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Hunger politics grow tougher

DANIEL LOOKER 10/14/2010 @ 2:45pm Business Editor

To David Beckmann, feeding the poor is a moral obligation tied to his Christian faith as a Lutheran Minister and president of Bread for the World.

“God is calling us to get with the program,” he said several times this week when he and Jo Luck, president of Heifer International, were in Des Moines, Iowa to jointly receive the World Food Prize.

He repeated it, when he met with sometimes skeptical reporters Thursday. His organization, spends half of its revenue on grassroots lobbying in every congressional district in the nation as well as Washington. And it’s always been bipartisan. But Beckmann conceded that the current political environment makes it challenging.

“We do have a very polarized political environment and it’s a disadvantage, but these are issues that are of very broad voter interest,” he said. Eighty percent of voters support working to end hunger, he said.

During the Administration of George W. Bush, Bread for the World supported Bush’s creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a development fund that works in Africa and South America to encourage economic growth and less corruption. Beckman said his group sought bipartisan support in Congress from then Senator Joe Biden.

This year, it pushed for the Global Food Security Act introduced by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Bob Casey (D-PA). It would create a coordinator of all of the government aid agencies to put more emphasis on food security in the developing world. It also shifts more foreign aid dollars toward rural development and agriculture and encourages buying food donations locally or in the region.

The Obama Administration has incorporated some of the bill’s ideas into its own “Feed the Future” initiative that targets increased development aid to 20 of the world’s poorest nations.

“I’m very thrilled at what the President has done,” Beckman said Thursday. And the Administration has added its own ideas for improving economic development and accountability that Beckman’s group also supports.

Earlier this week he told an audience at the World Food Prize event that “this is the first time the U.S. government has had a coherent development policy since John F. Kennedy.”

Still, Obama’s own Democratic Congress has yet to fund the program. The Administration has requested $1.6 billion for this fiscal year and Congress is considering between $1 billion and $1.3 billion.

Beckmann said that his group, which is supported by members 50 church denominations, would still like to see something like the bipartisan Lugar-Casey bill passed, to ensure that the development effort continues.

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