Category Archives: Budget

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Sister Erin Zubal

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Sister Erin Zubal

Sister Erin Zubal
June 4, 2018

How did you first learn about NETWORK?

I learned about NETWORK from the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Social Justice Office when I first entered the community.  NETWORK has informed and educated me on many social justice issues, which in turn has empowered me to do advocacy work.

What inspired you to get involved and join NETWORK?

I was inspired to take action with Nuns on the Bus in 2016.  The goal of the trip was “to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with a message of inclusion.” Our world is in great need of this and I believe it is important to advocate for systemic change that seeks to address the needs of our brothers and sisters who are underserved. What better way to do this than travel the country to listen to the realities and lived experiences of people in our own communities—and then take those stories to our elected officials and encourage them to legislate for the common good.

What issue area(s) are you most passionate about?

Housing, healthcare and advocating for a faithful budget.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice?

My faith has deeply inspired my work for peace and justice.  As an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, the story and legacy of martyrs Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Jean Donovan have had a tremendous impact on my call to work for systemic change in our world.  Even though I was not yet born when the women were killed, their history and legacy shared with me by my sisters has formed and shaped me as a woman religious. We must continue the work of those who have gone before us—and be faithful to the call as women of faith, committed to contemplation, justice and compassion in all we do.

Is there any quote that motivates or nourishes you that you would like to share?

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson

What social movement has inspired you?

The youth of our world who are standing up and allowing their voices to be heard on critical issues.  I am so inspired and filled with hope witnessing the good work of the next generation.

Erin Zubal is an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland. She currently serves as Guidance Counselor at Cleveland Central Catholic High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Congress Finally Passes a FY2018 Budget

Congress Finally Passes a FY 2018 Budget

NETWORK Government Relations Team
March 22, 2018

At long last, Congress will pass a bipartisan FY 2018 spending bill that will send communities across the country much anticipated resources. This legislation is six months overdue, and Congress should be ashamed. That being said, while it is not perfect, the FY 2018 consolidated appropriations measure contains robust investments in vital safety net programs.

Many of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap issues were among the programs that fared well. The spending measure significantly boosts funding for the 2020 Census, low-income housing, as well as healthcare for seniors, children, and people who are disabled. Investing in safety-net programs is paramount to ensuring the common good.

We are disappointed that Congress did not muster the courage to include a permanent fix for more than 800,000 DACA recipients. That being said, we know the Trump Administration wanted – and failed – to expand their mass deportation agenda. NETWORK continues to support our champions in the House and Senate for their unwavering commitment to protect Dreamers and their families from harmful attempts to tear apart families.

All of us at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice look forward to working with Congress throughout the FY 2019 appropriations process to ensure passage of a Faithful Budget.  It’s our hope that Congress will turn a new leaf and set aside petty partisanship in order to complete its work on time.

Below is a detailed look at how the omnibus bill affects NETWORK’s Mend the Gap priorities:

Department of Agriculture

  • Decreases funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4.5 billion primarily due to declining enrollments

Department of Commerce

  • Fully funds the 2020 Decennial Census at $2.814 billion, an increase of $1.344 billion above the FY 2017 enacted level

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Increases the HUD budget by $4.6 billion in additional program funding compared to FY 2017, and more than $12 billion above the president’s FY 2018 request
  • Renews all Housing Choice Vouchers and provides new vouchers to veterans and people with disabilities—the president’s budget request proposed to eliminate 250,000 Housing Choice Vouchers
  • Allocates nearly $1 billion in additional funding to repair and operate public housing
  • Boosts funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships program to the highest level in seven years
  • Does not include any of the rent increases proposed by the president in his FY 2018 budget request

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • HHS would receive approximately $98.7 billion, an $11.6 billion increase above the FY 2017 enacted level, including $2.6 billion in new funding
  • Tweaks Medicare reimbursement status of several prescription drugs
  • Increases the Child Care Development Block Grant from $2.9 billion in FY 2017 to $5.2 billion in 2018
  • Raises funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program by $250 million to $3.6 billion, although the Trump administration requested elimination of the program for the second year in a row
  • Fails to stabilize the health insurance market by providing subsidy payments to insurers and allowing states to develop more flexible insurance requirements

Department of Homeland Security

  • $1.6 billion as down payment for border wall construction and to make repairs of existing fencing structure
  • Scales back on detention beds: includes 40,520 beds with a glide path down to 39,324 by the end of the fiscal year, a decrease of 12,055 from the FY 2017 enacted level.
  • Freezes number of ICE agents at FY 2017 level
  • Cuts Homeland Security Investigations agents from 150 down to 65

