Category Archives: Food Security

DACA Decision Looms during the COVID-19 Pandemic

DACA Decision Looms during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Giovana Oaxaca
May 14, 2020

The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision over whether the President acted unlawfully in 2017 in abruptly terminating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) hangs over our nation against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic introduces a host of new variables to consider, like the devastation of death to COVID-19, job losses, and ensuing economic, housing, and food insecurity being felt across the nation. Financial hardship is already more likely to strike those with limited access to paid sick leave, health care, and safety net programs like low-income people; immigrants; people of color; LGBTQ communities; and incarcerated and detained people. However, since the start of the outbreak, more than 40% of Latinx, and nearly a half of Black adults have said they won’t be able to pay some of their bills, compared to about a third of all Americans.

Yet, in the midst of a pandemic, the Supreme Court is still expected to issue a decision which could lead to a loss of work permits and protections from deportation for an estimated 650,000 DACA recipients living in the United States. The economic and social wellbeing of millions would fall precipitously as 650,000 DACA recipients reckon with the loss of their status and jobs during this time of uncertainty. About 254,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent who holds DACA and in total, 1.5 million people live with a DACA recipient. Some DACA recipients, like Luz Chavez Gonzalez, have had to step up as sole providers for their families during widespread lay-offs — both of Luz’s parents, and her two siblings have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The pandemic spotlights Latinx families vulnerability to economic insecurity during emergencies.

Impact of COVID-19 on DACA Recipients and their Families

Nationwide, immigrant are overrepresented in nearly every industry supplying essential jobs and services. An estimated six million immigrant workers, including more than 200,000 DACA recipients, are working to keep U.S supermarkets stocked and residents healthy. Many states extended broad authority for many businesses considered essential to keep operating, but few have done enough to enforce state and federal workplace protections. As a result, thousands are getting sick on the job. Farmworkers, workers in the meat packing industry, and domestic workers who are immigrants have been some of the hardest hit. More and more evidence has emerged that Latinx COVID-19 health disparities stem from systemic inequities. Latinx people are more likely to have low-paying service jobs that require them to work through the pandemic; have limited access to health care; live in close quarters; and as a result, are less likely to call out of work or seek treatment when they fall ill.

This is, in no small part, the consequence of systematic and ongoing efforts to deny workplace protections and services to low-income and people of color based on immigration status. The implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge rule that went into effect on February 24, 2020 is a case in point. Researchers found that the rule would lead to a decline in the health and financial stability because of immigrant families’ fears over how their use of public benefits would affect their adjustment of status petitions. Now, the very worst possible outcomes of excluding immigrants from federal programs are playing out at the worst time.

Despite the pressing need for greater COVID-19 medical attention, immigrants were mostly left out of Congress’ COVID-19 relief packages. Immigrants were also left out of the CARES Act economic impact payments due to language prohibiting payments for households with ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) filers, a detail not gone unnoticed. An Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy analysis found that 4.3 million adults and 3.5 million children were denied this benefit through the ITIN exclusion. Future payments should remedy this exclusion.

For all these destabilizing factors raised, a SCOTUS decision on DACA in favor of the Trump administration would be catastrophic not just for DACA recipients, but the families they provide for and the broader immigrant community in the U.S.

DACA Recipients Urge Sensitivity

On March 27, plaintiffs from one of the three DACA cases up for consideration, Wolf, et al., v. Batalla Vidal, et al, appealed to the Supreme Court that Justices consider the full breadth of consequences stemming from a decision during the pandemic. They also flagged Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew Albence’s alarming threats of imminent deportation: “If they get ordered removed, and DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court, we can actually effectuate those removal orders.” The Supreme Court accepted this filing by plaintiffs and it was entered into the official record in a small victory for DACA recipients.

In the lead up to a decision, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by immigrant’s rights activist also produced more evidence of a credible fear of DACA recipient’s information being used in immigration enforcement. Namely, the FOIA uncovered edited congressional testimony and a trail of emails showing that ICE had been dishonest about its unobstructed access to DACA information, like addresses and last known filing date. Thus, even as it appears that the country is entering in a protracted recession, DACA recipients now also have to navigate around this landmine decision with possible deportation attached.

