Category Archives: Front Page

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

Appropriations Bill
House
Senate
Subcommittee Committee Floor Subcommittee Committee Floor Reconciled?
Labor-HHS-Education (H.R.2740) Passed (April 30) Passed (May 8) *Minibus
Transportation-HUD (H.R.3163) Passed (May 23) Passed (June 4)
Commerce-Justice-Science (H.R.3055) Passed (May 17) Passed (May 22)
Financial Services Passed (June 3) Passed (June 11)
Department of Homeland Security Passed (June 5) Passed (June 11)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Right now, Congress is working on federal budget appropriations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020). This process is critical because the result determines how much funding federal programs that mend the gaps receive for the following year.

Appropriations Background

Members of Congress decide our nation’s federal budget every year through a process of writing 12 different appropriations (or spending) bills before the annual fiscal deadline of September 30. The process begins in the House after the President submits a budget proposal to Congress for consideration (which is usually rejected all or in part by Congress). House and Senate Appropriations Committees draft and modify spending bills through a series of committee votes before advancing the bills to the full House or Senate for another round of votes.  Typically, the House and Senate bills are not identical and thus must be reconciled before sending a final bill to the President for enactment.

However, in recent years due to partisan politics over spending allocations, many of the spending measures bypass floor debate after committee action and are instead consolidated into an omnibus or minibus spending bill.  Above, you can see the progress of the bills that include NETWORK priorities.

This year, the appropriations process has added uncertainty because there has not been any agreement between the House and the Senate on overall funding levels. This sets up a future showdown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump on one side and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the other; likely coming down to the amount of funding President Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or other controversial issues.

House Appropriations State of Play

So far, the House Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. These 10 bills are now ready for votes on the House floor. The committee expects to complete their work on all 12 appropriations bills this week. Democratic leaders want to pass all the appropriations bills on the House floor by the end of June to allow time for negotiations with the Senate before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

They plan to do this by first passing a package of five bills (totaling nearly $1 trillion in spending), which they began considering this week. Passing this package of bills could take several days. The package includes the two biggest appropriations bills: Defense (HR 2968) and Labor-Health and Human Services- Education (HR 2740) as well as the Energy-Water (HR 2960), State-Foreign Operations (HR 2839) and Legislative Branch (HR 2779) bills. After this five-bill package, House Democrats plan to combine the remaining seven bills into additional packages.

Homeland Security and Financial Services appropriations bills will be taken up by the House full appropriations committee this week. NETWORK is following Homeland Security appropriations closely and calls on appropriators to reduce funding for deportation, immigrant detention, and border militarization and instead to prioritize alternatives to detention, implement robust Congressional oversight over Homeland Security practices, and support refugee resettlement and asylum seekers.

Another NETWORK funding priority is Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations. This bill, as it emerged from the House Appropriations Committee included $7.5 billion in new funding for the 2020 Census, as well as a restriction against using the Census appropriations to fund a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire. The House CJS appropriations bill also restricted funds from being used to be used to hire more immigration judges, and instead would establish a pilot legal advocacy program for nonprofit organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.

Of course, federal housing programs, which are included in the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill, are a NETWORK focus. While President Trump’s budget proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development funding by $9.6 billion, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill provides a total of $50.1 billion for HUD, an additional $5.9 billion over the FY19 funding.

Senate Appropriations State of Play

Appropriators in the Senate have held off working on any of their bills so far. They are waiting while talks proceed on a budget deal to set overall spending levels.

On Tuesday, June 11, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and other Republican appropriators met with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. They discussed making a budget deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown or automatic spending cuts in October, and have agreed to proceed with bringing the President’s $4.5 billion southern border humanitarian aid package to the floor next week.

Congress Holds Hearing on Situation at the Border

Congress Holds Hearing on Situation at the Border

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 11, 2019

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing to examine the refugee crisis at U.S. – Mexico border. The key witness will be Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. During the hearing, McAleenan is expected to call for: increasing border militarization; stripping away the rights of children from Central America to seek asylum; making it more difficult for families to assert a claim to asylum; and dramatically expanding family detention.

This Administration has already taken unpresented steps to dismantle our asylum system, going as far as separating children from their parents with full knowledge of the harm this inflicts on children and families. Tragically, at least six children have died in federal custody in the past year due to lack of access to healthcare. It was recently revealed that 37 children were locked in vans for up to 39 hours in a parking lot of a detention center outside Port Isabel, Texas.  Further, the private prisons this Administration desperately seeks to expand to house immigrant families have come under continued criticism for their dangerous conditions. Just last week the Inspector General Department of Homeland Security found “egregious” health and safety violations at four major ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities.

