A food bank serving several counties in the Davenport Diocese sent out an alarming report last week. The number of children and adults who miss meals because they can’t afford them is increasing. What’s startling is that some of these families have incomes above the threshold to qualify for SNAP (food stamps). This news comes as the U.S. House and Senate kicked the can past the April 15 deadline to approve the 2016 federal budget. Without tax increases to pay for needed services, the House’s proposed budget calls for draconian cuts in human services — forcing the poor to take the brunt of the sacrificing.
As people of faith who Jesus instructed to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, among other obligations, we are compelled to advocate for a fair budget that requires shared sacrifice by all of us. We cannot stand by while 45.3 million people — 14.5 percent of the U.S. population — struggle below the poverty line to meet basic needs for food, water, shelter and clothing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated 14.3 percent or 17.5 million of U.S. households were food insecure in 2013 (the most recent statistics available), which means that at some point during the year these households lacked the resources necessary to provide enough food for each member.
Within the 22 counties that River Bend Foodbank serves in eastern Iowa and western Illinois, 49,710 children were food insecure, increasing from 20.6 percent to 21.5 percent. Overall, 131,900 people were food insecure, increasing from 12.4 percent to 12.9 percent, the foodbank reported.
For most of us, fasting is voluntary and a minor discomfort. We know when we’ll eat next. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Add to that challenge inadequate or no housing and you have a recipe for despair.
Our nation’s Catholic bishops in collaboration with other faith leaders — calling themselves the Circle of Protection — aim to make elimination of hunger and poverty a priority of the 2016 presidential election. They’ve initiated a letter-writing campaign to presidential hopefuls that focus on a “circle of protection” around domestic social service programs and international aid. Each candidate is asked to submit to the group a three-minute video on strategies that individual would enact as president to alleviate poverty.
That’s a good first start. Slate magazine’s chief political correspondent proposed a great second step: a poverty summit of presidential candidates. Writer John Dickerson suggested U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., host the summit based on a seven-part documentary inspired by his travels to impoverished U.S. communities since the last presidential election.
We’d like to amend Dickerson’s suggestion. Why not hold that poverty summit next January in Iowa during the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses where the presidential race begins?
In anticipation of a poverty summit, Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Director, has an idea for a warm-up: a pre-poverty summit conference call with representatives of the diocese’s 79 parishes. His inspiration comes from a call the Social Action office received during which an individual in need vented frustration over not being able to obtain assistance. The Social Action office offers information and referral but does not have the resources to provide direct aid. Being able to connect people in desperate need to resources in their immediate vicinity is crucial.
“Pope Francis tells us we need to be getting dirty, among the sheep, and to be the church of the poor for the poor. We have to be prepared to share with each other the real frustrations the poor experience in trying to make it day by day. The conference call is to talk about how people are approaching us in need and how we respond to that need,” Ferris says.
We support a conference call and hope that you, our readers, will contact the candidates about their stance on poverty and watch the Circle of Protection website www.circleofprotection.us for further developments.