Where applicable, DACA recipients are still encouraged to submit renewals. Catholic Legal Immigration Network  (CLINIC) has a stepped up to provide up to date information for DACA recipients needing to renew. Inquiries about whether to renew should always be made to legal practitioners. CLINIC’s legal resources are available here.

Act in Solidarity with Immigrant Communities

This administration has been very blunt about its prejudice against the poor, brown, and Black immigrants, therefore, it very unlikely it will do right by recognizing the contributions of immigrants during the pandemic. It falls our elected representatives to support COVID-19 relief for immigrants and protect DACA recipients through legislation.

The Supreme Court decision could come at any time between now and the end of June. Please sign our petition asking the Senate to pass legislation protecting Dreamers: #Faith4DACA petition. Help us show that justice-seekers support DACA recipients in this time of hardship for them and for the country that we share.

For A Better COVID-19 Relief Plan, Let’s #FundFamilies

For A Better COVID-19 Relief Plan, Let’s #FundFamilies

Ness Perry 
May 12, 2020

On Thursday, May 7, 2020, NETWORK Lobby and our partners Moms Rising, Children’s Defense Fund, First Focus, and The Coalition on Human Needs gathered virtually for a tweet storm encouraging Congress to #FundFamilies. This digital action aimed to ask for increased, consistent cash assistance for families and an expansion of the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Social media is key to putting pressure on Members of Congress while in-person lobbying and hill visits are no longer an option.

NETWORK participated in the #FundFamilies tweetstorm because our faith teaches us to care for people at the margins in our country. Our economic recovery package should support those who need it the most, which is why we call on Congress to provide cash payments to every adult until the pandemic is over. This should be given to households that did not receive prior support from the CARES Act. This includes low- or no-income families that do not file tax returns, and families with ITINs including mixed-immigration status households.

Families need direct aid, as well as credits in the coming tax season. We know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit works, therefore we must expand it to provide aid for more families. The Child Tax Credit leaves behind more than 1/3 of children in families who earn too little to get the full credit — including 1/2 of Black and Latinx children. In order to mend the racial wealth and income gap, we must call on Congress to provide relief for all families, especially families of color.

Here are some highlights from the event:

https://twitter.com/RepBarbaraLee/status/1258442973332869124

President Trump’s Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps… Again

President Trump’s Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps… Again

NETWORK Government Relations Team
February 14, 2020

We believe the budget is a faithful, moral document that should reflect our values as a nation. Unfortunately, the President’s FY2021 budget that came out earlier this week does not do this. President Trump’s budget proposes$4.8 trillion in drastic cuts to non-defense discretionary spending for vital federal agencies, including a 37% spending cut for the Department of Commerce and a 15% cut for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This will increase the gaps between the wealthy and the impoverished in our nation.

President Trump’s budget abandons the most vulnerable in our nation by reducing funding for fundamental social safety net programs. The budget would increase the number of uninsured people in the United States, cut desperately needed assistance for low-income families, and invest almost nothing into our nation’s dilapidated infrastructure. It is time to mend the racial and income gaps in our nation. We cannot accept this immoral and divisive budget proposal from President Trump.

Once again, President Trump lays out a budget that provides a preferential option for the rich while gutting critical programs proven to lift people out of poverty. His budget would give an additional 1.4 Trillion dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy paid for by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs.  This is sinful.  We must heal the wounds of economic and racial injustice with those facing systemic exclusion and oppression. We echo the words of the Prophet Isaiah who warned the corrupt rulers of his time, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

The president’s budget proposal lays out another hopeless roadmap that offers no relief or clear pathway to prosperity for disheartened working families. The proposal includes $4.4 trillion in steep cuts to nondefense spending over 10 years, starting with $42 billion for FY2021 to offset increased funding for defense and immigration enforcement. This president fails the moral test of great leaders to care for those with the least among us– the 99% of the country who are over-worked, under-valued, and under-resourced.  We must expect more from our leaders and urge Congress to reject this budget by investing in affordable housing, health care, Medicaid, SNAP, and fair elections.