None of this is surprising given immigration was President Trump’s signature issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. His racist attack on immigrants, symbolized by the call to “build the wall”, set the stage for the policies his Administration is currently pursuing.  The scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers will only increase as we head into the 2020 campaign.

Sacred scripture instructs people of faith about how we should treat migrants.  We are called to “release those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke.” (Isaiah 58) We must “Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:16-21) This is not a political issue for the faith community, it is a matter of justice.

Acting Secretary McAleenan, let us be clear:  NETWORK and our interfaith partners reject your false choice between chaos and compassion. It is wrong to use a humanitarian crisis to shred laws protecting vulnerable families seeking asylum. It is wrong to cage children and families in indefinite detention. It is wrong to strip protections for children that keep them safe and healthy.

These actions are cruel and unjust. We will continue to call for justice for our immigrant family.

Mending the Gaps Experienced by the LGBTQ+ Community

Mending the Gaps Experienced by the LGBTQ+ Community

Siena Ruggeri
June 7, 2019

NETWORK is proud to have supported the recent passage of the Equality Act in the House, and we urge the Senate to also pass this important legislation. While the Equality Act would extend critical anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ+ community in both the workplace and housing, many of NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps other issues have a direct impact on the LGBTQ+ community. As we work to mend the gaps in our nation, it is important to consider the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community and ways federal policies can reduce those challenges.

Paid family leave, for example, is a significant issue for LGBTQ+ families. Even in areas and workplaces that do offer paid leave, LGBTQ+ families face an extra hurdle to taking the necessary time they need to be with their families. According to a survey by the Human Rights Campaign, 27% of LGBTQ+ people of color and 16% of LGBTQ+ white people say they are afraid to request time off to care for a loved one because it might disclose their LGBTQ identity. 44% of LGBTQ+ people of color are afraid of losing their job if they took paid leave, compared to 37% of their white counterparts.

Paid family leave is already challenging to access for countless families. LGBTQ+ workers have to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation in order to access paid leave, putting them in a highly vulnerable spot. In our efforts to expand access to paid leave, we must intentionally include all types of families. This is why legislation like the FAMILY Act (H.R.1185) is so important to advance — this policy has a broad definition of family, allowing for all types of families, biological and chosen, to take equal advantage of paid leave.

LGBTQ+ people may also face barriers to healthcare because of discrimination against their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Just last week, the Trump administration proposed rolling back an Obama-era HHS rule called the Health Care Rights Law, which ensures healthcare providers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. The rollback of this rule will strip away the protections established by the ACA, which were critical for LGBTQ+ healthcare access.

According to a 2015 report by the Center for American Progress, 23.5% of transgender respondents and 10.3% of LGBT people of color avoided doctors’ offices in the past year due to fear of discrimination. Ensuring affordable, accessible healthcare is an LGBTQ+ issue, and we must consider the unique challenges the community faces as we advocate for greater access to quality, affordable health care.

LGBTQ+ issues also intersect with immigration. Those who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are three times more likely to be incarcerated. As a result, LGBTQ+ migrants are uniquely vulnerable to overpolicing, discrimination, and violence. There has also been an increase in violence towards undocumented LGBTQ+ people. According to the Center for American Progress, 6% of survivors of hate violence were LGBTQ in in 2014, compared to 17% in 2015. While immigrants already face discrimination, those who also identify as LGBTQ+ face even more danger.

The threat of deportation is also a life or death issue for countless LGBTQ+ migrants. 76 countries allow the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. This means many of our nation’s refugees seeking asylum are fleeing their home countries based on the threat of violence due to their LGBTQ+ identities. By denying asylum claims and deporting undocumented LGBTQ+ immigrants, our nation is putting their lives at risk. The Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants puts already vulnerable LGBTQ+ immigrants in dangerous, often life-threatening situations.

The experiences of the LGBTQ+ community intersect with each of NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps issues. This Pride Month, we continue to work toward federal policies that bring justice and equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.

House Dream and Promise Act Vote Approaches

House Dream and Promise Act Vote Approaches

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 4, 2019

Today, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. This legislation would provide permanent protections and offer a pathway to citizenship for more than two million immigrants who are Dreamers and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) or DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) holders.

