Category Archives: Food Security

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Tralonne Shorter
September 12, 2018

This summer, Congress made extraordinary progress toward completing the requisite 12 spending measures for upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019. To date, the Senate has passed nine spending bills, while the House has passed six. Lawmakers have until September 30 to finalize spending bills or extend funding at current levels through a continuing resolution (CR).  Efforts are underway to bundle nine* out of 12 spending measures into three packages by September 30 and put the remaining three** bills into a CR, averting a government shutdown.

One reason for the Senate’s remarkable pace on appropriations is President Trump’s vow to not sign another omnibus spending bill.  To achieve this progress, the Senate uncharacteristically spent part of August in session.  Another reason is a bipartisan agreement between Appropriations committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not to pack spending bills with controversial provisions that would weaken bipartisan support.

NETWORK continues to lead lobby efforts supporting our Mend the Gap priorities.  These include:  humane border enforcement that promotes family unity and funding increases for affordable housing, workforce development, job training, child welfare and health care.  In addition, NETWORK will continue to oppose efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Immigration

Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy dominated the appropriations debate and faced strong opposition across party lines in both chambers.  NETWORK joined pro-immigration advocates in garnering support for more than 12 amendments to the Homeland Security bill that adds report language that clamps down on family separation with better oversight and accountability standards for ICE detention centers.  Additionally, we successfully lobbied for more funding to support alternatives to detention, family case management services, and mental health screening of unaccompanied minor children crossing the Southern border. However, a major disappointment by House Appropriators includes the reversal of the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement drafted by the ACLU which set a 20-day limit for family detention and governs the conditions of detention for children, including that facilities be safe, sanitary, and age appropriate.    If enacted this would allow immigrant families to be indefinitely detained in facilities with harsh conditions not supported by Flores.  Thankfully, the Senate approved LHHSED Appropriations bill leaves the Flores settlement agreement intact and the House language is not likely to be part of the final bill.

As for immigration enforcement spending contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion more than the Senate for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Southwest Border Wall.  Other areas of concern include, a 10 percent increase in detention beds, as well as funding to hire almost 800 more border and customs agents/officers.

NETWORK will continue to push back on efforts to separate families or that would undermine humane border enforcement as negotiations gain momentum post the mid-term elections.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, unless Congress passes the next Farm Bill before then or extends the current reauthorization.  Regardless of when Congress finalizes the next Farm Bill, funding for SNAP will not lapse as the government is statutorily required to continue funding the program subject to participation demands.  Since 2015, SNAP enrollment has declined by more than 4.7 million people resulting in a $73 billion automatic appropriation for FY 2019.  This is $794 million less than FY 2018 and a 10 percent reduction since FY 2015.

Census

House appropriators gave a big boost to the Census Bureau in the FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (CJS) bill, approving nearly $1 billion more for the agency than the Senate. However, it is unclear how much of the $4.8 billion for the agency will be allocated for the 2020 Decennial.  Conversely, the Senate appropriators (under new leadership) appears to have taken a more conservative approach and adopted the President’s FY 2019 budget request to fund the 2020 Decennial at $3.015 billion.  This is drastically different from NETWORK’s request of $3.928 billion minimum baseline.

Besides census activities, the CJS bill also funds immigration related law enforcement and adjudication efforts within the Department of Justice.  Regrettably, the House Committee bill, fails to fully protect immigrant families and includes increased funding for immigrant-related law enforcement efforts.  Congress is not expected to finalize the CJS bill until sometime after the mid-term elections.  NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push for the higher number for the 2020 Census contained in the House bill.

Housing

Funding for housing programs fared better in the Senate.  The Senate approved a $12 billion increase above the President’s FY 2019 budget request−and is $1 billion above the House bill.  Housing programs help nearly 5 million vulnerable families and individuals.  This includes:  $22.8 billion for tenant-based Section 8 vouchers; $7.5 billion for public housing; $11.7 billion for project-based Section 8; $678 million for Housing for the Elderly; and $154 million for Housing for Persons with Disabilities.  Both committee bills reject the Administration’s rent reform proposal, and reinstate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, which were eliminated in the President’s FY 2019 budget request.  However, the House reduces spending for the HOME program by 12 percent.

