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.

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!

School Breakfast Program Gives Kids a Healthy Start to their Days

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy and Caitlin Duncan, Grants Management Specialist

A day at school should be filled with educational challenges and social growth. But for the roughly eight percent of American children living with food insecurity, the day usually begins with hunger. The hunger stalks them throughout their childhoods. It affects their ability to focus and learn, their prospects, even their physical growth. While their friends return from summer break with stories of family vacations, sports practices, and summer camps, food insecure children have no such stories to tell. Instead, they are relieved to be back where free and reduced-price school lunches help them recover from months of inconsistent meals, as well as sometimes feeling like a burden to their family. This is how poverty and related food insecurity psychologically traumatize children for life, and it’s happening on a massive scale. Their chronic hunger affects their education, their social opportunities and sense of self –- even their physical development.

This is why the USDA’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) is so important. Research has found that providing breakfast to students has a positive effect on their academic achievement- but the benefits extend beyond that. Busy parents can get relief in the early morning when they know there is a nutritious, affordable meal available at school. Kids have the freedom to be kids when their bellies are full and they can think about games and lessons instead of where to get their next meal.

However, not all school districts offer breakfast through SBP. The program reimburses states that offer school breakfast, but participation is optional. Moreover, the number of students eating free or reduced-price school breakfasts is often far below the number of eligible students, especially when breakfast is served before the bell and many students have not yet arrived at school.

State-level efforts are underway to change this. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) has proposed a $2 million investment in the state’s school breakfast programs in his 2017-2018 budget proposal. A bill introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature would require schools that have at least 60% of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, under the federal National School Lunch Program, to offer their students free breakfast. Feed the Children applauds these changes as a step towards achieving a hunger-free childhood for all children.

Some school districts have made efforts to integrate breakfast service into the school day, including ‘School Breakfast Weeks’ that introduce refreshments and socialization into breakfast programs. Or, instead of serving breakfast before school in a separate room, some districts have introduced food carts that serve students in their classrooms and integrate breakfast into the school day. Feed the Children encourages such innovative efforts to make consistent meals the norm.

Not sure how to get school breakfast started at your local schools? For those who would like to initiate school breakfast or expand on existing programs, the USDA provides a toolkit for parents, educators, administrators, and everyday concerned citizens to assist in this goal, called Energize Your Day with School Breakfast. This toolkit offers suggestions for engaging community stakeholders and for taking concrete action toward bringing nutritious, affordable breakfast to more school-aged children.

Encourage Your State Officials to Address School Lunch Shaming

Written by Caitlin Duncan, Grants Management Specialist

 

Making a show of throwing away a child’s hot lunch.

Making lunch contingent on performing chores in front of peers.

Sending certain children to a designated area for a cold food item.

Writing debt notices on a child’s arm.

Those examples are just some of the lunch shaming tactics that schools have used to pressure parents to repay school meal debt. The premise is that embarrassment will motivate families to pay the money back quickly. While respecting the need of school districts to recoup a sometimes staggering meal debt, we are against such practices as degrading, which can lead to a negative educational environment for children. Not having enough to eat as a child is already a discouraging struggle. Children who deal with chronic hunger should not also have to worry about public shaming when they have an overdue lunch bill.

Our vision is to create a world where no child goes to bed hungry, and in this pursuit, we believe in treating each child and family in the communities we serve with value and respect. Last summer, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees school lunch programs, imposed a July 1, 2017 deadline for states to establish policies on how to treat children who cannot pay for food. We applaud the state of New Mexico for being the first state to outlaw lunch shaming, passing the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act. The law requires schools to deal with parents–not children–regarding meal debt, ends practices meant to embarrass students, instructs schools to provide students with a USDA reimbursable meal regardless of debt, and outlines steps for schools to connect low-income families with available school lunch programs. We enthusiastically encourage state legislators across the country to follow suit and to develop similar policies that defend children’s dignity and promote students’ access to food at school.

To encourage positive changes to your state’s school lunch debt policy, find contact information for your locally elected officials here.

For ideas on what to share with your elected official, refer to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) advocacy toolkit here.

 

How Can We Do More to Help Children in the Classroom?

Written by Rhonda Watson, Director of Workplace Giving

When I was a student, I remember sitting in the front of the class, eager and ready to learn. At the beginning of every school year, I was armed with my No. 2 pencils, pens, and wide-ruled paper.

As a child, I never thought about other kids not having access to the materials needed for class. How can a student be properly engaged without a pen, pencil or paper? Will they be able to participate in the lessons, or will they just daydream? Would they daydream about a prosperous future that’s not achievable without a good education? Would they dream about never being bullied again for being “different” than the other kids who have school supplies?

If you’re hungry, homeless or without life’s essentials, your dreams may be different. I want kids to dream big, and with an education, they can create a path for success. If they have the right tools to succeed in the classroom, their good grades and participation can open the door to infinite possibilities.

In December 2016, the Hunger and Homelessness Survey stated Washington D.C. has 124 homeless people for every 10,000 residents. Nationwide, the rate of homelessness is about 17 per 10,000 people.