Here’s how President Trump’s FY2021 budget proposal would negatively impact the Common Good and widen the gaps across our nation:

Endangers the health care of the most vulnerable in our nation by attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and by imposing deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

  • Proposed cuts of $1 trillion in Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA over the next ten years
  • Implements mandatory work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries
  • Ends Medicaid expansion for states that have opted to expand coverage. This will eliminate care for the 13 million people who secured care from the expansion
  • No proposals for an ACA replacement plan if it is struck down by the Supreme Court
    • This will lead to elimination of the ACA’s protection against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover essential health benefits

Implements irresponsible and discriminatory immigration policy.

  • Requests $2 billion to build 82 miles of border wall, plans to divert an additional $7.2 billion from other accounts, and brings the total allocated over Trump’s term to $18 billion.
  • Includes $3.1 billion for 60,000 beds, in ICE detention centers, an increase of 6,000 beds from last year’s budget.
  • Adds $182 million to hire 750 new Border Patrol agents, a quarter more than last year, and $544 million to double Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff.
  • Calls for a 3.2-percent increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security to carry out immigration enforcement and family separation, but cuts the Department of Justice by 2.3-percent for all federal law enforcement
  • Requires Social Security Number for public benefits
    • Discriminates against non-citizen residents who do not have a Social Security Number

Increases income inequality and racial wealth disparities through more tax cuts for the 1% and drastic cuts to safety net programs.

  • Permanently extends the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for high-income taxpayers
  • This will cost $1.4 trillion through 2030 for tax breaks for the wealthiest in our nation
  • Cuts SNAP by $182 billion (30% of the program) over ten years
  • Cuts basic assistance for those with disabilities through Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Reduces support for families experiencing poverty by cutting the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by $20 billion over ten years
  • Eliminates the Social Services Block Grant

Decreases security in our nation’s elections.

  • Cuts the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that secures our nation’s voting machines, by 14%
  • Diverts $1.1 billion on cybersecurity spending from the Federal Election Commission to the Department of Homeland Security

Inadequately invests in our nation’s dilapidated infrastructure.

  • Proposes $190 billion in one-time funding for a new infrastructure initiative
    • This investment in our nation’s housing and infrastructure is a short-term fix for a long, expensive problem
    • It will not be enough to adequately address our nation’s housing problem
  • Cuts various infrastructure programs that support highway, mass transit, airport, and port infrastructure through discretionary appropriations
  • Weakens community efforts to enable families to secure housing free from discrimination and fight housing policies that restrict housing access

President Trump continues to promise that he will protect the health care of working families, but his FY2021 budget proposal is just another attack on care for our nation’s most vulnerable. The Trump administration continues to gut the backbone of our nation’s social safety net by slashing funding for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as through continued attempts to enforce Medicaid work requirements. Also, by attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no suitable replacement, President Trump continues to jeopardize the lives of millions who rely on the ACA for quality and affordable care.

President Trump’s proposals shown above illustrate his misaligned priorities. Every dollar spent in carrying out punitive immigration policy, is a dollar less in critical human needs programs, serving communities across the country. President Trump is requesting a huge windfall for agencies that police, detain, and separate families, but neglects food security programs, health, and more. President Trump’s FY2021 budget is a statement of values, which show that the president is more concerned with funding his border wall than serving the people of the United States.

Listen: Interfaith Partners Oppose the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

Listen: Interfaith Partners Oppose the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

Lee Morrow
August 15, 2019

This week the Trump administration announced that their proposed changes to our nation’s public charge rule are scheduled go into effect in October. NETWORK and our fellow faith-based advocacy partners were compelled to respond. Representatives from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, Church World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Faith in Public Life joined Sister Simone Campbell to denounce this harmful change to our nation’s immigration policy.

