Bread for the World Celebrates 35th Anniversary

Anti-poverty group Bread for the World celebrated the 35th anniversary of its founding Monday with commendations from the U.S. Senate and the second-highest ranking official in the United States Department of Agriculture, among others.

"[T]he Senate recognizes and commends Bread for the World, on the 35th anniversary of its founding, for its encouragement of citizen engagement, its advocacy for poor and hungry people, and its successes as a collective voice; and challenges Bread for the World to continue its work to address world hunger," stated a resolution passed by the Senate ahead of Bread for the World's 35th anniversary.

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, the USDA's Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, meanwhile, complimented Bread for the World for its work and legacy.

"For 35 years, Bread for the World has used its profound gifts of advocacy for profound good," she said during the organization's annual gathering, which concluded Tuesday. "I look forward to working with you. Thank you for all you do."

Since 1974, Bread for the World has lobbied Congress and the presidential administration to bring about public policy changes that address the root causes of hunger and poverty in the United States and overseas.

The 54,000-member Christian movement is supported by at least 45 denominations and many theological perspectives and is today the largest grassroots advocacy network on hunger issues in the United States and on behalf of impoverished people overseas.

"[M]embers of Bread for the World believe that by addressing policies, programs, and conditions that allow hunger and poverty to persist, they are providing help and opportunity far beyond the communities in which they live," noted the U.S. Senate in the resolution it passed by "unanimous consent" on June 2.

Furthermore, the resolution added, "Bread for the World has inspired the engagement of hundreds of thousands of individuals, more than 8,000 congregations, and more than 50 denominations across the religious spectrum to seek justice for hungry and poor people by making our Nation's laws more fair and compassionate to people in need."

Each year since 1992, Bread for the World has scored legislative victories in Congress on behalf of hungry and poor people, including the securing of a $1.4 billion increase in poverty-focused development assistance, the establishment of an international assistance initiative focused on poverty reduction, and the protection of at least $100 million in life-saving aid to Africa during a time when Congress was slashing aid to Africa and other development assistance.

Currently, the organization is working to rally supporters behind H.R. 2139, the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009, which it says will make U.S. foreign assistance programs more efficient and focused on fighting poverty.

Introduced on April 28 by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Representative Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the bill directs the president to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy for global development, improve evaluation of development programs, and increase the transparency of U.S. foreign assistance to developing countries.

Bread for the World and other like-minded organizations say too many government agencies oversee competing and overlapping programs, largely because the legislation governing foreign assistance was enacted in 1961 and has not been updated in more than 20 years.

Currently, U.S. global development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 agencies, and nearly 60 government offices.

According to the latest update on June 12, the bill is still in the first step in the legislative process and must go through a committee that will deliberate, investigate, and revise the bill before it goes to general debate.

While the bill is being considered, Bread for the World is mobilizing potential supporters to urge their U.S. representatives to co-sponsor the bill, which will move the broader process of foreign assistance reform.

According to Bread for the World, H.R. 2139 is intended to be a precursor to a broader reform effort later this year that looks to make the United States more effective in reducing poverty.

In March, nearly 150 individuals and organizations signed an open letter to the president and congressional leaders calling for U.S. foreign assistance programs to be "enhanced and modernized in order to make sure that, in today's economic climate and for years to come, our development dollars are used effectively and reach the people who need help most."

"[W]e lack a global development strategy to frame and steer our efforts," they stated. "This must change – for our security, our economic prosperity, and our global leadership."

The letter was signed by organizations including Bread for the World, Church World Service, Episcopal Relief & Development, Habitat for Humanity International, Lutheran World Relief, Mercy Corps, ONE, the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society, and World Vision, among others.