NETWORK will continue to advocate for increased funding for affordable housing programs.

Children and Human Needs

The LHHSEd Appropriations bill funds popular safety net programs, like Medicare and Medicaid operations, home energy assistance, Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant.  It is the 2nd largest spending bill, after defense and comprises about 63 percent of total discretionary spending.  The House and Senate bills are slightly different—overall the Senate bill is better because it has a higher spending allocation and contains no poison pill riders unlike the House.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked by Republican lawmakers.  Both the House and Senate bills reduce access to affordable health care by cutting funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operating budget by nearly half a billion dollars.  According to the House Committee report, Democrats view defunding CMS as “a misguided attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.” If enacted this cut would significantly impact Medicare as it subject to mandatory 2 percent sequestration cut pursuant to the Balance Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).

NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push back against efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.


* Agriculture; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Interior; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

**Commerce, Justice, Science; Foreign Operations; and Homeland Security.

Sister Kathy Flynn: Don’t Assume the Poor and Hungry Aren’t Working

Don’t Assume the Poor and Hungry Aren’t Working

Sister Kathy Flynn
August 19, 2018

I’m a native Iowan and a Catholic Dominican Sister. I minister at Opening Doors, a program in Dubuque that welcomes women who experience homelessness and who seek our help as they rebuild their lives.

We work with them to find employment, pursue educational goals, and develop other life skills.

The women I work with can’t become self-sufficient if access to food is taken away from them and their children. That is why I am urging U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst to reject the House version of the Farm Bill, which cuts access to nutritional food.

In September 2018, the Farm Bill, which funds Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expires and will need to be reauthorized. Both the House and Senate have created new versions of the Farm Bill, and now they have to reconcile them.

While the partisan House bill hurts families by cutting SNAP, the bipartisan Senate bill keeps SNAP safe and ensures that the women I work with will be able to eat and feed their children.

Sen. Ernst was appointed as one of a small number of Senate conferees on the bill, and she has the power and responsibility to make sure the Senate provisions in the nutrition title are upheld.

I see the “on-the-ground” ramifications of our food policies every day. I see women who desperately want to provide nourishing, healthy meals to their children but often can’t, due to limited resources or other barriers.

I see women without transportation or child care walking a mile to a grocery store and back, or taking an hour-long bus trip with children in tow. Being poor and without resources is simply exhausting!

It is a myth that people in poverty do not work. The vast majority of women who move through transitional housing live at or below the federal poverty threshold and are working — sometimes at two jobs while raising children — consistently trying to overcome barriers that are invisible to many of us.

Low unemployment rates mask the reality that most of the jobs available are low-wage and unpredictable. More than two in five Iowa households receiving SNAP include children. Options for child care and transportation are limited at best. Healing from trauma takes a lot of energy.

Sen. Ernst said the Senate Farm Bill lacked harsh work requirements and “missed an opportunity to help able-bodied SNAP recipients rise up out of poverty.”

Senator, you are wrong.

Most SNAP recipients who can work, already do work. In Iowa, 84 percent of SNAP families have at least one working member. If the 2018 Farm Bill makes it harder for people to eat, it certainly isn’t providing opportunities.

Expanding work requirements and adding unnecessary burdens to access nutrition assistance means more discouraging red tape for millions of Americans already struggling to get by. Insecurity and hardship takes a toll.

These are some of the most resilient people I have been blessed to know, but they deserve help to not go hungry.

The Dominicans are a mendicant order, meaning that for over 800 years we’ve begged — particularly when a just cause is at stake. And so I’m begging Sen. Ernst for a Farm Bill that does not make hunger and poverty worse in this country. Please look to the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill as the right path forward.

The author is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wis., who is an education/employment case manager at Opening Doors in Dubuque, which ministers to women experiencing homelessness.


Sister Kathy Flynn’s Op-Ed was originally published in the Telegraph Herald. View the original here.