When it comes to school-aged children, there are about 3,551 homeless students in Washington D.C. alone. How can we empower the students in our community? How can we give them the materials they need for success? They are the next generation and they deserve the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and to excel.

Can you join our dream? Feed the Children would like your help to make sure all children in the Washington D.C. area have a backpack to achieve their dreams. Our backpacks are filled with school supplies, hygiene items and healthy snacks  – all for the cost of only $20.

On June 8, we will participate in United Way’s campaign called Do More 24. It’s a 24-hour online fundraiser to help the 1,500 homeless kids in DC. Please join us by logging on to make an investment in the life of a child.

Visit the Feed the Children page on the Do More 24 website for more information http://domore24.org/npos/feed-the-children.

 

Chickasaw Nation Testifies to the Importance of SNAP

In case you missed it, Melinda R. Newport, MS, RD/LD, the Director of WIC and Child Nutrition Programs for the Chickasaw Nation, delivered testimony before the House Agriculture Committee Nov. 16, 2016 on the importance of the SNAP program and reported on the outcome of the Packed Promise project.

Funded by a USDA grant (Demonstration Projects to End Childhood Hunger), Packed Promise allows participants to shop online for food benefits that are shipped directly to them. Participants receive a 25-pound box of shelf stable food and a $15 FRESH check to purchase fresh produce from WIC retailers and farmers markets.

Newport noted the importance of the close partnership between the Chickasaw Nation and Feed the Children in carrying out the project. Feed the Children’s experience in bulk food ordering, packaging, and delivery was leveraged to establish a viable food access point for children across rural Oklahoma. Also, its logistics expertise and food buying power allow more children to be served for less money spent.

As of November 2016, Packed Promise had shipped 793,000 pounds of food to families in need and had redeemed $261,000 in FRESH checks – all to help vulnerable Oklahoma families. Read Newport’s full testimony here.

Top Ten of 2016

While most Americans were paying attention to politics, sports, or pop culture in 2016, they may have missed these major events that impacted the poor and hungry around the world and here in the United States:

1. Passage of the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) – The legislation, which enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, allocates over $7 billion to initiatives focusing on small-scale agricultural producers and the nutrition of women and children worldwide. When he signed the legislation in July, President Obama noted that development spending is “one of the smartest investments we can make” for U.S. national security and shared prosperity. FEED supports the GFSA, and its passage was a major victory.

unnamed2. Collapse of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) – Not all hunger news in 2016 was good news. Hopes were high that the House and Senate could reconcile their respective versions of the CNR to replace the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which expired over a year ago. Although the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bipartisan CNR, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) said he was unable to find common ground with House colleagues and minority members of the Senate to advance the bill. A major stumbling block was a provision in the House bill that would have created a block-grant pilot program in three states. The program would cut funds for school meal programs and abolish critical federal mandates, such as eligibility requirements for free and reduced-price school lunches and nutrition standards. FEED strongly opposed these elements of the House bill.

3. Passage of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act – This long-sought piece of legislation was first introduced over five years ago, but was finally signed by President Obama in July. It requires government agencies to closely monitor and evaluate foreign-aid programs based on their outcomes, and to improve transparency by posting data about the effectiveness of programs on foreignassistance.gov. Its unanimous approval in both the House and Senate is credited to a committed group of bipartisan sponsors.

4. Hurricane Matthew and cholera outbreak in Haiti – Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti in October. Recovery efforts have been hampered by poor infrastructure that predated the hurricane, and by an ongoing cholera epidemic for which the UN has taken partial responsibility. The cholera epidemic, which was triggered after the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake in 2010, has been further exacerbated by the poor conditions following Hurricane Matthew.

5. Endemic measles is eradicated from the Americas – The World Health Organization declared in September that no one had been infected with measles in the Americas for a full year, meaning the virus is no longer endemic in North and South America. Despite a measles outbreak last year that spread to 667 people in 27 U.S. states, the western hemisphere has not suffered an endemic case of measles since 2002.

6. War and refugees – Unfortunately, 2016 saw the continuation of violent conflicts that drove masses of refugees from Syria and Yemen. The U.S. reached its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees in the 2016 fiscal year, and has now accepted over 12,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war began in 2011. Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict in Yemen (between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition supporting the ousted government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi) has driven the largest food-security emergency in the world. Between 7 and 10 million people are in “Crisis” (IPC Phase 3 or worse), and require immediate humanitarian assistance. At least 2 million of this total are in “Emergency” (IPC Phase 4), and are at increased risk of mortality. FEED is part of a group of 18 concerned nongovernmental organizations providing food and supplies to 12,000 Syrian refugees, two-thirds of whom are women and children.

See here.

