June 13, in a process called a ‘mark up.’ If the bill passes the committee by a wide margin, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said they will quickly move it to the Senate floor for debate and a final vote on passage. Sen. McConnell has indicated he will allow up to three weeks of consideration for the bill.

The Senate bill does not include the harmful requirement that parents with children under 12 work in order to qualify for benefits, which was included in the failed House bill. This provision would require parents who are currently exempted from work requirements to secure supervisory care for their children under 12 years of age, which could be impractical given their financial situations.

The bill includes the removal of the requirement to monetize commodities provided through Food for Peace, which was a provision we supported in the failed House bill. Monetization is the requirement that U.S. commodities provided through USG feeding programs be sold in local markets in countries where the programs are operating, in order to finance development programs in those countries. Although U.S. commodities can be very useful when there is an absolute lack of food, they can also undercut developing local agricultural economies.

Finally, the bill does not include the relaxation of cargo preference that we asked for in the House bill. Cargo preference is the requirement that at least 50% of USG-impelled food shipments be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels. The cargo preference directs food aid resources away from the nutrition programs they are intended to support in order to subsidize U.S. shippers, because it effectively constrains the supply of ships available and enables shippers to exercise monopoly power. It can also cause significant delays in the shipment of food aid while available U.S.-flagged ships are identified and moved to appropriate ports. We plan to meet with Senate offices to ask that relaxation of cargo preference is included in the final bill. We look forward to the opportunity to reaffirm American values through this important legislation.

The House Farm Bill FAILS…What Happens Next?

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

The farm bill (H.R. 2), which must be passed every five years to authorize agriculture and nutrition programs, was rejected last week in the House of Representatives by a 198-213 vote. As we mentioned in our previous post on the topic, there were international provisions in the bill we support, including elimination of the requirement to “monetize” U.S. commodities provided through Food for Peace. We opposed several domestic provisions of the bill, including a proposal to implement stringent work requirements on recipients with young children. We were hopeful that the harmful provisions could be fixed when the House and Senate worked out the differences between their versions of the legislation (done in what’s called a “conference committee”).

However, Democrats pulled out of farm bill negotiations due to their opposition to new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, meaning that the Speaker of the House had to pass a bill with only Republican votes. We advocated against the inclusion of the SNAP provisions, but they became necessary to passing the bill once Democrats announced their blanket opposition. This gave the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus the leverage to demand a vote on an unrelated immigration measure in exchange for their support. When their demand was rebuffed, the Freedom Caucus joined Democrats to oppose the bill, sinking it.

The real question is, what happens next. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to introduce its own farm bill early next month, and Chairman Pat Roberts has said that he “look[s] forward to a bipartisan Senate Farm Bill.” The senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson (MN) said that he expects an extension of the 2014 authorization past the September 30 expiration date. House Republicans have pledged to try again to pass the farm bill, and today extended the deadline for them to reconsider the bill to June 22.

Finding Work-Life Balance for Mothers

Being a mom is a full-time job. If you ask any mom, they will tell you about the all-night shifts that stretch into the early morning hours, and the never-complete to-do lists. Moms serve as our teachers, drivers, counselors, negotiators, cooks, cheerleaders and all-around fixers. Undeniably, our mom forms each of us into the person we will be for the rest of our life.

However, moms also play an important part in today’s workforce.  According to the Department of Labor, 40 percent of moms are the primary source of income for their households.  This comes with its own set of challenges as many times jobs require time commitments outside a 9 to 5 day.

With the day-to-day tasks of running a household along with the pressures of financially supporting a family, work-life balance can seem like an elusive concept without a clear definition. There are only so many hours in the day, after all. How can a mom give her job or career the dedication it deserves, and still spend quality time with her kids? How can she juggle both work and home?

These are questions that every working mother struggles with. But everyone can agree, that their most important goal is to provide the best life possible for their children.

 

“My kids are so important to me that I will do whatever I can to protect them and keep them out of harm’s way.  I’m trying to be the best mom I can. But I also have a lot on my mind with bills, keeping the rent paid, keeping all the utilities on – it is just hard,” said Sandi, mom of two.

Consider the following if you are struggling to create a work-life balance;

  • Set manageable goals each day. Make a “to do” list, and take care of important tasks first and eliminate unessential ones.
  • Unplug from electronics. The same technology that makes it so easy to work remotely can also burn us out if we use them at all hours of the day and night.
  • Give yourself a break. No one’s perfect! Every mom is doing the best she can.
  • Get support from family and friends.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

Many times, asking for help is one of the most difficult things to do, especially for a mom. She may have the self-expectation that she can conquer anything in her way. But everyone – at some point – needs help.