Researching Representatives in Favor of HR2 Reveals a Hall of GOP Hypocrites

Researching Representatives in Favor of HR2 Reveals a Hall of GOP Hypocrites

Mackenzie Kuhl
June 13, 2018

The 2018 House Farm Bill, also known as H.R. 2, failed a vote in the House on Friday, May 18, by a vote of 198 to 213. This bill, which put to shame the historically bipartisan process of Agriculture and Nutrition special interests working together on a compromise, severely failed NETWORK’s principles to protect and prioritize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite the bill’s failure a few weeks ago, the House is predicted to vote again on or around June 22.  At NETWORK, we have and continue to call representatives to vote “No” to this bill.

In the past, farm bills have been largely bipartisan. However, this year’s $867 billion Farm Bill has sparked controversy not only because of its proposals to cut SNAP benefits by $21 billion and add mandatory work requirements, but also because of its ongoing ties to immigration negotiations. To make matters worse, many of the Republican representatives advocating for cuts to SNAP and tougher work requirements could reap extreme financial benefits from federal farm subsidies if the bill becomes law.

According to CNN, “Since 2002, Congress has added in multiple means-testing for federal farm subsidies to prevent them from going to the hands of wealthy farm-owners. But, tucked away in Sec. 1603 of the new bill, is an exemption for ‘pass-through’ businesses from the means testing requirements.” With some basic accounting adjustments, millionaires and billionaires could collect their farm subsidies once again from this Farm Bill. Even Daren Bakst of the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank) calls it “basic cronyism.” Essentially, these congressional leaders are prioritizing their own financial gains over the very communities they are supposed to be protecting—including children and those most vulnerable to hypocritical acts like this one.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) pulled together data to investigate the top 16 GOP members who would benefit from farm subsidies. This includes Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-1) who raked in more than 1.7 million in subsidies from 1995-2013 for his shares in the DSL LaMalfa Family Partnership, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (MO -4), who collected more than $986,000 from 1995 to 2016 for her shares in Hartzler Family Farms Inc.

Overall, the EWG reports that 60% of farm subsidies go to the top 10% of farmers.  Additionally, The Heritage Foundation exposes some myths surrounding the subsidies that “’Family Farms’ do not necessarily mean ‘small farms’.”

To put this in perspective, NETWORK researched the number of households that receive SNAP benefits in each representative’s district.  We divided the total number of households per district by the households that participate in SNAP to see what percentage of households would be affected by cuts to SNAP while their representative reaped financial gain.

The comparisons were stark. Rep. Ralph Abraham (LA-5) received more than $386,000 in subsidies from 2001-2009, and while 20.8% of his district participated in SNAP.  Rep. David Valadao (CA-21), who abstained from the first round of voting on H.R.2, received more than $478,000 within 10 years (2006-2016) while 24.7% of his district participated in SNAP.

So how much do these representatives serve to gain from the subsidies? Enough to pay for thousands upon thousands of SNAP meals.

Each SNAP recipient receives an average of $1.40 per meal.  Since the issue at hand is to determine whether members of Congress were voting for their own personal enrichment while jeopardizing the food security of their constituents, NETWORK calculated how many meals each subsidy amount would pay for. The results and the vote of the members on H.R. 2 are in the chart below.

And, here’s the ultimate hypocrisy: Not only have they voted for a bill that would allow them to personally benefit while hurting their constituents, many of these very representatives have spoken out against “fraud, waste, and increased spending” for government assistance programs.

Rep. Frank Lucas said during a 2011 subcommittee hearing, “I’m concerned that the broad-based categorical eligibility increases opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse.”  Rep. Kristi Noem, who received the third-largest amount of subsidies, has said, “Loopholes and fraud in the current program have led to federal spending on SNAP to increase by 270 percent over the past ten years.”

What do we make of all of this? Many GOP representatives in favor of H.R. 2 are choosing personal profit over the most vulnerable people in society. These elitist, hypocritical actions directly contradict the values which people of faith live by. If this bill comes up for a vote again, these Members of Congress must vote no.

Mackenzie Kuhl is a summer intern with the NETWORK Government Relations Team.

Proposed House Farm Bill Adds Insult to Injury

Proposed House Farm Bill Adds Insult to Injury

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP
April 16, 2018

The recently-passed Republican Tax law is an insult to people living in poverty. The way the tax benefits were structured clearly revealed who our GOP lawmakers think are worthy public assistance. The tax-cuts lavish benefits on wealthy individuals and large, profitable corporations to the tune of $1.9 trillion over the next ten years. While most of the GOP talked about help for the middle class, in reality, middle income households received nominal tax cuts on a temporary basis (through 2025) depending on their circumstances.

