Presidential Candidates Are Not Talking about the Surge in U.S. Poverty
Hunger and poverty have surged since 2021. Child poverty has doubled. But our presidential candidates are not talking about it.
The leading presidential candidates — Biden, Trump, Haley, and DeSantis — have not responded to repeated requests from national church leaders for short video statements about what they would do to provide help and opportunity to people struggling with hunger and poverty.
Three other Republican candidates — Ramaswamy, Hutchinson, and Binkley — have provided statements. The Circle of Protection coalition of church leaders is releasing them as we approach Thanksgiving, which often focuses the country’s attention on people in need.
Ramaswamy, who continues to qualify for Republican debates, says he would pursue free-market strategies to make the necessities of life more affordable. Hutchinson stresses neighbor-to-neighbor help coupled with compassionate government programs, notably school lunches and SNAP food assistance. Binkley believes in education, volunteer efforts in local communities, and self-help — not the federal government.
The three video statements are posted here. None mention the current surge in hunger and poverty.
The Circle of Protection also asked presidential candidates in the elections of 2012, 2016, and 2020 to make videos about poverty. Nearly all the candidates in both parties provided videos on poverty. In 2020, Trump was one of only two Republican candidates who did not make a video about poverty. Shortly before the general election, Biden made a major address on poverty, which was reflected in his Build Back Better legislative program in 2021.
Churches Call Attention to Increased Poverty in the U.S. and Countries at War
As a government shutdown again draws near, now with the United States engaged in two wars, the church bodies and ministries in the Circle of Protection issued a new letter to the President and Congress. It highlights increased poverty in America and in countries in conflict around the world.
“Churches and charities across the country are struggling with a surge in hunger and poverty,” the church leaders report. Poverty in America increased more sharply than ever before between 2021 and 2022 and remains high in 2023.
The Circle of Protection highlights likely shortfalls in funding for WIC (nutrition assistance for mothers and babies) and aid to families in conflict situations (Ukraine, some of the world’s poorest countries, and now Israel-Gaza).
To read the letter and see who signed it, click here.
Church Leaders Stress Needed Funding for WIC and International Aid
As a deadline for appropriations decisions approaches, church leaders in the Circle of Protection are urging Congress to avoid a government shutdown and protect appropriations for programs that serve people in need. A new letter to Congress especially stresses two appropriations issues – WIC and international aid.
WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) has long enjoyed strong bipartisan support, but just maintaining current levels of assistance to pregnant women and small children will require more funding that either the House or Senate is now proposing.
Worldwide, extreme hunger is soaring. But while the Senate is proposing needed emergency funding, the House is calling for deep cuts in international aid.
The Circle’s letter also flags continuing religious interest in two other issues that are under consideration in Congress – programs of domestic and international food assistance in the Farm Bill and a re-expansion of the the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for low-income families.
“Programs like WIC and SNAP, assistance to people in severe need around the world, and the CTC are pro-family and pro-life.” write the Circle leaders. “They move us toward social peace and economic justice. They are expressions of moral and spiritual values that we all share.”
Three Poverty-Important Issues Between Now and the End of the Year
“We are a Matthew 25 coalition, asking our nation’s elected leaders to give priority to people in need,” write 21 national church leaders in their June 21 letter to President Biden and Congress. They explain that Jesus’ teaching about the judgment of nations in Matthew 25 is that will be judged by how we respond to people in need – “people who are hungry or thirsty, strangers, people who can’t afford proper clothes, prisoners.”
“As pandemic response programs have ended, communities across the country are experiencing wave after wave of increasing need,” the church leaders report. They cite Census Bureau data: “The percentage of families with children who don’t have enough to eat increased by a third between October 2021 and May 2023.”
It is in this context that our nation’s elected leaders are dealing with three major poverty issues – appropriations for FY 2024, tax legislation, and the Farm Bill. To read the letter and see who signed it, click here.