Department of Labor

  • Prevents the Trump administration from carrying out a controversial rule that might have resulted in employers of tipped workers restricting how the tips were distributed
  • Increases funding for employment and training services to $3.5 billion, compared to $3.3 billion in FY 2017

Revisiting the History of Irish American Progressives

Revisiting the History of Irish American Progressives

Timothy Meagher
March 16, 2018

On this St. Patrick’s Day, when Republicans in Congress named Ryan and McCarthy mutter darkly about the corruption of the poor by big government, it is important to remember that for most of their history in America, most men and women with such names, Irish Catholics, embraced government and what it could do for them and others.  It was not because Irish American Catholics were unwilling to work hard, they were; or to live frugally, and put money in the bank, they did.  Yet as a people so poor, with no useful skills or capital, and confronting discrimination in the private marketplace (“No Irish need Apply”)  work and frugality alone  were often not enough for them to survive, much less prosper in America.  Private philanthropies, run by hostile elites, offered them little help: only “charity scrimped and iced,” as John Boyle O’Reilly, the editor of the Boston Pilot, wrote, “in the name of a cautious, statistical Christ.” Empowered by their voting numbers, many Irish American Catholics thus looked to government for jobs, and pushed politicians to provide the small services they needed to tide them over crises: coal in the winter; a place to live after a fire.

By the 1890s, however, as the second major depression in twenty years rocked the American economy, immigration escalated into the tens of millions, and festering slums spread throughout cities, politicians’ petty handouts and charities’ cautious penny pinching was no longer enough.  Reformers, bearing the new name “Progressives,” began to insist that the government address the problems of workers and the poor. These Progressives are often described as enlightened middle or upper class, WASP women and men awakening to the crises of the city.  Many of them were, but Irish American Catholic people and politicians became involved in this struggle too.  Newly powerful Irish American Catholic representatives in the New York New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois legislatures fought for causes such as: a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, factory safety, and public housing.  In Oregon, Irish American Catholic settlement worker, Caroline Gleason, teamed with Fr. Vincent O’Hara to pass a minimum wage and maximum hours law for working women, the first in the country.  Meanwhile Irish Catholic women like Mary Shinnick and Elizabeth Moloney were in the forefront of fights for “mothers’ pensions” in Illinois and Massachusetts.

Twenty years later, more than fifty Irish American Catholics served in the House of Representatives at the high point of the New Deal and the vast majority consistently delivered strong support for the Roosevelt administration’s government relief, social security, public housing, and federal minimum wage legislation.  Meanwhile, veterans of Catholic Charities services, Jane Hoey and Mary Irene Atkinson worked in the Roosevelt administration, as Head of the Bureau of Public Assistance and Director of Child Welfare services respectively

This tradition would not end in the 1930s, but has endured among many to our own time.  It has drawn inspiration from Catholic Social Justice, from people like Monsignor John A. Ryan, for example, called “the Father of the Minimum Wage,” and from common good and anti-aristocratic themes in American and Irish republicanism.  For the most part, however, Irish American Catholics eschewed theories of left or right.  They were looking for practical solutions to concrete needs.  They had no fear that government help would somehow sap their commitment to work or self-improvement, but they could remember when a government’s failure had left a million of their relatives dead on the hillsides of a Famine-stricken Ireland.  They saw no reason, then, why a democratic government like the United States, should not help its people when they were in need.

Six Reasons the President’s FY 2019 Budget Widens the Income Inequality Gap

Six Reasons the President’s FY 2019 Budget Widens the Income Inequality Gap

Tralonne Shorter
March 9, 2018

On February 12, 2018, President Trump submitted his Fiscal Year 2019 federal budget blueprint to Congress. This timing is consistent with the traditional release of the President’s budget, but in recent years the budget process has stalled down the road when Congress must agree on spending levels and appropriations bills. To illustrate: when President Trump’s FY 2019 budget plan was submitted in February, we were well into FY 2018 which began October 1 2017, and we should have had a functioning year-long budget firmly in place. Instead, because of months of delays, this was just days after Congress approved the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that lifts both defense and nondefense spending caps and will finally put the FY 2018 federal budget in place slated for approval by March 23, 2018. President Trump’s FY 2019 budget proposal also comes on the heels of Congress’ recent passage of the largest tax reform law since 1986—which raised the deficit by $1.5 million to provide permanent tax breaks for the super wealthy.