Families and individuals experiencing poverty, however, were never part of the discussions during the creation of HR1 (The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). Republican leadership pointed to discredited trickle-down economics in response to any questions about how the tax law would impact jobless and underemployed people. Their projections of economic growth would magically meet the needs of common good. Enough said.

Fast forward four months to the farm bill released by the House last week. The farm bill (HR2) is the second part of this equation. In stark contrast to the tax debate, the House GOP is now squarely focused on the unemployed, underemployed, and those working for poverty wages in our nation. This time though the objective has shifted drastically from providing benefits via tax cuts to severely limiting the benefits that the government should provide.

Substantive changes to the SNAP program proposed in this bill would take food off the tables and empty the refrigerators of millions of food-insecure individuals and households that currently receive nutrition assistance. Instead, the GOP proposes feeding them hollow promises of “opportunity” through ill-conceived job training programs which are divorced from the reality of the 21st century.

Congress is intent on making sure corporations and so-called job creators receive massive tax cuts, trusting they will in turn raise wages and increase employment opportunities.  Low-income workers, the unemployed, and the underemployed are expected to jump through hoops and continuously scramble to demonstrate that—yes, indeed they really are trying to work! Only then are they deemed worthy of nutrition assistance to help feed themselves and their families.

At the release of the farm bill, House Agriculture Committee Chair Conaway described the bill’s proposed workforce development program as a “historic investment in opportunities for SNAP recipients.” On one hand he describes how “SNAP recipients want to be beneficiaries of… economic growth. They want to take advantage of opportunities and meet the needs of our nation’s businesses.”  Yet in the same statement he claims: “to ensure this investment yields results, we’re also making these work requirements mandatory.” These conflicting statements lay bare the judgement that is piled onto people experiencing poverty and the GOP’s twisted approach to “helping” by taking food from those who need it.

What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

What Are Members of Congress Saying on Public Charge?

NETWORK will be updating this page with the latest statements.

“Such a rule would essentially force families, including those with U.S. citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need to prosper — from crucial programs that provide medical care, food assistance, housing assistance, and early childhood education — and reuniting with those they love. These are not the ideals of our country and we urge the Department to reconsider this ill-advised proposal.”-Letter to Kirstjen M. Nielsen and Mick Mulvaney signed by 85 Members of Congress.

The original letter can be found here.

“What will the Trump Administration do next? Since day one, we have witnessed a series of attacks by the administration targeting immigrant communities around our nation. This latest back-door attempt to leverage public health and efforts to deny legal immigration benefits, seeks to circumvent Congress and ultimately restrict family reunification. This ill-advised proposal will make it difficult for individuals seeking legal entry or permanent residency in the United States to care for their family through the use of social services that they are legally entitled to use. This rule fails to uphold the values of our nation and will force individuals to choose between putting food on the table for their children and being granted legal status.” –Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

“Let’s be clear— current law already prevents the vast majority of immigrants from accessing Federal means-tested public benefits. That’s not what this proposed rule is about. This is about denying immigration benefits and keeping families apart. It would essentially force families, including citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need—like medical care or Head Start—and reuniting with loved ones.  This rule will not only harm immigrant families, it will undermine decades-long efforts to improve the health and well-being of our communities and our nation.” –Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19).

“The Trump administration’s proposed ‘public charge’ rule is a dangerous attack on immigrant families. For centuries, immigrants fleeing economic hardship, persecution, and violence have found opportunity in our country to do what is best for their families. This proposal imperils that ability and forces immigrant families to make the tragic decision between basic necessities and their future in our country. I urge the Trump administration to rescind this heartless proposal, cease its baseless attacks on immigrant communities, and stop inserting nativist principles into policies that directly contradict American values.” – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03). 

Original post with statements can be found here.

What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

Mary Cunningham
April 11, 2018

At the heart of the American experience lays the dazzling idea of the American Dream. We profess the dream proudly, holding it as a symbol of our nation’s deepest values: acceptance, equal opportunity, and prosperity achieved through hard work. Yet, how can we profess this to be true if not everyone is given an equal chance to prosper and if we penalize people for utilizing the very programs that are designed to help them get ahead?