High-Level Advocacy Visits in the White House and Congress
June 6, 2023 – An ecumenical delegation of church leaders met with senior leaders in the White House and Congress to discuss upcoming issues of importance to people in poverty.
The church leaders expressed gratitude to all the elected officials who eventually came together to avert a financial crisis. A financial crisis would have done far-reaching damage to the U.S. and global economy, with especially harsh consequences for low-income working families.
Looking to the rest of the year, they focused on three issues:
- The Farm Bill. Congress should steer clear of cuts to SNAP, and there are bipartisan opportunities for poverty-reducing improvements in the Farm Bill.
- Appropriations for next year. Congress should give priority to poverty-focused programs such as WIC, housing, and international aid.
- Grounded in what the Bible teaches about social justice, the Circle of Protection leaders are united in support of higher taxes on high-income people and corporations. They insist that any tax breaks for corporations should be paired with an expansion of the Child Tax Credit for the poorest families.
The White House meetings were with Lorraine Voles and other senior staff of Vice President Kamala Harris: with Neera Tandon, the new Domestic Policy Advisor to the President; and with Melissa Rogers, Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The Circle also met with the chief executive of the office of the Democratic Leader of the House, Hakeem Jeffries. The Circle is planning a Republican-focused advocacy day next month.
Their final meeting was with Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA). The Reverend Senator Warnock closed with an exhortation to church people, “Jesus is a victim of identity theft. We’re often seeing a counterfeit Christ. You’ve got to help ensure that the meanest voice in the public square is not the Christian voice. You’ve got to lean into an authentic Christian witness that is open to all faiths and races.”
Photo Credit: DAGFOTO/FCNL
Christian Leaders Again Oppose Extreme Cuts to Anti-Poverty Programs
“We oppose the extreme cuts in poverty-important programs that are proposed in the House of Representatives’ budget/debt-ceiling bill,” say church leaders in the Circle of Protection in their May 18 letter to the President and Congress. “If these cuts became law, 10 million low-income families could lose access to health care, a million could lose food assistance, and a million could lose rental assistance. A million of the nation’s poorest children could lose cash support.”
The House bill would also curtail IRS’ program of tax enforcement – “in effect giving high-income tax cheaters as much money as it would take away from low-income families through cuts in Medicaid, SNAP, and TANF.”
As the two parties again negotiate budget issues on the edge of fiscal cliff, the Circle letter stresses the “devastating effects” of a U.S. default, especially among low-income workers.
The theologically diverse religious leaders in the Circle explain that their point of view on these issues is rooted in shared Christian convictions. “When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, our vision of God’s kingdom includes “hunger no more” (Isaiah 49:10 and Revelation 7:16) and Bible-grounded awareness of the need for just laws as well as charity (Psalm 146:6-9 and Isaiah 10:1-2).”
You can read the entire letter and see who signed it here.
Christian Leaders to Presidential Candidates: “What will you do to offer help and opportunity to hungry and poor people?”
More than sixty national leaders from all branches of Christianity are asking 2024 presidential candidates from both parties to produce videos explaining “what they would do as president to offer help and opportunity to hungry and poor people in the United States and around the world.” Their Letters to the declared candidates requesting short video statements are the first step in the Circle of Protection’s 2024 Presidential Candidate Advocacy Initiative.
Candidate videos will be posted on this website and shared with church members and the media. Many signers of the letter will distribute and promote the videos to their constituents through their own websites, publications, and social media. We expect that the videos will generate commentary, but the Circle of Protection itself will not publicly evaluate what the various candidates say or endorse any candidate.
This is the fourth presidential election cycle in which the Circle of Protection has made similar requests of presidential candidates. Since 2012, general-election candidates from both parties made statements, and, since 2016, nearly all the primary-election candidates have provided videos. The Circle of Protection has secured millions of media impressions about the videos and urged the tens of millions of people in our churches and networks to watch them.
We are encouraged that poverty has become a more prominent topic of discussion among presidential candidates in recent years, and we pray that the candidates will give hunger and poverty the attention they deserve in the lead up to the 2024 election.