Women carry pails of water drawn from a borehole at Chimbuli Village, Traditional Authority Chakhaza in Dowa District, Central Malawi, October 9, 2014. PHOTO FEED THE CHILDREN/AMOS GUMULIRA
Women carry pails of water drawn from a borehole at Chimbuli Village, Traditional Authority Chakhaza in Dowa District, Central Malawi, October 9, 2014. PHOTO FEED THE CHILDREN/AMOS GUMULIRA

7. El Niño drives food insecurity in Southern Africa – The strongest El Niño weather event since 1982 caused an increase in drought and heat waves across much of the world, but especially in southern Africa. Over 50 million Africans are now considered food insecure. Pervasive drought conditions have devastated the agriculture sector, which employs 80 percent of the working population in Malawi. FEED delivers food aid to over 80,000 Malawian children in 847 centers each day, provides water-purification packages, awards scholarships to help students finish high school, and organizes village savings and loan programs to help impoverished rural communities save and invest in small businesses.

unnamed-28. Ebola outbreak ends – The World Health Organization declared the epidemic over in June 2016, representing a major victory for public health officials and the NGO community. FEED and its partners in Liberia and Kenya created networks of trained Care Group Volunteers to teach public health practices, including hand washing with soap, water purification, and avoiding sick or dead animals. The volunteers also assisted communities in recognizing symptoms of the virus, and dispelling false beliefs about how the virus spreads. See here.

9. The rise and fall of Zika – Zika was declared a global health emergency in February, which precipitated massive global action against the disease: 1) the World Bank committed $150 million to combat the virus; 2) the Bank also established the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility to quickly mobilize funds to address global disease outbreaks; 3) the Obama Administration issued a “private sector call to action” to unlock vaccines, point-of- care diagnostics, and new mosquito-control options; and 4) a coalition of governments and philanthropies, most notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, committed $18 million to widely implement a new form of vector control. Following such efforts, the crisis was declared over in November.

10. Number of food-insecure households in the U.S. is decreasing – The USDA’s Economic Research Service issued its most recent “Household Food Security in the United States” report in September. The report found that as of 2015 there were 15.8 million food-insecure households in the U.S.—12.7% of all households. While an improvement from the 14% of food-insecure families in 2014, there are still many households that are unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. Meanwhile, the number of people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as spending on the program, has been significantly reduced because of the reintroduction of certain restrictions for childless adults, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Hunger in America: The Children Need Your Voice

By John Ricketts

Tuesday, June 23, is National Call-In Day, a day set aside for people to call their congressional representatives and ask them to support federal school meal and child- nutrition programs. Hunger organizations across the country are working together to make this call-in day a success. Here’s why this initiative is so important to our work:

Prior to my work at Feed the Children, I served as a youth pastor for over 8 years and since 2010, I have led Feed the Children’s disaster-relief work. Two years ago, I was assigned to lead a new program at Feed the Children—the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides summer meals to food-insecure children. These children normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but over the summer, many of them are left without access to regular meals. I am proud to lead a team that now sponsors 58 sites where we serve 1,800 – 2,000 meals a day to children during the summer.

Summer meals sites are frequently held at libraries, camps, churches, or schools. While kids receive a meal at a site, they can also stay active and continue learning with the books, school supplies, backpacks, and sports supplies that Feed the Children provides. On kick-off day, I saw hundreds of enthusiastic kids at these sites. SFSP gives them the opportunity to eat a nutritious meal and stay on track during the summer so that they don’t fall behind when they return to school.

4-2015 TRIP2513 MWC Elementary Distribution SMorgan (52) copySFSP is just one of the ways Feed the Children combats hunger. Our distribution centers provide millions of pounds of food to individuals in all 50 states every year. We have also distributed over 700,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to students. While I love all of the great programs at Feed the Children, our summer program is special to me—not only because I work on it every day, but also because I see the impact of the meals and the mentoring that our sites provide children. This program brings together many stakeholders to improve the lives of some of our nation’s most vulnerable kids.

This type of development effort creates pathways for people to overcome their hardships. Through the support of the community and mentors, hopefully these kids will have brighter futures.

SFSP only works through the combined efforts of the public and private sphere. Nonprofits can create effective programs to reach the people in need, but the scale of the problem is so large that funding is often a challenge. Federal resources flowing through faith and community institutions lead to more kids being fed and mentored every day. By investing in our children and those in need, we can become a healthier and more productive nation.

While we have made great strides to improve children’s access to meals, we continue to face challenges. Because Oklahoma is largely a rural state, many students do not have transportation to the meal sites. The mandatory congregate rule requires that children eat the meal together in a certain location. In urban settings, I have witnessed parents instructing their children not to come out of their homes or apartment complexes to participate due to safety concerns, and therefore the congregate feeding rule prevents some children from having access to summer meals. Changing the requirement would help programs across the country reach more kids.

While we would hope that this issue would be nonpartisan, the political climate has made the discussion around feeding children politically charged. If Congress could find a way to work together, we could improve these programs to reach more children.

All of us at Feed the Children are working hard to change the tide of poverty and hunger in America. We especially care about making sure every child in America is adequately fed. We urge you to join us in showing support for important programs such as SFSP by calling your representative on June 23. It only takes a few minutes, and we give you a suggested message to use. Your congressional representatives need to hear from you! Here’s how to participate.