David Beckmann in Albuquerque (Sept. 24, 1994)


Here are some excerpts from from David Beckmann's keynote address at the Feeding the Future conference in Albuquerque on Sept. 24, 1994.  You will notice some familiar themes, such as poverty focused foreign assistance and child nutrition.  In many ways, it was easier then than it is in the current budget-cutting climate. 

The Influence of New Mexico Bread Members
I'm struck that I come to Albuquerque and meet people who have been part of Bread for the World for 20 years, and we don't know each other, but we've been part of something together. 

We can make a difference.  I've been struck that Bread for the World in New Mexico has had a real influence on your delegation.  On this year's main campaign, A Child is Waiting, which is a campaign to get guaranteed full funding for the WIC program as part of health care reform, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Bill Richardson are cosponsors of the legislation.
"I'm just really struck that 200 people and 10 or 15 people who come to the monthly meetings are being heard." 
Sen. Pete Domenici doesn't always vote with us, but he has repeatedly shown up at Bread for the World events. He makes it his business to get to these receptions.  He knows about the Bread for the World presence, and the RESULTS presence in New Mexico. And we're not talking about a lot of people--I' think it's 200 members in New Mexico or something like that. And there's a little group that meets once a month, so that they remind each other to write letters.

But even though it's just a little group, Sen. Domenici knows you're there, and because of that, he's a real leader on international child survival issues.  He's a fan of the WIC program, and he came to WIC's 20th Birthday Party on Capitol Hill.  He knows that Bread for the World in New Mexico is a real presence to deal with.  I'm just really struck that 200 people and 10 or 15 people who come to the monthly meetings are being heard.  Sen. Domenici is one of the most powerful political leaders in the country--he's on the Appropriations and Budget Committees.  So we're always trying to get on Sen. Domenici.

Bread for the World Victories
Bread for the World, over the last two years, worked on the Every Fifth Child campaign, which was increased funding for WIC, Headstart and Job Corps.  And through that two-year campaign we helped to get an extra 2 billion dollars for poor and hungry people.  And that little campaign, which probably involved maybe 250,000 letters to Congress in two years, achieved for poor and hungry people roughly half of what the entire private feeding system is doing.

Let me give you another example on why we need to complement our wallets with citizen action.  And that's the example of Rwanda, where it's really clear that private charity is important.  Again, Christians and others are responding by sending money to Lutheran World Relief and Catholic Charities and World Vision, and God bless them, and it's very important that we do that.  But it's not enough.  In the case of Rwanda it's quite clear that the U.S. government has a key role in providing money for relief assistance, and there is a need for more money for logistical support to get the food and other supplies from the Pacific Ocean over to Goma, Zaire.  Only the U.S. government or some entity like that has that kind of capacity.
"Bread for the World generated maybe 100,000 letters to Congress about the Horn of Africa. and partly because of that, the U.S. State Department played a key role in negotiating the end to a 30-year war in Ethiopia."
More fundamentally, in peacemaking, and in support for the kind of development that can make for peace, the U.S. government has a key role to play. In 1991, Bread for the World generated maybe 100,000 letters to Congress about the Horn of Africa. and partly because of that, the U.S. State Department played a key role in negotiating the end to a 30-year war in Ethiopia. And Eritrea got its independence, Ethiopia has had relative peace ever since then.  It's that kind of support from outside that is really crucial in Rwanda and Burundi and Somalia and Liberia.  And the U.S. can provide some of that support.  But clearly, the attention of the U.S. government has shifted to other matters.

We as citizens of the most powerful country in the world, need not only to give money to provide private assistance, as crucial as that is. We also need to act as citizens to let President Clinton or your congressional delegation know that what happens in Africa is important to you, and part of the way that you understand your national security.

Working in Coalition
This meeting wouldn't have happened if it were just Bread for the World or just LOGM [Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry] that was organizing it--but because it was a broad coalition of groups...we've been able to have a meeting of this size and strength. Seeing ourselves as part of a larger movement, a potentially dynamic movement, I think, is practically very helpful.  And we need visionary leaders who see those links and see ways to build new institutions or new links between institutions that are going to take whatever umph we have now and make it go further.

My own guess is that we may be living in a decade where we can win really important victories against hunger and poverty.  I'm impressed that the whole country is talking about health care reform.  I'm impressed that the Congress has passed an Earned Income Tax increase, and increases in WIC, and Headstart and Job Corps, and improvements in the Food Stamp Program.  I think we've seen some real steps forward.

1,000 Points of Light is Not Enough
The hunger issue is a very clear example that 1,000 points of light are not enough.  A thousand points of light are really important.  We want a society where people care for people through voluntary organizations, though local face-to-face methods.  That is surely part of what we want.  But we have seen quite clearly over the last 10 or 15 years that 1,000 points of light without an adequate response from government at the federal and state level just does not do it.  We tried it with hunger.  The commentary/editorial that was read was really very lucid about the decisions we made as a nation in the early 80s that spawned increase hunger and poverty.  There are also longer-term trends such as the globalization, information-based economy, those things are driving down the wages of low-income people.