Budget Debate Takes Shape
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden this week exchanged brief statements, outlining their positions on the debt ceiling and budget issues. In this context, the Circle of Protection sent the President and congressional leaders a letter, urging protection for the poverty-focused programs that seem to be most at risk – SNAP food assistance and international food aid in the Farm Bill, and the poverty-focused programs in the annual appropriation process.
The church leaders in the Circle note that there are ways to reduce deficit spending without making life harder for hungry and poor people. They quote Isaiah 32, in which the prophet praised the wise and righteous leader who “rules with justice” and does not “leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied.”
You can read the entire letter and see who signed it here.
Christian Leaders Resist New Push to Cut Poverty-Important Programs
“Any deficit reduction this year should protect programs that provide help and opportunity to people in poverty. Deficit reduction could instead be achieved by increasing taxes for corporations and high-income individuals. Given significant increases in military spending, it will also be important to examine military spending.” This is what church leaders in the Circle of Protection are saying as the 118th Congress gets underway.
Their latest letter to the President and Congress goes on to explain, “The priority we assign to reducing poverty and hunger is controversial but reflects values that are based in our Scriptures – passages such as Psalm 20:7 on trusting God rather than iron chariots, Isaiah 2:4 on beating swords into plowshares, and Matthew 25:31-46 about how God judges nations according to their response to people who are hungry and in need.”
You can read the entire letter and see who signed it here.
Antiracism and Christianity
The church bodies and organizations in the Circle of Protection include 100 million people, and they are all committed to increased efforts to overcome both poverty and racism in America.
While some elements within U.S. Christianity tend to oppose changes to improve the lives of people of color, large segments of Christianity are working to counter racism in various ways. These include teaching that racism is contrary to the Gospel, education about long-standing structures of racism, voter mobilization, and reparation initiatives.
November 22, 2022 / Washington, D.C.
Christian Leaders Urge Expansion of the Child Tax Credit
A broad, interfaith movement of faith groups is urging Congress to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC), especially for the poorest families, before the end of 2022. When Congress expanded the CTC last spring, poverty and hunger among children dropped to lower levels than ever before in our nation’s history. Families used the money well, and employment among the adults in these families did not decline. The church leaders in the Circle of Protection ask, “How can we not build on this wonderful result?” When the expansion expired at the end of last year, child poverty increased 25%.
The Circle of Protection is urging bipartisan legislation to allow a new expansion of the CTC, making it fully available for low-income families. Congress seems likely to approve tax cuts for businesses in the coming month. The Circle leaders insist that there shouldn’t be tax breaks for businesses without an expansion of the CTC for low-income families. Read the full letter
Recent Letters and Statements
July 20, 2022 / Washington, D.C.
Health Insurance for the Poorest Families
In order to win Sen. Joe Manchin’s crucial vote, Senate Democrats are moving toward a smaller budget reconciliation package that will focus almost entirely on health care. President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer expect the bill to include lower prescription costs in Medicare and a continuation of premium subsidies for Affordable Care Act insurance.
The Circle of Protection is urging that the bill also help the two million low-income people who now have no health insurance because their state governments decided not to accept the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Read what church leaders are saying to senators and the President
April 25, 2022 / Washington, D.C.
Priority Actions for Congress Now
The Circle of Protection applauds the surprising fact that U.S. poverty has declined during the pandemic. “This was mainly due to the series of major public investments that the President and Congress have negotiated and approved during the pandemic.”
They now call for restoring the provisions of the Child Tax Credit that reduced poverty by 30 percent last year, in a new letter to the President and Congress. “How can we fail to find a way to continue this wonderful, proven success?” The church leaders also note that “the disruption of food exports from Ukraine and Russia has provoked a world hunger crisis” and appeal for humanitarian assistance. View full letter
February 28, 2022 / Washington, D.C.
A Chance for Bipartisan Action on Appropriations
Church leaders in the Circle of Protection today applauded the leadership of Congress’ Appropriations committees, both Republican and Democratic, for pushing to reach a deal and pass an appropriations bill for the current fiscal year.