We at NETWORK strongly support this legislation and encourage all members of the House to vote for the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). You can still call your Representative’s office and ask them to vote YES on H.R. 6 before the vote today by dialing 888-738-3058.

Read the vote recommendation that NETWORK sent to all House offices below :

NETWORK Calls on Congress to Immediately Pass the American Dream Act and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) to Provide a Pathway to Citizenship for Dreamers, TPS, and DED Recipients

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice educates, organizes, and lobbies for economic and social justice. We have a 46-year track record of lobbying for critical federal programs that support people at the margins of our society and prioritize the common good. Inspired by our founding Catholic Sisters and the leadership of the women who followed, we faithfully embody Gospel justice as we work for change. We are rooted in Catholic Social Justice and open to all who share our passion. NETWORK Lobby has over 100,000 members in every congressional district across the country.

Catholic Social Justice teaches that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and possess an equal and inalienable worth. Because of this essential dignity, each person has a right to what is necessary to reach their full potential as intended by God. NETWORK believes it is long past time for Congress to provide Dreamers, TPS, and DED holders with a pathway to citizenship. This has been a cornerstone goal of numerous legislative efforts to reform our broken, outdated immigration system. The American Dream Act and the Promise Act will create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS, and DED holders.

NETWORK strongly urges you to support and pass this legislation. Failing to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS and DED holders would mean that we fail to recognize their contributions to our society and their inalienable worth.  We also request all Members to oppose any changes to the bill on the floor including a Motion to Recommit.  Adoption of any amendment would risk final passage of this important bill.

Every day that a real solution is delayed, countless members of our community have to live in anxiety and fear, unsure if they will be allowed to stay in the country they call home. For far too long, our immigrant sisters and brothers have waited for Congress to pass legislation that affirms their dignity by providing them access to citizenship. Congress must pass the American Dream Act and Promise Act immediately.

Faces of Our Spirit-Filled Network: Leslye Colvin

Faces of Our Spirit-Filled Network: Leslye Colvin

Leslye Colvin
May 3, 2019

Tell us a little about yourself and the work you do.

Leslye Colvin with Sr. Simone Campbell at Good Shepherd Services during a 2013 Nuns on the Bus stop in Chamblee, GA.

I am a native and resident of Dothan, AL. In addition to serving on the Boards of NETWORK, I work as the communications coordinator for Gathering for Mission, a project of Catholic Committee of the South. Founded in the 1930s, CCS is a regional network of clergy and laity addressing issues of racial and social injustice. Inspired by Pope Francis, Gathering for Mission provides practicums in dialogue for dioceses across the United States.

How did you first learn about NETWORK and what inspired you to get involved?

After years of social justice ministry in my parish, I was aware of NETWORK when I began working in Justice and Peace Ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2011. It was during this period that I had my first opportunity to meet Sr. Simone Campbell and other women religious as part of NETWORK’s Nun on the Bus tour in 2013. More than a decade earlier, I completed JustFaith through which I gained the vocabulary to speak of what I consider to be the transcendent heart of the Gospel – the Church’s social justice tradition. It was apparent to me that NETWORK was upholding this tradition by acknowledging the dignity of those marginalized by society. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues did not share this perspective. The pushback that I received underscored the urgency of the organization’s work and strengthened my resolve to do more to support it.

What issue area are you most passionate about?

Our communities and our lives are diminished by the absence of those exiled to the margins; both are enriched by their presence and voices. Understanding that our nation was established on the flawed and exclusionary concept of white privilege, I am very passionate about the resulting systemic denial of dignity and justice. My experiences as an African-American woman lead me to be an ally for and in solidarity with other people of color, the economically disadvantaged, immigrants and refugees, religious minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community.

How are you engaging your community on important social justice issues?

When living in Atlanta, some of my friends rented a small house to begin the ministry of El Refugio, a house providing hospitality and lodging for those visiting men detained at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. El Refugio also coordinates visits with the men who are detained because of their immigration status.  After moving home to care for my mother, I realized that Lumpkin is now only an hour and a half drive as opposed to the two hours plus drive from Atlanta. I am sharing information on the ministry and recruiting volunteers while engaging them on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Journeying to a detention center and visiting a detained man are transformative experiences.

How has your advocacy for social justice shaped your view of the world?