The President’s FY 2019 budget calls for considerable defense spending, amounting to $716 billion, while reducing spending for non-defense programs by at least $57 billion below the bipartisan spending caps agreement that Congress just approved. Subsequently, starting in FY 2020, the President proposes roughly $3 trillion in spending cuts (disguised as deficit reduction) over 10 years to entitlement programs that support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, and Medicaid, among other critical programs people rely on.

Yet again, the President fails to prioritize children, working families, people with disabilities and those simply in need of some help during a difficult time.  If enacted, this budget would exacerbate poverty by placing the burden on the most vulnerable among us while handing out tax breaks to the ultra-rich. The President’s budget proposal is morally deficient and NETWORK Lobby will endeavor to ensure that it’s not passed by Congress as written.

Here are six things every social justice advocate should know about President Trump’s FY 2019 Budget Blueprint:

  1. Proposes massive cuts to Safety Net programs. Despite promises made by Congressional Republican leadership not to attack entitlement programs, deep cuts over the next decade are slated for CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.  The most significant cut is to Medicaid, which would total $1.4 trillion over 10 years and be converted into a block grant with a per capita cap.  Another concern is funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as the Trump budget proposes a $214 billion reduction over 10 years, including a $17 billion cut in FY 2019. This program nourishes more than 42 million people, including 20 million children, 5 million seniors, and 4 million adults with disabilities in our nation.
  2. Underfunds the 2020 Decennial Census. The next decennial census will take place on April 1, 2020. Despite the Trump Administration adjusted request submitted in FY 2018 for $344 million in increased investments in the decennial census, funding lags behind what is needed to ensure a fair, accurate, and modern census.  Furthermore, delayed appropriations have led to the cancellation of two critical tests in South Dakota and Puerto Rico−the only Spanish-based test.  While the Secretary of Commerce has expressed serious concerns about the efficacy of the 2020 census, the President requests $3.015 billion in FY 2019–which is inadequate to support the volume of work needed for completion by census day. Outstanding issues include preparation for address canvassing, marketing and outreach, and final end-to-end testing which has been scaled back from three locations to only one.  NETWORK requests $3.928 billion for the decennial census activities.
  3. Increases funding to deport and separate immigrant families. President Trump’s budget requests $782 million to hire an additional 750 Border Patrol agents and 2,000 ICE officers and agents. The budget also provides $2.7 billion to fund 52,000 detention beds. Despite frankly impossible campaign promises to make Mexico pay for a border wall, the President’s budget includes a request for $1.6 billion in FY 2019 on top of the $18 billion requested in FY 2018 for the construction a border wall along the southern border.
  4. Eliminates Vital Affordable Housing and Community Development Programs. The President’s budget proposes eliminating the Community Development and Block Grant (CDBG) program ($3 billion), the Choice Neighborhoods program ($138 million), and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program ($950 million). Conversely, the budget includes $2 billion in federal rental assistance programs, including funding to restore 200,000 housing vouchers, sustaining the current level of 2.2 million vouchers that protect elderly and disabled households from rent increases.
  5. Offsets 6-Week Paid Family Leave Proposal Using State Unemployment Insurance Structure. In his budget, President Trump resubmitted a proposal championed last year by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, that would provide workers six weeks of paid family. The budget request includes $700 million in start-up costs for states to assist with developing the infrastructure to establish state-based paid leave programs. The budget pays for this proposal by using Unemployment Insurance as the baseline giving states autonomy for implementation. While most working families don’t currently benefit from paid family and medical leave, many states do not have sufficient reserve funds to support this significant financial obligation without raising taxes.
  6. Imposes Work Requirements for Critical Programs. The President’s budget is callously based on the assumption that there are too many “able-bodied” beneficiaries receiving federal and state-level assistance across 80 different programs. Consequently, President Trump proposes incentives for states to expand work requirements for able-bodied parents with children over age 6, and make it a condition to receive food stamps, Medicaid and public housing assistance. Some states have already imposed stricter work requirements that include no food stamps for those who own a vehicle valued more than $20,000 and require drug testing to qualify for public housing. These requirements are harmful and punitive for families and undermine the purpose of these programs, to assist those who need it the most.

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

Laura Peralta-Schulte
March 7, 2018

2017 was a tumultuous year for our nation. Following the election of President Trump and with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, advocates were fearful of what lay ahead for women, people of color, immigrants, and other communities that had been the target of then-candidate Trump’s consistent attacks on the campaign trail.