“The Trump Administration is making history in all the wrong ways,” said Liza Lieberman, Director of Public Policy for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. “For the first time, U.S. immigration officials will be instructed to consider non-cash basic needs benefits (including vital food assistance from the SNAP) in considering immigrants’ qualifications for admission or adjustment of status. This is completely unacceptable—nobody should be forced to choose between accepting government assistance and living in safety in the country they call home. This policy is an affront to our Jewish values of compassion and nondiscrimination, as well as our deeply-held belief that everyone deserves access to the resources they need to feed themselves and their families.”

Faith William, Senior Manager of Government Affairs at the National Council of Jewish Women added, “Jews are an immigrant and refugee people – it’s part of our cultural DNA. We recognize that the rule, reportedly Stephen Miller’s “singular obsession,” is part of a larger effort by this administration to criminalize and marginalize people of color, including immigrants of color. The National Council of Jewish Women will not cease in its fight against this and other harmful anti-immigrant, anti-asylee, and anti-refugee policies.”

Sister Simone Campbell stated “This public charge rule is a full scale assault on hard working low wage workers…  These essential programs that they are legally entitled to are really the keys to being able to support their families and thrive here in the United States. President Trump is literally taking food off the tables of our neighbors.”

Share on Social Media:

National faith-based organizations condemn Trump Administration’s draconian #publiccharge rule. This is not who we are. Listen here: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/ @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @global_cws @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

.@DHSgov issued a final rule to radically expand the criteria for who could be considered a #publiccharge under U.S. immigration law. This will separate families & impact millions of people including U.S. citizens. @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @CWS_global @NCJW @FaithPublicLife Our interfaith response: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/

Trump’s #publiccharge rule change is sinful. Learn more about how faith-based organizations are fighting back: https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/. @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @CWS_global @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

We’re proud to stand with our interfaith partners in opposition to Trump’s vindictive #publiccharge policy. This is the latest in a string of attacks on immigrant families, and it goes against our most basic values. #ProtectImmigrantFamilies https://networklobby.org/20190815publiccharge/ @NETWORKLobby @MAZONusa @global_cws @NCJW @FaithPublicLife

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line 

Elisa McCartin
July 10, 2019

The Trump administration is escalating its attacks against working families and using the power of the executive branch to implement their agenda unilaterally. This circumvents the legislative process and is a rejection of the legislative branch’s power 

How Agency Rule Changes Work 

Our many federal agencies create and implement policies that have profound impacts on our nation. Members of President Trump’s cabinet can direct the agencies to alter their policies and procedures by proposing specific rule changes. The agencies are required to give citizens and organizations a specified time period (usually 30-60 days) to comment on proposed changes before the agency is allowed to make a final rule. The agency must consider every comment before they implement their decision. These comments are often the only means the public has to check the power of these rule changes.  

After a rule change goes into effect, people or organizations can then challenge the agencies in court and the agencies must prove they considered every argument in every submitted comment. Because of this requirement, NETWORK and many of our partners have submitted comments on the harmful proposed rule changes the Trump administration has been rolling out in various federal agencies. We encourage our members to keep track of these sly and underhanded harmful policy proposals and submit comments to prevent or at the very least, stall, the Trump administration from enacting more damaging policies without Congressional approval.  

Proposed Poverty Line Rule Change 

One proposed rule change that NETWORK and many other advocacy organizations submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about would alter the inflation measurement used to determine the U.S. poverty line. The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the U.S. is calculated based on three times the estimated cost of a subsistence food budget for an average family, and adjusted for inflation each year. The OMB usually uses the Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) as the inflation adjustment mechanism. The OMB’s proposed rule would mandate a switch from using the CPI-U to the chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U) or the Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCEPI). The inflation index the OMB uses to adjust the poverty line is extremely important because it will alter families’ eligibility for social programs.  