“We strongly support the increased funding that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees proposed for low-income domestic programs, notably for housing and nutrition,” they say. This funding is even more urgent now that the improvements to the Child Tax Credit have ended and child hunger has soared.
The church leaders in the Circle especially stress the importance of increased international aid. The World Food Program counts 45 million people now on the edge of starvation, and the war in Ukraine is increasing the need for humanitarian assistance. While 55 percent of the world’s people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the number for low-income countries is 8 percent.
The Circle of Protection argues for international aid on moral and self-interest grounds, “Americans are likely to be coping with one variant of COVID-19 after another as long as large populations around the world are without access to vaccines.”
The war in Ukraine has increased pressure to skimp on assistance programs in order to expand military expenses, so the Circle’s letter reminds Congress, “The Hebrew prophets taught that national security depends heavily on care for people in need.”
January 17, 2022 / Washington, D.C.
Church Groups Speak Out for Voting Rights
The Circle of Protection today released statements on voting rights from a wide array of church structures and Christian leaders. The release went to the White House, every member of Congress, and the press. Some church groups and organizations are actively campaigning for Senate passage of voting rights legislation that is currently under consideration, while others are pushing for negotiations to restore the bipartisan consensus that previous voting rights legislation has enjoyed. View the complete statement
November 19, 2021 / Washington, D.C.
Religious Leaders Celebrate House Passage of Build Back Better
A number of the Christian leaders and organizations in the Circle of Protection today issued statements that celebrate House passage of the Build Back Better bill. The church bodies and national organizations that are part of the Circle of Protection do not all support every feature of the Build Back Better legislation, but they are working together for passage of the poverty-reducing provisions of this momentous bill.
“This legislation will now move to the Senate where Lutheran voices are needed as Senators continue to debate and negotiate priorities important to vulnerable communities and the common good. We urge the Senate to pass Build Back Better quickly.” Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, joined by 29 other bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
“This bill brings new hope, opportunities, and needed help to millions of Black children and families…We applaud President Biden’s leadership, the unrelenting effort by congressional leaders, and call on the U.S. Senate to pass this groundbreaking legislation” Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., and Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., Co-Conveners, National African American Clergy Network
“We have cause to start celebrating Thanksgiving a week early! Together with the other two big economic packages that have been enacted this year, the Build Back Better bill will make our nation more just, sustainable, and prosperous for years to come.” Rev. David Beckmann, Coordinator, Circle of Protection
“This transformative legislation will reduce child poverty, expand health care, make the tax system fairer, and invest vital funds in our effort to confront the climate crisis.” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, The Episcopal Church
“Latinos thank the House of Representatives for moving the bill forward and urge the U.S. Senate to pass the legislation without delay.” Rev. Carlos L Malavé, Latino Christian National Network
“The fact that the House was able to pass a bill right before Thanksgiving that will help millions of families put food on the table should not be lost. As we enter the Christmas season, we are reminded that God requires us to care for our neighbors and provide food for those who experience hunger. We urge senators to keep this in mind as they work to pass their own version of the bill.” Rev. Eugene Cho, President and CEO, Bread for the World
“We are so very close to securing permanent access to the Child Tax Credit for low-income families and struggling parents. We cannot miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to lift millions of our children out of poverty. Much work remains for climate, and immigration reform is still on the horizon, but now is the time to finally pass this bill.” Amelia Kegan, Domestic Policy Legislative Director, Friends Committee on National Legislation
“Congress has arrived at a kairos moment, when transformational change is within reach. These are measures that I have been fighting for for 50 years.” Rev. Jim Wallis, Founding Director, Center on Faith and Justice, Georgetown University
“Sojourners calls on the Senate to act in good conscience and vote in favor of this historic piece of anti-poverty, pro-family legislation. Now is the time to move this country toward being a more perfect union by making long overdue investments that will address problems that have plagued the United States for generations.” Adam Taylor, President, Sojourners
November 16, 2021 / Washington, D.C.