President Trump began his Inaugural Address talking about “American carnage”, building walls, and making “America first.” The next day, millions of people marched in Washington and around the world to show their opposition to President Trump’s agenda. Sister Simone Campbell addressed the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. asking people of faith to actively engage in the political debate on behalf of the common good. With that historic mobilization, we began the political action of 2017.

Administrative Attacks on our Mend the Gap Agenda

Two areas of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap agenda were under constant attack in 2017:  healthcare and immigration. On both issues, the Trump Administration used all legal means at their disposal to undo the progress of the Obama Administration. For healthcare, the Administration moved immediately to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by changing regulations under the guise of “flexibility” to limit the program. Later in the year, the Administration refused to advertise and engage in ACA enrollment activities, which was an act of sabotage.

On immigration, including in the area of refugee resettlement, the Administration attempted to fundamentally restructure longstanding programs. This began with issuing multiple Muslim travel bans – which were, until recently, stopped by Court challenges – then concluded the year by announcing a historic cut to the number of refugees the U.S. will settle. The Trump Administration also callously rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program created by President Obama that has protected Dreamers from deportation and allowed them legal work authorization since 2012. The Administration is currently working to remove Temporary Protected Status for large communities of immigrants including those from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Legislative Attacks on Mend the Gap Issues

One of the first and most sustained threats to our agenda came as Republicans in Congress launched their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican members of Congress have campaigned on repealing the ACA since its passage, so it was no surprise when the House moved to repeal the program. Congress also moved to unravel our broader healthcare system by attempting to fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program into a block grant. This proposal would devastate Medicaid and risk the health of millions of Americans who depend on the program.

What was surprising – and inspiring – was that these efforts failed due to the hard work of a diverse coalition of advocates and the engagement of many people all around the country who responded to the attack with determination. The Republicans had planned to repeal the ACA quickly at the beginning of the Congressional session, but ended up fighting to make changes through the spring and summer until they finally failed in July. Network chaired the national faith healthcare table and played an important role in defeating the effort.

Harmful immigration bills became part of the Republican legislative agenda during the first days of the new Congress. Republicans moved swiftly to increase funding for deportations, detention, and border security as well as pass new legislation to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding. Early on, Democrats united and refused to support a bill that included significant funding to build a border wall. This was an early win for our community, and it became apparent that Republicans would have trouble implementing their agenda because of Senate rules (requiring 60 votes to pass legislation) when operating under regular process. That is why the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 51 votes) has been used to try to pass partisan healthcare and tax legislation.

Crisis set in as the Administration rescinded the DACA program in September. Over 800,000 Dreamers who had signed up for protections and who are fully integrated in American communities, schools, and workplaces face the threat of deportation if Congress does not pass legislation that provides protection. Congress failed to pass this critical legislation in 2017 and it remains a key part of NETWORK’s agenda for 2018.

End of the Year: Tax Cuts or Bust

Because of advocates’ success in blocking major portions of the Republican agenda during the first half of the year, when Congress returned after the August recess, the pressure was on Republicans to deliver a win before the end of the year. They moved quickly to a popular issue for the party: tax cuts. Congressional Republicans worked feverishly for the rest of the year to pass a partisan tax bill that gives significant tax cuts to wealthy people and corporations at a loss of $1.5 trillion dollars for our nation. While there were obstacles to passing the bill, in the end Republicans rallied around the tax bill written by and for lobbyists and their rich donors, marketing it as a middle class tax bill that will spur economic growth and raise wages. Unlike earlier debates, there was little Republican opposition to the tax bill and it moved forward at lightning speed. The bill did not receive any Democratic support.

This was a significant loss for NETWORK for two reasons. First, as part of the tax bill, Republicans achieve a year-long goal of destabilizing the Affordable Care Act by including a repeal of the individual mandate. Experts show that this will increase premiums and potentially lead to 13 million people losing healthcare in the near future. Second, the significant loss of national revenue sets the table for Republican leadership to talk about the need to cut the social safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition programs next year. Already, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have indicated that Congress will push for “Welfare Reform” next year.

An Uninspiring Federal Budget Process

Congress did not pass a full federal budget for 2018, deciding instead to put all of their political energy into passing tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Congress adjourned on December 21 after passing a short-term bill to fund the government at current levels through January 19. This sets the stage for further budget action as well as discussions on funding for 2019.