Both proposed alternative inflation indices—the chained CPI and the PCEPI—underestimate inflation. The CBO reports that the chained CPI grows 0.25 percentage points slower than the CPI-U. This is because the chained CPI and PCEPI account for when consumers substitute goods for one another in the marketplace based on price increases. However, low-income families do not have the level of economic flexibility where they can exchange goods for one another, thus making this measurement inaccurate. Moreover, low-income families feel inflation more severely than middle and high-income families. Low-income people spend a larger percentage of their income on housing, and home rents have risen at double the inflation rate. Using indices that underestimate the inflation rate to determine the poverty line is an utterly inaccurate measure of the costs low-income families face. These should not be used to calculate the poverty line in the U.S.  Our principles of Catholic Social Justice teach us to prioritize the needs of those at the economic margins. This proposed rule denies the fundamental realities of people struggling to make ends meet. 

Furthermore, this move would have devastating effects of people who currently qualify for federal programs. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) calculated that switching to the chained CPI would lower the poverty line by 2.0% and using the PCEPI would reduce the poverty line by 3.4%. This dramatic reduction would prevent millions of individuals and families from receiving benefits and social services, as they would no longer be eligible even though their actual economic status remains unchanged. As a result, the CBPP projects that more than 250,000 senior citizens would no longer qualify for Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, 150,000 seniors would have to pay premiums exceeding $1,500 per year, 300,000 children would lose medical coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 250,000 adults who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would lose it, and 150,000 consumers would no longer receive cost-sharing assistance in ACA marketplaces.  

The U.S. poverty line is already too low—20% of people living in the U.S. do not meet one or more of nine basic need standards. This change would strip millions of life-saving supports, compounding the already severe impacts of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in our society. As people of faith, we are called to support those in need—not further entrench vulnerable families in poverty. 

NETWORK believes that it is our obligation to prevent the catastrophic effects of this proposed rule. The Trump administration is circumventing the legislative branch where citizens have more influence, amplifying the need to closely follow and comment on agency rule changes spearheaded by Trump Cabinet members. Although the period for submitting comments on this rule has closed, it is our imperative to continue tracking OMB’s decision making, to hold the executive branch accountable to the people, and to advocate for policies that mend the gaps 

___________________________________________________________________________________ 

Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Colleen Ross
February 8, 2019

Over the course of 2018, the Trump administration set numerous policies into motion that are sure to harm vulnerable communities and exacerbate the gaps in our society. Our spirit-filled network took action to denounce the harmful actions taken by the Trump administration and prevent them from going into effect. By writing and submitting comments on proposed rules in the federal register, organizing and attending protests, and raising awareness of these issues, you acted in solidarity with the individuals and families impacted by these unjust decisions.

Healthcare

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) would begin approving states’ requests to impose burdensome Medicaid Work Requirements. Since then, work requirements have been approved in five states, and are pending in ten more states. These work requirements target already vulnerable low-income adults, many of whom are already working or doing their best to secure steady work that pays sufficient wages.

Nutrition

The Agriculture Department released a proposed rule to enforce stricter SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Work Requirements right at the end 2018. This happened just after Congress had finally reached agreement after months of bipartisan negotiations, resulting in a majority of Congress voting to not include these restrictive work requirements in the Farm Bill. This unilateral action from the administration is clear rejection of Congress’s hard-won, bipartisan agreement.

Census

President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced they would be adding a Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census just as it nears the final stages of preparation. The addition of a citizenship question is likely to further depress Census responses from communities of color (which are already undercounted), due to fear of immigration enforcement in the current climate. Additionally, concerning information about persuasion from the White House and undisclosed communication with the Department of Justice encouraging Secretary Ross to add the citizenship question, has become public.

Immigration

In September, the Trump administration released a proposed regulation that the advocacy community refers to as the Flores Rule. This new regulation would dismantle the current “Flores” standards, now allowing the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, including asylum seekers. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this proposal rejects proven alternatives to mass detention, which are more humane and effective. This proposed rule would allow the federal government to set their own standards for holding families and children in detention and undermine independent oversight of conditions; it also reduces vulnerable families’ access to due process and humanitarian protections.