On March 28, 2018 the Washington Post relayed the latest update on the proposed public charge rule, which could change the process for immigrants seeking legal residency. The draft of this change has not been formally published and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget for approval. This proposed public charge rule demonstrates another attempt by the Trump administration to restrict family-based immigration and cut off access to public benefits that help families meet their basic human needs. Yes, this rule, if it comes to pass, would apply to families who have come to the United States legally in search of a better life. These are the people who have gone through the system and as our Republican friends like to say patiently “waited their turn in line” to obtain green cards. These are the families and individuals who would be penalized if this proposed rule comes to fruition.

So what exactly does public charge entail?  Under the proposed draft, individuals would be required to indicate their reliance – and for the first time any family members’ reliance – on public aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and even refundable tax income credits obtained through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). People who depend on these programs, or who have children who rely on them, could potentially be derailed on their path to a green card or even deported. The draft regulation penalizes those applying for lawful permanent resident status if they have big families and if they have limited income. This would be particularly harmful to mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children where parents will have to decide whether their child should use programs like Medicaid or school lunches if such use could lead to deportation of a family member seeking a green card.

So basically, individuals would be forced to choose between catering to their basic human needs or protecting their immigration status. If this rule passes it will have a deleterious effect on families. It would separate families who rely on public aid and increase the risk of falling into poverty for those who do not enroll in public aid programs for fear of being forced to abandon family reunification. An article in the Huffington Post estimates that this proposal puts 670,000 children at risk of falling into poverty. While there is bipartisan consensus that our nation’s children should have access to food, healthcare, and other basic necessities, this rule threatens to upset the balance completely.

The argument in favor of instituting a public charge rule is that those applying for a green card should be “self-sufficient.” However, it is estimated that around the same percentage of native-born Americans use public assistance as foreign-born individuals. Will our brothers and sisters not be able to achieve the American Dream solely because they need health insurance, food or housing for their families? I surely hope not.

We expect more information on the public charge rule soon and will keep you updated with analysis and ways to engage

Returning to Others This Lent

Returning to Others This Lent

Mary Cunningham
March 22, 2018

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12

I have always been struck by the phrase “return to me” in Joel. In fact, I worked on a Lenten reflection guide during college bearing that very name. And yet, it was not until this year that I started to grapple with what the phrase really means and how it applies to me personally. Perhaps by working so closely on a project called “Return to Me” I felt I already fully understood the phrase, giving myself a pass to engage more deeply.

I tend to think of Lent as a personal practice, a way to evaluate my own faith life and identify where I can do better. While this is certainly important in returning to God, this Lenten season, that phrase took on a new meaning for me. As I began my Lenten practice, I realized that returning to God does not just mean focusing on my own prayer life; it also means returning to others.

I moved to Washington, D.C. at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: a new president was elected who has a blatant disregard for the poor and marginalized. We were in new and unchartered territory. Now, working at a lobbying organization, I am often overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news. I constantly question if the work I am doing is making a concrete difference. At the same time, I’ve never felt like I was in a better position to change things.

This year at NETWORK one of my responsibilities was researching and compiling our Lenten resource on 21st Century Poverty. Working on this guide, I realized the importance of being both a witness to the suffering in our world and present to my neighbors. This takes place on both a small and large scale. Who are the people I interact with every day who might silently be suffering? And who are the people that I may not see every day, but who struggle from food insecurity, lack of housing, or low wages that keep them in poverty? I realize that I cannot complete alleviate anyone’s suffering, but I can be more attuned to it and help by asking myself, where can I return to others?

For me, Lent is coming to God, in my own brokenness and in my sadness at the brokenness of the world. In doing so, I am able to see where I can invest my energy and return to others. Then, the approach of Easter brings a promise of spring and new life for the world, where by returning to our neighbors, we return to God.

 

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.

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.

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Mary Cunningham
October 10, 2017

“You’re going to Burkesville, Kentucky!” the headline of my email read. As a senior, I had decided to lead a spring break immersion trip to Appalachia, where I would accompany 12 participants from my college to engage in a week of service, immersion and solidarity with the community in Burkesville, Kentucky. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but as usual, I was surprised.