Harmful Neglect of the Common Good

Congress’s single-minded focus on partisan priorities continually got in the way of bipartisan legislation that would have advanced the common good. For much of 2017, NETWORK and partners urged Congress to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) well before the October 1 deadline. For 20 years, CHIP has been a popular, bipartisan program that brought the rate of uninsured children to the lowest level in our history. Congress failed to renew CHIP funding and only passed a temporary funding for the program until March of 2018 when they will try again to achieve bipartisan consensus.

Overall, there are three important lessons we have learned in the past year. First, Republicans are deeply divided on core Mend the Gap issues like healthcare and immigration; it is possible in certain instances to build bipartisan support to block bad bills and, over time, potentially to develop bipartisan legislation to solve problems. Second, in order to be successful, advocates must organize and engage in Washington and, perhaps more importantly, at home. Third, President Trump and Republicans in Washington are fearful of political losses in 2018 and will prioritize “winning” the political fight and the next election over the common good. As we work to resist against unjust policies and to promote the common good, we continue to find our power in diversity and community.

Read NETWORK’s 2017 Voting Record here.

Sisters Advocate for a Faithful Budget

Sisters Advocate for a Faithful Budget

Catherine Gillette
January 17, 2018

Congress is once again struggling to reach a deal on the federal budget in order to avoid a government shut-down.  With so many important programs and the lives of so many people on the line, NETWORK believes that passing a faithful budget is absolutely essential. And we are not alone in that belief.

This past fall, NETWORK collected nearly a thousand letters written by Catholic sisters to House Speaker Paul Ryan about the federal budget. While the sisters come from different congregations, live in different parts of the country, and work on many different issues, the underlying message of their letters was the same: our federal budget must prioritize programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable people.

In December, Sister Erica Jordan, OP and Sister Ruth Brings, SSSF (both Speaker Ryan’s constituents) flew from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C. to meet with Speaker Ryan’s Deputy Chief of Staff and deliver the letters.  Shortly after they already arrived in D.C., their meeting was abruptly canceled.  They flew back to Wisconsin without being able to share their concerns or the collected letters with Speaker Ryan’s office.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.

NETWORK is committed to working with Members of Congress and our partners to ensure that these stories are lifted up and the letters, delivered. We call on Speaker Ryan and the rest of Congress to listen to these faithful voices and pass a faithful budget.

Here are just a few of the voices and issues raised up in the letters we received:

“Tax cuts for the wealthy do not serve the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized.  This year, natural catastrophic storms have devastated and impacted thousands of people.  How will your tax cuts rebuild these lives and communities that we know from past storm experience take 5 to 10 years for full recovery? Will these homeless families truly benefit from your budget plans?” –Sister Roberta Feil, SC

“Catholic Social Justice requires all of us to act as our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.  One way we can meet the needs of our human family is by ensuring all people have access to quality, affordable healthcare.” –Sister Kathleen Quigley, SC

“I have witnessed first-hand the violent and senseless ripping away of parents from their children by ICE.  These are people who are hard-working and contributing members of our church and communities.  Every family deserves stability and security and children in our nation should not have to live with the fear that their parents could be taken from them at any moment.  I urge you to reject additional funding for border enforcement, including but not limited to building a border wall.  As a nation of immigrants, we are called to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor.” –Sister Sharon Costello, CSJ

“I am asking you to promote a federal budget that is a reflection of the values of the nation and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.  The federal budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities of the nation.  A budget worthy of this nation must prioritize human needs programs, ensure funding to care for the vulnerable members of society, restore economic opportunities, and invest in the common good.” –Sister Colleen Dauerbach, SSJ

Finally, before leaving Washington, Sisters Erica and Ruth took the time to share their message to Speaker Ryan with us at the NETWORK office. Watch the video below:

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Mary Cunningham
December 13, 2017

Around 3 A.M. Saturday, December 2, the Senate voted to pass the Republican tax bill, a measure which will undeniably have detrimental effects on low and middle income households.  The bill also costs the U.S. treasury over $1.5 trillion dollars, which will soon be used as a reason to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as well as other safety net programs.

With all of this happening, what’s really going on behind closed doors? Both the Senate and House have chosen members who will sit on the conference committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. There has already been a lot of back and forth as House and Senate leadership discuss which details to include in the final tax cut bill. These discussions largely surround debates on the repeal of the alternative minimum tax for corporations, concerns about the research and development tax credit, the repeal of the state and local tax deductions, and requests to lower taxes on small businesses.