My world view influences my advocacy. Universally, regardless of culture or faith, there is a desire for dignity. My view was enhanced when, as a graduate student, I resided in a dormitory where more than sixty percent of the residents were from other countries, and many were of other great faith traditions.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice? 

Faith and working for justice are deeply and strongly interwoven. As a Christian embracing the Incarnation, I pause in considering that Jesus lived as a marginalized and economically disadvantaged person in an occupied land. This compels me to question the standards of the society in which I live.

Who is your role model?

As a child – African-American and Catholic – in a majority Christian, yet racially segregated society, I knew early that my race and my faith tradition were obstacles for many. Sister Thea Bowman continues to inspire me to live as God’s child in a complex world.

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

“You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  – Micah 6:8

What social movement has inspired you?

I am inspired by the long struggle of resistance to the indignities born of the concept of white supremacy. I am mindful of the people of the First Nations, the Africans who resisted kidnapping, and those of various ethnic backgrounds who survived dehumanizing conditions while in a land that espoused “liberty and justice for all.” Although I was born in Alabama in 1958, I know that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was part of a much larger struggle for liberation and citizenship that continues today.

What was your biggest accomplishment as an activist in the past year?

I have had a few monumental accomplishments within the past nine months. The first was to collaborate with six other students from the Living School of the Center for Action and Contemplation to respond to our times by writing Barmen Today: A Contemporary Contemplative Declaration. As of this moment, we have 12,000 signatories including the Living School faculty – Rev. Richard Rohr, Dr. James Finley and Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault.

Another accomplishment was traveling to Rome for the book launch of The Catholic Women Speak Network’s Visions and Vocations to which I submitted “Life, Freedom and Dignity: Reflections of A Black American Catholic.” While in Rome, I had a 40-minute interview on the concept of race with Vatican Radio.

What are you looking forward to working on in the coming months?

I look forward to gathering with 40 other Living School students in a few months for an intensive program guided by Father Richard Rohr.

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

April 2019

The right and responsibility to participate in our government motivates NETWORK’s mission to educate, organize, and lobby for justice. We believe that every person is called to work to promote the common good through our political system. This sacred right must not be violated.

The influence of money in politics, gerrymandering, varied methods of voter suppression, felon disenfranchisement, and other anti-democracy tactics limit the impact of individuals’ participation on our policies. The variety of ways that voting rights and fair representation are undermined at the local, state, and federal levels makes it difficult to see the total effect on our democracy. As a result, our political reality moves further from a system of fair representation and elected officials who are accountable to their constituents.

Together with faith and secular partners, NETWORK is working to restore the influence of individuals in our representative democracy. Recently, the For the People Act (H.R. 1) passed in the House of Representatives, signifying a groundbreaking shift of power in favor of participation. While H.R. 1 has little chance of a vote in the Senate, its strong passage in the House and the building momentum around the country are clear indications of pro-democracy support. It may ultimately fall to the next Congress to take action, but H.R.1 is clearing a path to strengthen and protect our democracy.

Until then, NETWORK, along with our partners, will continue to oppose threats to participation and promote the right to vote, advocate, and have fair representation in our democracy.

 

Working for Fair Participation in the Public Sphere

By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network

The Gospel of Matthew tells us we cannot not serve God and money. After hearing God’s call to “rebuild My Church,” a young St. Francis famously renounced his wealthy merchant father and all his worldly possessions. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics,” we are reminded that that means everyone must have an equal say in the public square.

Following the Gospel example of Jesus and taking our cues from both St. Francis and Pope Francis, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) leads an interfaith coalition, “Faithful Democracy” working on the issue of money in politics. The coalition looks at this issue from both a faith and legislative perspective. It is imperative that we institute reforms in the areas of campaign finance, voting rights, and good governance for a fully functioning and representative government. FAN has called for those reforms since the Citizens United decision nearly a decade ago.

Now, there is a newfound energy on Capitol Hill for these good governance reforms. Join us as we bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth and implement vital reforms that are necessary to have a fully functioning and healthy democracy.

Patrick Carolan has been the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) since 2010. FAN is an advocacy voice for the entire Franciscan family in the United States representing over 50 different institutions nationwide. FAN is inspired by both the Gospel of Jesus, and by the example of Saints Francis and Clare, to transform U.S. public policy related to our core issues: peace making, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.