One of our core values at Feed the Children is to defend dignity. We believe in treating each family member in the communities where we work with value and worth. To help ease the burden of mothers across the U.S., we distribute our essentials box, which we refer to as our ‘dignity box.’ These boxes contain personal care products to support the well-being of hard-working women and their families. Click here to see how you can support mothers everywhere.

Tweet us how you YOU tackle work-life balance and why you are thankful for your own mother’s sacrafices #ThankYouMom.

What it Means to be a Mother

Being a mother is life-changing. Challenging. Rewarding. Scary. Wonderful.

If you ask several women to define what it means to be a mother, no two answers may be the same. However, you may find one central theme: motherhood is not easy. Mothers are essentially the backbones of their family. They carry, birth, feed and provide for their children for the rest of their lives. And, many do it all with a smile.

Between chasing the monsters away at night and nurturing us while we’re sick, they are often quite simply, superwomen. Being a mother can be emotionally and physically demanding, but some women wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure you have heard your own mother say, “No matter how old you get, I will never stop being your mother.” That’s because motherhood has shaped her into the person who has endless and unconditional love for her children.

 

“Love is when you wake up every morning and watch your children grow. I show love to my children every day by making sure they hear me say ‘good morning’ with a hug. I never go a day without telling my children I love them.” -Mia, mother of three

Being a mother means teaching your children how to walk, talk, feed themselves and eventually grow into well-adjusted adults. They have a hand in guiding their children’s values and morals for the future, which can define how their potential grandchildren are raised.

 

It means a lot as a mother to have taught all my children and grand kids to cook, and keep healthy food in the house. It has been very important throughout my life and theirs to be healthy. Teaching them the value of their health has made them each grow into adults who now prepare great meals at home for their children.” -Jessica, mother of three

Being a mother means making sure your children can have the world, even if you don’t have the world to give. In the U.S. today, mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18. Many women work multiple jobs to make sure their children have the clothes, food and school supplies needed for their education. They work hard to equip their child with the means for a successful future.

 

“I sacrifice for my kids every day. Even if I have to go without, they’re going to get what they need regardless of the situation. If I’m down to my last dollar, I’m going to give it to them so they can go to school with cash. I just try to be the best mom I can for them.”-Connie, mother of two

Feed the Children helps children and mothers during their most difficult times. In addition to providing boxes filled with food, our essentials box, which we refer to as our ‘dignity box,’ contains personal care products to support the self-esteem of hard-working women and their families. These boxes may contain items like shampoo, make-up, perfume, feminine hygiene products, and more.

As Mother’s Day approaches this year, make sure you thank the special woman in your life and support women around you. Click here to see how you can support mothers everywhere. From everyone at Feed the Children, thank you to all of the women who have the world’s hardest job. Taking care of us!

Tweet us what it means for YOU to be a mom and why you are thankful for your own mother #ThankYouMom.

House Agriculture Committee Advances 2018 Farm Bill: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Written by Andrew McNamee, Director of Government Relations

Last Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee advanced its version of the 2018 farm bill (H.R. 2) with a favorable recommendation from the committee. The next step is an expected floor vote in early May, when Congress returns from a week-long recess.

The provisions of the bill addressing international food assistance programs contain some good news for us and the families we serve. Most importantly, the bill text includes removal of the requirement to monetize commodities in Title II of the Food for Peace program. Our Washington, D.C. team met with several offices on the Hill and asked for this requirement to be relaxed, and we’re very happy to see the provision included in the bill’s text!

However, we also asked for elimination or relaxation of “cargo preference” to be included in the bill, and that was absent from the text. “Cargo preference” is the requirement that at least 50% of USG-impelled food shipments be transported on U.S.-flagged vessels. This requirement directs food aid resources away from nutrition assistance towards ocean freight costs, and reduces the number of people who receive timely nutrition support. We are hopeful that cargo preference can still be addressed through an amendment when the bill is taken up on the House floor, and we have begun meeting with offices to push for the amendment to be included.

Although the text addressing international programs has some positives and negatives, the text addressing domestic programs is much more problematic. The bill’s text includes a proposal to eliminate the option for states to utilize “categorical eligibility” for (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) SNAP participation. If a state utilizes this option, it enables people who are already certified as eligible for a certain program, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to be automatically certified as eligible for SNAP. It helps states cut down on the paperwork required while also reducing the burden on beneficiaries. The proposal to eliminate “categorical eligibility” reduces flexibility for states while increasing the burden on program beneficiaries, with no expected cost savings other than qualified people choosing not to avail themselves of the program.

The bill also proposes to alter the work requirement exception for parents with children. Currently, parents with children aged 12 and under are excepted from work requirements, while the bill proposes to change that to parents with children aged 6 and under. Parents with children between ages 6 and 12 who currently stay home with their kids would be forced to obtain (and pay for) babysitting services, or simply leave their children home alone. Our Washington, D.C. team will oppose both domestic provisions in its meetings with Congress in the next few weeks.