Every Democrat in the House and Senate and numerous Republican members of the House have come out against the bill, recognizing the adverse effects it will have on their districts. Passing a bill that will increase taxes on their constituents is a large risk, especially with midterm elections approaching rapidly. The incentive to get this bill passed is largely political. Republicans, eager to have at least one major victory, are rushing to get it passed before this year’s end.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned the tax bill, calling it “unconscionable.” They claim it will disproportionately affect working poor families and individuals while protecting the interests of the wealthy. In a letter to the House of Representatives, the Bishops noted that key programs which help people who are economically marginalized are at risk for elimination, including an income tax credit for persons with disabilities and the deduction for state and local taxes. While the Child Tax Credit would be expanded, it’s likely that low-income families will not be able to reap the benefits, especially immigrant families who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). They wrote, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.”

This bill will lead directly to automatic cuts in healthcare and other vital social programs, in part to offset the estimated $1.5 trillion cost of the bill over the next 10 years. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already signaled that the next step for Congress after passing the bill will be to reduce funding for entitlement programs to pay for the tax cuts. We can learn from other states that have implemented tax cuts experiments and see that they have not worked! In 2012, the Kansas state legislature passed a tax cut plan that they promised would boost the economy and pay for itself over the years. In reality, lowering income and business taxes only hurt the economy, and led to a severely damaging loss of state revenue. Now, the Trump administration’s tax plan poses the same threat on a national level. This is a bill that Republican members of Congress are pushing in order to satisfy their donors. It is not a bill for the 100% and is the wrong direction for our country.

Here are some ways to oppose to GOP tax plan:

  • Call your Representatives! The fight is not over. Call 1-888-422-4555 to speak to your Representative and tell her or him why you oppose the bill. Remember to share your faith perspective!
  • Speak out on social media! Use your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts to voice your concerns about the tax bill and the effects it will have on our most vulnerable neighbors.
  • Visit your Member of Congress’s office with friends in your community and talk directly to staff about why this bill is wrong for your district and wrong for the country.
  • Get creative: Hold a prayer vigil outside your Members’ office!

A Budget Is a Moral Document

A Budget Is a Moral Document

Sister Kathleen Kanet
October 26, 2017

When you are frustrated and in pain over the political direction of your country, what do you do? The source of much of my anguish was over our 2018 Federal Budget.

To me a budget is a moral document. What I saw in this proposed budget were more benefits for the rich and fewer for the poor. I kept thinking and praying about how to reverse the situation. Who in the world has the moral authority to speak out on behalf of the poor? Why, of course, the nuns, the sisters in our country who could write letters to the author of that selfish document!

Here is a bit of the story of a project which I have begun: a call for American sisters and nuns to write letters to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the main author and advocate of this very harsh budget.

Since the beginning of our country, U.S. sisters have been on the side of the poor and have worked toward the common good. We have many stories to tell which could encourage our political leaders to change our present policies. Who better than American sisters to help articulate what a faithful and just budget, inclusive for all, would be?

Many of us in religious life grew up with Vatican II. I am grateful that my congregation helped me to interiorize and to live out the mission of Jesus as he announced it: To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free! And to do so in joy!

This is the basis of my hope that this fall, many hundreds or even thousands of American sisters will be writing personal letters to a fellow Catholic, Paul Ryan. In our letters we will be sharing our stories about the needs of those we encounter in our ministries, and we will ask him to craft a budget that promotes the human dignity of all peoples.

It is lamentable that care for people who are poor, ill or elderly, for children, single mothers, and our beloved Earth is woefully missing in the proposed 2018 federal budget. Ironically, though, it calls for tax cuts for corporations and the rich and boosts a big military buildup. This letter-writing campaign is a great opportunity to “announce good news to the poor” and to promote the common good for all.

NETWORK , (founded by a group of Catholic women religious in 1971 to do Catholic social justice lobbying) has a proven track record of effective lobbying on economic issues. In the famous Nuns On the Bus effort of 2012, they traveled the country to draw attention to sisters’ work with the poor and to protest aid cuts on that year’s federal budget proposed by Paul Ryan.

This year, NETWORK was to introduce this campaign at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) meeting in August. Soon after, NETWORK should be following up with an invitation to all the sisters in the United States, to participate in a letter-writing campaign. They will coordinate the reception of the letters and will present them to Paul Ryan — with visits to other members of Congress — late in 2017.

Writing personal letters to Paul Ryan about the federal budget, and telling him and other lawmakers how that budget, as designed, will hurt many of the people we have worked with, are sorely needed prophetic actions.