Anti-Poverty Provisions in the Momentous Bills Moving Through Congress
Leaders of church bodies and national organizations from all the main traditions of American Christianity today released another joint letter to the President and Congress, highlighting anti-poverty provisions in the newly signed Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the pending Build Back Better bill.
Church leaders have persistently and effectively worked to fend off cuts to safety-net programs through years of budget controversy and government shutdowns, and they are this year working to shape and support President Biden’s momentous economic legislation.
“We write to you as the Circle of Protection, a coalition of national church bodies and faith-based organizations representing the diversity of Christianity in this country. Our collective influence is far-reaching. A number of the leaders in the Circle oversee thousands of congregations, and the organizations in the Circle together have close to 100 million members. We all agree that our nation should be doing more to provide help and opportunity to people in poverty. This conviction is rooted—not in political ideology—but in religious faith.” Read the full letter
October 20, 2021 / Open letter to President Biden and members of Congress
Prioritize investments that provide help and opportunity to low-income people
We believe that God loves all people, with special concern for people who are poor and vulnerable. So as difficult choices are made about the budget bill, we urge Congress to give priority to investments that will provide help and opportunity to low-income people. Even a scaled-back family support budget bill, together with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, could dramatically reduce poverty and racial inequality in America.
Our nation has an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the poverty and racial inequality that have plagued us for too long. Failure to seize this opportunity would be a moral and spiritual failure. As Christians, we are keenly aware that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tells us that what we do for the “least of these” reveals how we treat Jesus himself.
Thanks partly to past legislation, hunger and poverty have declined this year. This crucial accomplishment must not be lost now but rather become the start of an ongoing improvement in our society. Read the full letter
September 22, 2021 / Open letter to President Biden and members of Congress
Good News for the Poor in Pending Legislation
Three big bills coming before the House and Senate have captured our attention—the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the family support budget bill, and voting rights legislation. If passed and signed into law they would strengthen the physical and social infrastructure of our society, cut family and child poverty more than any time in our lives, and ensure the precious right to vote for all people made in God’s image.
We want to offer specific suggestions for the family support budget bill as it is finalized. We fervently endorse the extension of recent improvements in the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Making the full value of the Child Tax Credit available to the poorest households has substantially reduced child poverty, and we are all of one mind that this provision should be made permanent. The improvements in the EITC are benefiting those low-income working adults who often see little or no other assistance. In view of America’s affordable housing crisis, we also support a generous expansion of housing vouchers, because a place to live for families draws us all together.
Business groups and corporations are fighting hard against tax increases for corporations and high-income individuals, have spent nearly $1.5 billion on lobbying in the first half of this year, and are now intensifying their efforts. Yet we believe that our nation is called to reduce poverty, expand opportunity, and address racial disparities—and that everyone, especially wealthy individuals and corporations, should pay their fair share. The Bible is clear in its opposition to the concentration of wealth amid neglected human need. Those who have benefited the most should contribute to the common good of society and invest in the most vulnerable. WATCH: Christian leaders on budget bill’s impact
July 19, 2021 / Open letter to the president and members of Congress
We pray for action on three momentous legislative packages
We welcome a bipartisan infrastructure framework, especially investments that address economic and racial injustices—universal broadband, replacement of the lead pipes poisoning our children, and investment in the public transportation that is so important to working people.
We also repeat strong support for a bold recovery package that includes major investments in human infrastructure (including housing, education, nutrition, health care, family care, and international aid). This year’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit will substantially reduce poverty among U.S. children and must be extended. We also prayerfully support financing these investments with tax increases on high-income people and corporations. The Bible objects to extreme concentrations of wealth and urges nations to care for people in need.
We also feel compelled to speak up together for voting rights legislation. Making voting accessible to all eligible voters is far more than a political issue. The right to vote is a reflection of the Christian doctrine that every human being is created in the image of God.