How We Support This Year’s Farm Bill

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy

 

Congress must pass a farm bill this year. What are we doing to help?

The “farm bill” is the primary legislative vehicle authorizing the U.S. Government’s (USG) agriculture and nutrition assistance programs. An authorization bill must be passed every five years so that the programs funded by the U.S. Government are authorized to spend money that has been appropriated.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, which is the current law authorizing agricultural and nutrition assistance programs, expires September 2018. It is critical that new authorizing legislation is passed before the expiration date to ensure there is no interruption in program authorization. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are hard at work writing the bill, and our Washington, D.C. team is meeting with Committee members and their staffs to advocate for beneficial changes in how nutrition assistance programs operate.

On the domestic programs authorized by the farm bill, we will continue to defend the need for and integrity of the programs. We will oppose any effort to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Incentive Program (SNAP), which is the USG’s largest and most important nutrition assistance program. Some Members of Congress have suggested converting SNAP into state-controlled block grants that the state governments could redirect to priorities other than nutrition. We will oppose any such effort.

On international policy, we will promote language that would relax the requirement that Food for Peace programs be funded through the sale of U.S. commodities on local markets in-country, which can distort such markets. We will also advocate for changes to “cargo preference,” or the requirement that most food aid must be transported in U.S.-registered vessels, which can drive up costs and delays.

Our Washington, D.C. team will be advocating on the farm bill in the coming weeks and months. Our goal is for a re-authorization bill that includes critical reforms to pass before the current authorizing legislation expires in September.

How Do I Become an Advocate?

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy

Feed the Children fights hunger and poverty around the world. While our focus is on direct service to our beneficiaries, we also understand the massive scale of our mission. To truly defeat hunger in addition to being service provider, we must bring together like-minded organizations and advocates for our poorest communities. Our goal is systemic change to defeat hunger, and while we are a zealous advocate for good anti-hunger and anti-poverty policy, we are strictly non-partisan. We proudly work with all people of good faith who care about serving the poor.

Our Washington D.C. team regularly meets with members of Congress and their staffs, and we visited the offices of over 100 members last year. There is nothing that has more influence on a legislator than an informed and well engaged constituent. Personalized communications from a constituent stand out amid a sea of form letters and e-mails. They tell the legislator that the constituent cares about an issue enough to research his legislator’s position on the issue, compose a communication to the office, and consider the legislator’s actions on the issue when entering the voting booth. Moreover, they tell the legislator that the constituent is likely to vote.

Our efforts to affect policy in Washington D.C. depend on support from engaged and informed advocates that can reinforce our message with their members of Congress.

If you want to advocate on behalf of children in the U.S. and around the world, a good first step is to sign up for text updates from our government relations team by texting advocate to 51555, and replying yes.

We will text you when a vital issue being considered by Congress needs your immediate attention.

The next step is to get to know your members of Congress, their committee assignments, and their positions on issues related to food security and nutrition. You can find this information by submitting your address and selecting the member of Congress about whom you wish to learn, or by calling 1-800-826-3688 to be connected directly to your Representative or Senators. Explore your representatives’ websites to find out what positions they have previously taken on food security and nutrition-related issues. Some members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are considered “champions” on food security, but every member will have something to say about a broad piece of legislation like the farm bill, which includes authorization for child nutrition programs.

Once you know who they are, you should feel free to reach out! Introduce yourself by e-mail or phone call to let the office know that you’re interested in food security and nutrition. You can explain that you will be monitoring the lawmaker’s actions on those issues. If the lawmaker is holding events that are open to the public, attend those events and ask questions regarding the lawmaker’s commitment to your issues. You want a lawmaker to remember that they have a committed advocate living in the district when the issue comes up!

Finally, make sure to follow up with the legislator’s office when they act on an issue you are passionate about, to either thank them or respectfully express your displeasure at their position. Remember that these offices are constantly barraged by appeals, often in less-than-polite language. A sincere thank you, or even a respectfully-worded disagreement, can mean a lot to a legislator and his (often underappreciated and overworked) staff.

There are many opportunities to engage in advocacy related to food security and nutrition. Please sign up now to be an advocate for hungry children in the U.S. and worldwide!

Haiti: A Spotlight on the Country and Our Work

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy, and Emily Jost, Program Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist

Haiti is a beautiful country with a troubled history. Struck by a truly devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010, the country continues to feel the overwhelming effects of the earthquake today.  More than 230,000 people were killed, and a million others were displaced. Children have felt the negative effects firsthand, and those born in 2010 or later have lived their entire lives in the earthquake’s shadow. We were hard at work in Haiti before the earthquake, and we seek to help children thrive though food, medicine and education.