It won’t be as easy as signing a letter or petition, or sending an email or making a phone call. It will take time, thought and commitment.

Currently, I am working with about two dozen of my own sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary to think about the letters we will be writing. We have had two meetings and more are planned for the coming few months. At the first meeting, 17 of us sat in a circle, listened to the invitation to this project, prayed quietly and then went around the circle sharing thoughts and comments. I heard “Great idea!” “Something concrete we can do!” “It is prophetic!” “Positive initiative.” As I listened to those initial comments, I was so encouraged.

In the past few months I have spoken with more than 100 sisters and others regarding this idea. Since I have been working in peace and justice initiatives for almost all my religious life, these conversations have been joyful reunions for me.

One of my first encounters was with a sister at LCWR. As I introduced myself to her, I mentioned that I was part of the Justice Peace Education Council, which in the 1980s presented hundreds of “Infusion Curriculum” workshops in Catholic schools in more than 50 dioceses throughout the country. Immediately she said, “Oh, I attended one and I remember it so well — it was so positive.” (The records of JPEC have been placed in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, but are not yet available.)

I’m also encouraged to hear about the about the wonderful works of sisters already engaged in trying to promote the common good and change the moral imperative in our country. The founding director of NETWORK is still working for Earth justice at her motherhouse. One younger sister sends regular positive tweets to President Trump, modeling comments of love, healing, peace, goodness and relationship. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the support and participation of all the sisters in the US?

Many of us are now beginning to wonder — in addition to the letters, how can we share this prophetic action with others in our country? Besides writing the letters and encouraging other sisters to get involved, how can we publicize this action to our family, friends and the public? How can we communicate our excitement at the possibility of filling the U.S. media with a new social vision?

There now exists a Facebook page: “A Fair and Moral Budget: Nuns Write Letters to Paul Ryan.” Join it and ask others on Facebook to do the same. Send us something to put on this page. Contact your communications people and ask them to be involved.

Hold a workshop writing meeting with your retired (but active) sisters.

When you write your letter, share it with others.

As do so many other powerful actions, this is beginning as a grassroots initiative — and now it is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

We ask for your prayers from all over the globe for the success of this venture!

Reposted by permission of Global Sisters Report.

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Kaitlin Brown

October 24, 2017

In the past few months, natural disasters have ripped away the homes of many of our sisters and brothers in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and California. Folks were left with limited time, just minutes in California, to pack up and flee to safety and are now returning to destroyed homes with few options. On conference calls with our housing partners working on the ground, I hear week after week about families in Puerto Rico going without electricity and clean water, and elderly folks in nursing homes in hurricane affected areas going without air conditioning. In Texas, people lined up overnight for D-SNAP (food stamps for those in disaster areas) only to be turned away for lack of identification. In Florida, low-income families and individuals were unable to afford the high cost of resort fees that came in addition to their FEMA hotel vouchers.

While these crises have unfolded, Congress moved quickly to pass the first of two supplemental disaster spending bills, and for this we are grateful. Right after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in September, Congress passed a $15 billion aid package. This week, the House passed a $36.5 billion bill that is waiting to be voted on in the Senate. While this is a great start, it really is simply putting a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem. Experts expect more money will be needed down the road: Puerto Rico hasn’t been able to have damage assessments done to know how much money is needed, Texas alone has asked for $18 billion for recovery, and with wildfires still raging in California, the extent of the damage is not known.

So with this going on, and millions of people displaced, what has Congress decided to prioritize between now and the end of the year? Cutting taxes for the wealthiest corporations and individuals– a bill that would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion– while also cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable. The budget plan voted on by Congress would be especially damaging for those affected by recent natural disasters, as it is focused on cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable, including SNAP and housing benefits, such as Section 8 vouchers. The tax bill that will quickly follow the budget, will add to our deficit by cutting taxes for the richest among us and corporations, while failing to supply any additional money to disaster relief and recovery.

As a person of faith, I think this is wrong. The need to care for the most vulnerable among us must take priority, and especially should not be neglected at the expense of tax cuts for the wealthiest. And while Congress has been bickering over the tax “reform” plan, many people in Puerto Rico are still without power and clean water, people in Texas and Florida are without stable, long-term shelter, and people in California are without entire cities. Our elected officials must do better to truly care for the most vulnerable among us.

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

By Sister Susan Francois
October 20, 2017

Dear Rep. Ryan,

By now, you may have noticed that you are the focus of a little project by Catholic sisters in this country who are concerned about the devastating effects of proposed cuts to the federal budget. In particular, many of us are seriously worried about potential cuts to human-needs programs that will harm the most vulnerable members of our society.