The Trump administration’s proposed “Public Charge” Rule, published in October, would make it more difficult for immigrants to apply for and receive legal immigration status in the United States. This proposed rule seeks to drastically redefine what it means to be a “public charge” in the immigration system. This would increase the probability that legal immigration applications would be denied based on factors such as age, health, family status, financial status, education, skills, and employment history and would hurt and potentially separate families. Even the threat of this rule is already causing parents to choose between needed public assistance to keep their families housed, fed, and healthy or making their family vulnerable to separation.

Throughout the year, the Trump administration has threatened immigrants with legal status through two programs. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a legal immigration status for nationals of a country experiencing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or another extraordinary and temporary condition. Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) allows foreign nationals to be protected from deportation and have the opportunity to work. Currently, the Trump administration is in the process of ending protections for TPS or DED holders from 11 countries. Many of these TPS/DED holders have been here for more than 20 years, have families in the United States, and would continue to face conflict or other difficult conditions in their home countries.

Judicial

The Senate approved 66 of President Trump’s Judicial Appointments in 2018, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This is a significant number of appointments and these confirmations will have a strong impact on the makeup of our judicial system.


This story originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

Did You Eat Today? Do More Than Thank a Farm Worker

Did You Eat Today?
(Do More Than) Thank a Farm Worker

Erin Sutherland
November 19, 2018

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend an interactive presentation and mindful dinner entitled “A Harvest for Justice,” led by Stoneridge Academy’s Director of Social Action, Lauren Brownlee. Lauren described her recent trip to Washington State to meet with other members of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  While learning about the challenges farm workers face in access to housing, adequate health and safety, just wages, and those that specifically impact women, I was both parts equally shocked and horrified.

I was immediately reminded of the striking similarities between the injustices farm workers experience and the issue areas NETWORK has chosen to focus on to “Mend the Gaps” in our society.  The gap for farm workers is even wider than that of the general population because of the inability of farm workers to organize collectively, or the fact that citizenship status can deter people from coming forward and reporting abuse.  Especially as Thanksgiving approaches, it makes me angry to think about how our national dinner table is supplied by people who are being exploited.  All of us, especially those who are dedicated to fixing societal gaps, need to do better to rectify the ways in which we are participating in an unjust food system.

As I reflect on all I have to be thankful this year, the evening left me wondering what more I could do to show my respect for farm workers and be an ethical consumer.  Attendees discussed eating mindfully, hosting a documentary watch-party like watching Food Chains, and participating in online campaigns.  While these are a great first step, I think it is also important to think more broadly about how to dismantle the unjust, capitalist produce market.

One way is to buy produce directly from farmer-organized initiatives or with ethical certifications.  As someone with modest income, I also understand how difficult it can be to pay a little more for ethically sourced produce.  One thing I’ve started doing is making sure to keep my food waste to an absolute minimum.  This is one way I can show my solidarity with those who worked so hard to pick the food in my fridge by making every effort to consume it all.  This means packing leftovers, coming up with creative solutions to using produce that is starting to look iffy, and supporting companies like Hungry Harvest that save perfectly good food from landfills by re-selling produce that couldn’t be sold at the grocery store.

My journey to becoming an ethical consumer and demanding positive change in the produce industry is just beginning.  Far from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed, I feel equipped with the knowledge to move my appreciation past words and into action.

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

NETWORK Government Relations Team
November 5, 2018

The Midterm Elections are upon us — and NETWORK is busy looking ahead to the work that must be done for the rest of the year.

Members of Congress will arrive back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 13 to finish out the final legislative efforts for the 115th Congress. There are some time-sensitive issues Congress must address, as well as others that may be considered if there is time and political will. All the items on the agenda will be affected by two factors: the outcome of Tuesday’s election as well as subsequent leadership elections, especially in the House of Representatives.

With these uncertainties in mind, here is NETWORK’s analysis for upcoming issues in the final days of the 115th Congress.