But in the 80s, we as a people, as a nation and at the state level, consciously decided to shift income from poor people to rich people.  We succeeded. And all over the country, lots of poor people were coming into churches like this and synagogues and asking for help with their groceries and their utility bills.  And  so, at the grassroots level, churches banded together, and said, "look, you set a food pantry over in your church, and we'll help you with that," and then all of that banded together into the food bank system.  There are now 150,000 private agencies in the U.S. that are passing out food to hungry people.  Together they are passing out 3 to 4 billion dollars of food assistance a year. This has all mushroomed in the last 15 years.
"A  thousand points of light are really important.  We want a society where people care for people through voluntary organizations, though local face-to-face methods.  That is surely part of what we want.  But we have seen quite clearly over the last 10 or 15 years that 1,000 points of light without an adequate response from government at the federal and state level just does not do it."
Fifteen years ago, there might have been a food pantry or a soup kitchen in the poorest part of town, but there wasn't a soup kitchen or a food pantry in every neighborhood.  This whole growth of the private feeding system now has been a phenomena of the last 10 or 15 years. And very clearly, as rapidly as this 1,000 Points of Light response to hunger has grown, it has not kept up with the growth of hunger. And the people who administer the system, who pass out food to hungry people, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are the first to say that it is not keeping up.

We know now that the Second Harvest system of food banks, just the system, is passing out food to about 26 million Americans a year.  When the agencies and the people who are receiving the food were asked about their situation, (they said) people are not getting enough food, the proportions of food that they're given are not enough for their needs.  The food pantries are turning away about 1 million people a year.  The agencies that are passing out food are very fragile agencies. Many don't know if they are going to be in business two months from now.

The existing system is quite vulnerable. This is no way to run a railroad, and it's no way to hungry people.  Not that it's not important.  It's crucial. But the churches have jumped into it.  We've been so glad to feed hungry people in this way, to bring in cans of soup.  And at the same time, it hasn't kept up because the government hasn't done its part. 

On Poverty-Focused Development Assistance
Let's examine a couple of the specific issues we've worked on.  Take a look at revamping U.S. foreign aid, so more money goes to programs that are focused on reducing poverty and hunger in environmentally sound ways.  This was the main theme of our main campaign last year, Many Neighbors, One Earth.  That's a tough one--to get any member of Congress to support this issue.  It's not even a question of voting for foreign aid, it's being in the same room as foreign aid: whether it's good foreign aid, fixing foreign aid, just to talk about foreign aid is not politically popular for any member of Congress.

Over the last two or three years, the foreign aid budget has been cut drastically. We have worked with sympathetic members in Congress--Sen. Leahy from Vermont, who is on our board has been crucial, Rep. David Obey from Wisconsin, whose sister-in-law is on our board, has been crucial  We've managed to pretty much protect development assistance, and especially poverty focused assistance, while military and security assistance has been slashed.  There's no more of that to cut, unless you go to aid for Israel and Egypt. 

Proposal to Incorporate WIC into Health-Care Reform
Let me take one more example of how we make a difference, and that's the question of WIC [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children]. WIC is a no-brainer.  This is not a partisan issue. Ronald Reagan spoke well of WIC.  It's in Clinton's investment programs.  It's Sen. (Robert) Dole's favorite social program. Everybody agrees that WIC works, that WIC saves money for the government in health-care costs, that WIC is efficiently administered and is focused on small children and pregnant mothers.

This is a program that we can sell to people who are about to go to communion.  I don't know if I want to ask them to write a letter about NAFTA, but I'll ask them to write a letter about WIC.  It's so obvious that this is good policy for hungry people.   Bread for the World over the last 5-10 years has come back repeatedly to ask about WIC. And some people say, "WIC again!"  But we're not there yet. There are 3 million eligible kids who are not yet in the program, just because the funding has not been made available.  And it's not because anybody wants kids to go hungry--but we just want other things more.
"I don't know if I want to ask [people in the pews] to write a letter about NAFTA, but I'll ask them to write a letter about WIC.  It's so obvious that this is good policy for hungry people." 
I noticed that the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry has been crucial in getting WIC funded at the state level.  Sherry Lee at Roadrunner Food Bank said one social indicator that has improved in New Mexico is a reduction in infant mortality, and one of the principal factors is the expansion of the WIC program.  Bread for the World and LOGM helped to make that happen.

This year again we came back again and said that as part of whatever health-care reform goes through, if it's Republican or Democrat, which ever version passes, we would like to see a provision for guaranteed full funding for the WIC program.   But it's getting tougher and tougher to get increases from the non-mandated part of the budget.  This year we got a $250 million increase, but Clinton had asked for a $350 million increase. It's going to be tougher again next year.   This year, we almost lost $500 million to a reform of crop insurance because they were going to authorize money without saying where it was going to come from. It was going to come from WIC.  We managed to stop that.

Since that is getting tighter and tighter, we said that part of whatever health care reform goes through ought to set up, out of the entitlement of the budget, a fund in the Treasury Department that would guarantee the next two increments in the WIC program to bring up to full funding, so that all the eligible keys and their mothers can get on to the program.

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