We use a child-focused community development (CFCD) approach to deliver more than just food to children in need in Haiti. There are four pillars to CFCD: Food & Nutrition, Health & Water, Education, and Livelihoods.

Through the Food & Nutrition pillar, we serve communities through the support of Care Groups, a mother-to-mother peer training approach. Through these groups, mothers learn positive behavior changes to improve the nutrition and health of their children. We have also provided deworming medication and vitamin A supplements for children under the age of five, to treat intestinal parasites and prevent blindness. In 2015, we provided vitamin supplements to nearly 500 children under the age of five.

“A special thanks to the Care Group staff for the work they do with the mother leaders in my community. I want to become a great seamstress to help the poorest parents in making school uniforms for their children.” –Roodmicka, 11-year-old resident of Bon Berger de Macako

The earthquake devastated Haiti’s water and health infrastructure, which left the population vulnerable to the devastating cholera epidemic that continues to trouble the country today. In response, we’ve built latrines and hand washing stations in five communities in western Haiti, benefitting over 1,200 children, through its Health & Water pillar. We also installed new waterline systems to support whole communities, delivering clean water to over 10,000 people and reducing the incidence of waterborne disease.

One of the most powerful methods to promote education is to provide food at school. Through our Education pillar, we provide 2,900 children with regular school meals and backpacks to reduce financial strain on their parents and ensure they’re focused on lessons rather than hunger. One Haitian teacher explained that before our school feeding program began, children arrived at school hungry and unable to focus, forcing teachers to repeat lessons.

“Thank you for the support provided in the community and our schools through the nutrition program. In addition, we want to give a special thanks to the sponsorship program.” – Eliphete, the father of 11-year-old Djenica

The final pillar, Livelihoods, is intended to help the parents of the children we serve by teaching them new ways to generate income and save money. We assist families in building both household and community/school gardens, which promotes nutritional diversity and helps supply our school meals programs. The fruit tree seedling projects have these same benefits, along with added income from the sale of the seedlings or benefiting the environment through reforestation efforts.

2017 Year in Review: Feed the Children Successes and a Look Ahead

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy

 

Feed the Children had several notable successes in 2017. These included:

  • Meetings with the staff of more than 100 members of Congress – We were in more than 100 meetings on Capitol Hill, with both Democratic and Republican offices, on a variety of topics, including emergency famine assistance funding, summer feeding for American children who receive free or reduced-price lunch at school, and school lunch debt shaming.
  • Supplemental famine spending of $1 billion – Due to ongoing conflicts, there were more people on the brink of famine in 2017 than in any year since 1945. Feed the Children and other internationally-focused NGOs (non-government organizations) pushed for $1 billion in supplemental funding to be included in a continuing resolution to address these famines, and we learned in May that our collective effort was successful! (The supplemental funding and all U.S. expenditures on international relief and development constitutes less than 1% of the U.S. federal budget, but the money is critical to preventing famine and stimulating development.)
  • Hurricane relief – The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was especially active and deadly. When hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria made landfall in the U.S., it caused nearly $370 billion in estimated damage and collectively caused at least 700 deaths. However, it is feared that the lives lost due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico have been drastically undercounted.
  • Malawi – Tiwalere II – In 2017, we were awarded the largest grant in our history to continue our critical work in Malawi – to end extreme poverty and hunger. USAID gave $19.15 million through the Global Development Alliance mechanism to match the amount raised by our organization and our partners, Nu Skin and the Procter & Gamble Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. Tiwalere II, meaning “let’s raise them up” in the local Chichewa dialect, follows the success of the smaller Tiwalere I project that improved nutrition for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi from 2010 to 2015. Tiwalere II will focus on educating pregnant and lactating women, mothers, their young children, and adolescent girls on best practices related to ensuring young children receive adequate nutrition.
  • Summer Food & Education Program – This was the fourth year we operated our Summer Food and Education Program (SFEP) in coordination with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Our SFEP provides meals to children who receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year to ensure they don’t experience malnutrition throughout the summer. Meal sites are often located at libraries, camps, churches, or schools, where children can participate in educational and athletic programs to ensure they don’t fall behind in school during the summer months.

 

A Look Ahead

  • We plan to build on our success as we move further into 2018. Our Washington D.C. team will continue to regularly meet with Congressional offices. We will encourage them to make vital improvements to nutrition programs outlined in the farm bill. The farm bill is passed every five years. It is the mechanism that authorizes all agricultural and nutrition programs.
  • We will utilize the lessons learned from disaster response efforts to improve our response in the future, and we will increase our partnerships with other organizations focused on disaster response.
  • Finally, we’re looking to utilize the Global Development Alliance funding mechanism to possibly recreate the success of our Tiwalere II project in Central America, Kenya, and Tanzania.