Leading up the trip I did not understand what rural poverty looked like. I grew up in northern Massachusetts in a small, upper middle class town. I spent one summer during college interning at a church in downtown Boston, an area known for its large population of homeless individuals and high-concentration of drugs. Having been surrounded by this on a daily basis, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what poverty looked like. My trip to Kentucky changed that.

Burkesville, a small, remote town in southern Kentucky has a vibrant spirit and a strong sense of community. And yet, as my week there unfolded, I noticed signs of poverty. We worked at the Burkesville elementary school where many of the kids were on a nutrition assistance program. Although the school provided some snacks, they were often unhealthy options. Talking with school administrators, we also learned that there were not a lot of viable job opportunities in the area. There was a large population of children and retired people, but there seemed to be a lack of middle-aged people contributing to the economic growth of the town. Seeing a community struggling with these issues was something I had heard about, but never encountered.

As an associate at NETWORK, I recently learned about the rural poverty I saw in Burkesville from a policy perspective. On September 28, I attended a briefing titled, “Urban and Rural Poverty in America” in the Rayburn House Office Building. One of the things that stood out to me was how a city’s remoteness and population size are connected to poverty rates. Research collected by the Salvation Army shows that states that are more remote and that have both high and low population concentrations tend to have higher levels of need than states that are less remote. Rural towns located far from large cities tend to have a harder time accessing government services and their residents are often underemployed. It was clear from the panel that these unique challenges facing rural communities make grappling with poverty across our country difficult.

Another interesting comment came from one of the panelists, John Letteiri, who works for the Economic Innovation Group. Mr. Letteiri noted that the decline of migration is one of the major causes of exacerbated rural poverty. He cited an interesting statistic: since the 1990s migration from rural to urban areas has fallen about 50 percent. Without mobility, residents of these rural towns are attached to the economic reality of their area. As I left the panel, I was left with a sharp reminder of my experience in Burkesville, Kentucky.

The way in which we understand poverty needs to constantly be reframed. We largely define poverty based on our own cultural perceptions, not the reality of the situation. As a society, we must take into account those who are forced into poverty due to social, economic, and political factors beyond their control and prioritize policies that support them. As poverty changes, so must our definition of it.

Gaps are Closing, but More Must be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

Gaps are Closing, but More Must Be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

By Lucas Allen
September 22, 2016

Nearly nine years after the start of the Great Recession, economic recovery has been painfully slow for many Americans and vast economic divides remain. However, promising new data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 2015 was the best year of economic improvement for low- and middle-income Americans in decades. Here is some of the good news revealed in the report:

  • The poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968
  • Real median household incomes rose by 5.2%, the largest increase since the 1960s
  • The percentage of Americans who lack healthcare fell to 9.1%, the lowest uninsured rate in our nation’s history

Most importantly, these economic improvements were distributed to all Americans—not just the wealthiest. This Census report shows that in 2015, our country made some much-needed positive steps toward mending the gaps in our divided society. While these improvements are certainly promising, a closer look at the report shows that we have much more work to do to create an economy of inclusion. The shared growth of the past year is welcome news, but it has not changed the reality that far too many people are struggling to get by in the world’s richest nation. It is a grave injustice that women, children, and people of color continue to bear a disproportionate burden of this suffering. The poverty rates of women who head families (36.5%), children (19.7%), and African Americans (24.1%) are all far higher than the average poverty rate of 13.5%.

One cause for hope in this report is that federal programs are working to lift people out of situations of poverty—they just need to be ramped up. The improvements our country makes, and the gaps that persist, are greatly impacted by policies and decisions made by Congress. For example, the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) kept 9.2 million people out of poverty, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) kept 4.6 million people out of poverty. These large numbers are hard to picture, but they represent millions of families who are able to make ends meet with support from these programs.

In his address to Congress last year, Pope Francis said, “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.” Programs such as the EITC, CTC, and SNAP are great examples of legislation based on care for people and the common good. If you and I make our voices heard this election season, we can ensure that programs like these are protected and expanded to create an inclusive economy and society.

More resources:

https://networklobby.org/election2016/sidebysides/

https://networklobby.org/election2016/

https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/p60-256.html