We have an opportunity to recover from the pandemic in a way that addresses economic and racial injustices and also protects the environment. We consider this a call from God. Read the full letter
May 24, 2021 / Open letter to the president and members of Congress
Six essential areas of action in the Build Back Better Program
We are grateful for the substantial COVID relief legislation of 2020 and 2021. Despite some problems, this historic legislation has been critical for millions of people struggling with the pandemic and its economic fallout. But temporary relief is not enough. This is the moment to strengthen the foundations for human well-being and flourishing for the years ahead.
Nations sometimes need to make big changes so that all can thrive, and this is such a time. We do not all agree on everything in the Build Back Better program. Nor does this collective letter mention all the important initiatives it proposes. But we all agree that the following six areas of action are essential:
- Provide robust assistance to low-income families.
- Improve employment opportunities for low-income people.
- Invest in the care economy.
- Promote education and workforce training.
- Help poor countries deal with COVID-19 and its consequences.
- These needed investments for the common good should be financed by increasing taxes on corporations and high-income Americans.
In the Bible, plagues and other disasters are often taken as a wake-up call from God. The COVID-19 crisis has been revelatory. We are all more aware of the connections among all people, including people on the margins of our economy and those beyond our borders. With faith that God has high hopes for our nation and the world, we pray for you and your leadership. Read the full letter
April 23, 2021 / Open letter to President Biden
Why we support the American Jobs Plan
President Biden is making three major proposals to Congress in his first 100 days. The American Rescue Plan addresses immediate needs, especially among people and communities who have been hit hard by the pandemic. It is now being implemented. The recently announced American Jobs Plan is intended to foster sustained prosperity and, at the same time, address long-standing racial and economic injustices and also climate change. The American Families Plan, yet to be released, is reported to propose policies and systems to help the nation’s families flourish and for that we are grateful. In response, the Circle of Protection offers faith-based, poverty-focused reflections on each plan in turn, hoping to inform our church members, the public, and members of Congress as legislation on the Jobs and Families plans is considered.
This letter is about the American Jobs Plan. We are not experts on all of its many provisions, and we do not agree on every issue. However, we all agree on four principles, grounded in our common values and priorities rooted in our faith and scripture. Read the full letter
March 19, 2021 / Open letter to President Biden
‘We need to shift toward an economy that allows all people to thrive and protects the environment that sustains us’
The American Rescue Plan provides critical relief to millions of people struggling with the pandemic and its economic fallout, but that relief is not enough. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated already alarming levels of poverty, racial injustice, and inequality in our nation.
We need to shift toward an economy that allows all people to thrive and protects the environment that sustains us. This will require concrete steps to address the legacy of racial injustice in the U.S. and commitment to rectify the structural inequalities experienced by so many, especially communities of color. We believe that God has high hopes for our country and the world, and we pray for positive, visionary leadership from all of our elected leaders.
Child hunger in America and the wealth of the richest people have both increased at the same time. A series of violent weather events have made climate change harder to ignore. The events of January 6 have shaken us to be ever more vigilant in our defense of democracy for all of God’s children. The Hebrew prophets were clear that nations sometimes need to make big changes, and we think now is such a time. Read the full letter
January 28, 2021 / Open letter to Congress
‘December-passed COVID relief bill was necessary but is a short-term patch’
The concurrent crises of a global pandemic, economic recession, and ongoing systemic racism are ravaging the country. The December-passed COVID relief bill was necessary but is a short-term patch. We call on Congress to pass legislation that responds to these crises head-on with a plan that matches the magnitude and urgency of the challenge and addresses the injustices and inequities laid bare by COVID.
We welcome President Biden’s American Rescue Plan as the start of a crucial process with Congress. Many of the priorities in the plan align with the Circle of Protection’s statements and prayers over the past decade.
We urge Congress to act quickly before enhanced unemployment benefits expire in mid-March. We pray that legislators from both parties will work together and seek common ground. We ask you to act boldly to prevent Congress from having to revisit these same policies just weeks later. The experience of the Great Recession warns us against doing too little or letting up too soon. Read the full letter