State of the Union Address Maintains Momentum From Last Year
By Rev. David Beckmann
Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty. This served as a catalyst to get our leaders and the rest of the nation to start talking about poverty again. This came at a time when hunger and poverty were clearly not a priority. There has been a strong appetite to cut funding for programs that help people who have little voice in Congress. Despite these threats, the last Congress did make significant progress in 2014 toward ending hunger and poverty.
Domestic nutrition programs in the “cromnibus” (funding for the federal government through Sept. 30, 2015) were adequately funded with some programs seeing increases. Internationally, poverty-focused development-assistance programs (PFDA) saw a significant increase from last year’s funding levels. This boost in funding is largely due to the Ebola supplement, which includes funding for PFDA accounts.
We also saw bipartisan support on the issue of mass incarceration, with bills like the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Second Chance Reauthorization Act seeing support from both sides of the aisle.
The momentum of helping working families continued into this year. President Obama’s State of the Union address built upon this progress by urging investment in programs that help working families and stabilize the economy.
As the economy continues to rebound from the recession, the government must focus on investing in human capital. A specific area it needs to address, which the president mentioned in his State of the Union address, is investing in women.
By and large, childcare continues to be seen as a woman’s issue, even though most families need both parents in the workforce in order to support their families. This antiquated notion makes it harder for women to gain economic empowerment, since caregiving is not valued by society despite being a public good like clean water or education.
Many types of countries, from the United Kingdom to Bangladesh, have made huge strides in reducing hunger and poverty. What has caused the United States to stagnate is the lack of organized political will when it comes to poverty and hunger; that’s what’s so scandalous about it. The United States has become fatalistic about poverty since it has been so long since we’ve made progress.
Since the president’s State of the Union address last month, he has released his fiscal year 2016 budget, and we have entered budget season, a period of debate over what priorities the government will set with its spending decisions. During this time, we must ensure that budgets are not balanced on the backs of people who are poor and hungry. Child nutrition programs will be up for reauthorization later this year. With 16 million children living in food-insecure households, these programs are more important than ever.
The key to a stable economy is not to penalize people going through a tough time but instead to invest in programs that help families get back on their feet. Investing in human capital needs to be the foundation for our economic and political priorities.
Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World.
Photo by Pete Souza/The White House