I know you already received an in-person, not to mention televised, message from Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Erica Jordan. I don’t know Sister Erica personally, but I thought she did a pretty good job of framing the critical moral questions we need you and your colleagues in Congress to grapple with around the budget.

Ultimately, if we are to be a government of, for, and by the people, then we need to take into account not just numbers, but the real lives of people. Furthermore, for those of us for whom our Catholic faith provides a moral compass, we know that Jesus challenges us to have a particular concern for those who are living in poverty and struggling to provide for their families in our harsh economic reality.

Sister Erica, of course, spoke to you as one Catholic to another. Over the years, you have been vocal about your faith. I remember clearly being impacted by your response to the address of Pope Francis to Congress. It was so very genuine.

“He’s been calling for a dialogue and talking about very important principles about the dignity of every human person and how we need to attend to this,” you said then. You also cautioned against politicizing the pope’s message. “If a person tries to politicize this speech for some issue or partisan gain, that diminishes from the message itself.”

Everything gets politicized these days, doesn’t it? Politicized and polarized. If you think about it, our entire lifetimes (I’m about two years younger than you, according to your Wikipedia profile) have been a time of hyperpolarization, leading to the current gridlock in Washington and a decided lack of helpful discourse and debate in the public sphere, let alone dialogue!

I am heartened that you value Pope Francis’ call to dialogue. I also hope that if and when you read this letter, it will be received in the spirit with which it is intended — namely, dialogue.

In your conversation with Sister Erica on CNN, you shared your appreciation for the model of Catholic organizations that help the poor. You expressed that they do a “fantastic job in spite of government doing wraparound benefits for the poor to make sure that they get to where they are — from where they are to where they need to be.”

My religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, sponsors and supports nonprofit services for low-income women in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Seattle with a similar model. Both the York Street Project and Jubilee Women’s Center provide such wraparound services, treat the whole person, and assist the women they serve on their journey to self-sufficiency.

I found it interesting that you referenced the year 1985 in your response to Sister Erica, because that is around the time my sisters started both these innovative programs.

I agree with you that we need to encourage and support such programs, but as partners with government, not replacements for our civic duty to promote the general welfare. Such programs do not do a fantastic job in spite of government, but in tandem with life-giving government programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which are in jeopardy in the budget proposals under consideration. At the York Street Project, for example, CDBG funds support the job readiness program at Kenmare High School, helping women who previously dropped out of the public school system to find jobs that will support their families.

You also told Sister Erica that we need to look at how we measure success in anti-poverty programs, shifting focus from dollars spent to outcomes.

“Is it working?” you asked. “Are people getting out of poverty?”

I agree that these are the key questions, but helping people get out of poverty requires an investment, not budget cuts. Program effectiveness is not free.

The women who come to Jubilee Women’s Center and York Street Project are motivated to break the cycle of poverty, as are the dedicated staff who journey with them. Yet the path from homelessness to stable housing is not an easy one. It is also complicated by real-life factors. Fifty-three percent of the women at Jubilee are survivors of domestic violence; 49 percent are coping with mental health challenges; 28 percent have physical health challenges; and 17 percent are in recovery from substance abuse. Knowing all this is one thing, but actually meeting the residents and hearing their stories of resilience is powerful.

At the same time, their resilience and our programs are not enough. Our creative and persistent staff navigate a patchwork of constantly changing government programs to help the women find stable permanent housing, including housing and urban development funds for rental assistance and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps working moms keep the lights on with a minimum-wage job. To be honest, we need more funding, not less, to reach the outcomes you name.

Take the example of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These are not just alphabet soup, but federal programs that add up to real soup for hungry kids and their parents.

When I visited St. Joseph’s Home at York Street, I saw the kitchen where staff help mothers learn how to cook homemade meals for their little ones with ingredients that make these dollars stretch to cover the whole month. This is no easy task on already-limited funds, and the proposed federal budget decreases this life-supporting funding.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. And in any case, you will be receiving hundreds, if not thousands, more letters from Catholic sisters sharing real-life stories like these.

Please, Speaker Ryan, take these messages to heart. Consider them part of an ongoing dialogue, one that seeks to break through the partisan bickering and polarized debate and find common ground to serve the common good. I implore you to help craft a federal budget that attends both to the general welfare of our nation, but also the particular needs of the most vulnerable families in our country.


Reposted by permission of Global Sisters Report.

[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.]