Must Do: Fund the Government for 2019

Appropriations: Congress outperformed all expectations by passing 7 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2019 before the start of the fiscal year, which began on October 1.  While kudos are in order, NETWORK is urging them to pick-up where they left off as soon as they return and it’s imperative that they finish the job before the end of the year.  Lawmakers have until December 7th to reach agreement on the 5 remaining spending bills which fund programs at more than 10 federal agencies, or risk a government shutdown.  Several of our Mend the Gap issues are among the log-jam.  These include: programs that fund the 2020 census, affordable housing and keep immigrant families together.

Border Wall

The most contentious issue will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security; which President Trump has already threatened a government shutdown if Congress fails to appropriate roughly $5 billion for his border wall.  A government shut-down would be detrimental just weeks before Christmas and would coincide with the anticipated arrival of thousands of migrants trekking toward the Southern border.  NETWORK has joined hundreds of advocacy organizations in calling for Congress freeze spending at FY 2018 levels for immigration enforcement officers, agents and detention beds.   And we urge Congress to pass a separate short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security.  NETWORK is ready to kick our advocacy efforts into high-gear if we perceive threats around funding for our immigration and census priorities.

2020 Census

Funding for the Census Bureau, which requires a significant ramp-up for Census 2020 preparations and planning.   If Congress returns to the dysfunction we saw last year with repeated funding delays via Continuing Resolutions, it could seriously threaten the ramp-up and preparations for our government’s largest peacetime undertaking, the decennial.  Fiscal Year 2019 is the pivotal year leading up to the 2020 Census so postponing full funding would have dire consequences on the preparations and outcome of the count.  While the proposed funding levels from the Senate and the House seem acceptable, it is unclear what the budget impact would be on the impending court ruling on the controversial citizenship question.

Click here to read more about NETWORK’s FY 2019 appropriations priorities.

That being said, there are some outstanding “Maybe” issues that Congress could address: the Farm Bill, Criminal Justice, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Farm Bill: Protect SNAP

There has not been much apparent progress since the Farm Bill moved into conference in August.  One of the primary sticking points in negotiations is the nutrition title and reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The partisan House Bill—which passed by 2 votes on the second try—includes harmful provisions that would undermine the program’s effectiveness and cut nutrition assistance for millions of Americans.  The Senate bill, which saw the strongest bipartisan support of any prior Farm Bill (86-11), makes key improvements to strengthen SNAP without threatening food security of participants.  The 2014 Farm Bill expired this month but, fortunately major programs like SNAP have a funding cushion that minimizes the impact of Congress missing that deadline.  It’s highly likely, though, that the Farm Bill conference committee will kick into high gear when Congress returns on November 13th.  During Lame Duck NETWORK will need your help to ensure that the nutrition title from the Senate bill is what’s ultimately adopted and voted into law.

Criminal Justice

There is wide speculation that the Senate could join the House and take up a modest criminal justice reform package during the Lame Duck session, if 60 Senators agree to proceed.  In May, the House passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Over the summer the President tentatively agreed to include several sentencing reform elements into a prison reform package. The Senate was split on the issue of separating prison reform from sentencing reform but has changed course given the President’s willingness to negotiate a compromise.  While NETWORK supports sentencing and prison reform as a joint legislative package we did not take an official position on the First Step Act.

Read NETWORK’s thoughts on the First Step Act, from when it passed the House, here.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

As Congress concludes work for the year, there is a tradition that of a small group of tax bills that are bipartisan, non-controversial and relatively inexpensive get passed.  This group of tax bills is called “extenders.”  Members of the tax writing committees are now reviewing what their priorities are for any extender bill.  One of the tax initiatives under consideration is passage of “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 548) which expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to meet the housing needs of extremely low income renter households. This credit is the primary tool to encourage private investment in affordable housing development and is responsible for 90 percent of all affordable housing developments built each year.  Since it was passed in the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has incentivized the creation of 3 million affordable rental homes around the country.  NETWORK will work with

Given the national shortage of affordable housing, NETWORK believes it is critical that new build more low income housing units. Passage of this bill will go a long way to meeting the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable low income individuals and families.

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.