 

State-Level Barriers to Voting

By Colleen Ross, NETWORK Communications Coordinator

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our conception of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws are making it harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on voters of color and low-income voters who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics were implemented after 2013, when the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards. Up until this decision, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula set by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements for any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots that they wanted to implement. In Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the formula was no longer accurate, dissolving the preclearance requirement for areas it had previously applied to: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Since then, states have been able to freely implement restrictive voting requirements and 23 states have chosen to do so.  Now, these discriminatory laws must be challenged after the fact—essentially setting up an unjust competition to reinstate fair elections through expensive litigation. Meanwhile, the resulting election outcomes and disenfranchisement cannot be undone. Cases of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. While excessive money in politics and gerrymandering distort the results of elections across the country, it is important not to lose sight of the ways states prevent eligible citizens from even casting their vote.

 

Incarceration does not Negate Citizenship Rights

By Joan Neal, NETWORK Senior Fellow Government Relations and Strategy

In the United States, there is both an expectation and an assumption that every citizen has the right to vote. The Constitution fails to explicitly state that all citizens have the right to vote, but future amendments have made it very clear when the vote cannot be denied: on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay poll tax or any other taxes, and age (for anyone at least 18 years old). Yet, at the federal and state level, formerly incarcerated citizens are routinely denied their right to vote despite the fact that they have served their time and paid their debt to society. In fact, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that strips returning citizens of their right to vote.

As of 2016, The Sentencing Project found that more than 6 million formerly incarcerated people have been denied their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. This number has grown exponentially since the 1970s, largely due to the War on Drugs and the resulting increase in incarceration. Currently, approximately 2.5% of the total U.S. voting population – 1 of every 40 people – is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this policy of disenfranchisement; as of 2016, one in every 13 Black adults could not vote as the result of a felony conviction.

Clearly, the denial of the right to vote for so many citizens produces unequal representation in the political system. It effectively silences the voices of people who have not lost their citizenship but who are prevented from exercising their full range of rights. Research shows that the results of several close national and state elections would have been decidedly different if formerly incarcerated citizens had been allowed to vote. Voting restoration will not only give returning citizens a say in their own governance, but will help them to feel a connection to society again. For the millions of formerly incarcerated people living, working, and paying taxes in their communities, it will be a deterrent to recidivism, will restore their dignity as human beings, and, most importantly, will make our democracy more truly representative.

 

Resisting the Influence of Money in Politics to Restore Our Power

By Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause

Our democracy faces a crisis not seen since the 1970s. Some elected officials and states continue to suppress the votes and voices of Americans; self-interested politicians cherry-pick their voters; the Trump administration continues to undermine our Constitution and the rule of law; and special interests, big-monied lobbyists, and multi-national corporations have a megaphone in deciding policies that our government makes while our children and our communities often suffer the consequences of those rigged policies.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is the biggest, boldest democracy reform package introduced since the Watergate era. It would restore the rule of law, stop hyper-partisan gerrymandering, strengthen the right to vote for all citizens and empower the voices of all our nation’s people. It contains many bold reforms, such as: small-donor citizen-funded elections, disclosure of secret money in politics, and closing loopholes to prevent foreign money from being spent in U.S. elections.

Citizen-funded elections are an especially important part of H.R. 1 because they allow individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities, who may not always be connected to sources of money, to run for and win elected office. In my home state of Connecticut where I helped lead the successful fight for the Citizens’ Election Program, the program is making a difference in the types of policies that are debated and passed in the state legislature, and it is shifting power from lobbyists and big-money corporations back to the people.

Nearly all the reforms contained in H.R. 1 have been tested and proven at the state and/or local level, often with Common Cause state chapters leading those efforts. Last November, Common Cause supported more than two-dozen pro-democracy reform ballot initiatives, more than 90% of which passed in red, blue, and purple states and localities, often with strong bipartisan support. We detail those initiatives, including six successful state initiatives to reduce the influence of money in politics, in our “Democracy on the Ballot” report. Additionally, with the beginning of many states’ legislative sessions this year, we have already secured several key voting reform victories in 2019.

We, and all the incredible allies in the faith community and other organizations, must continue fighting to “hold power accountable” to make sure that the voices of all people, regardless of the size of their wallets, can be heard in our democracy.

Karen Hobert Flynn is the president of Common Cause, which since 1970, has been working to hold power accountable through lobbying, litigation, and grassroots organizing. Our non-partisan, pro-democracy work has helped pass hundreds of reforms at the federal, state, and local levels. We now have 30 state chapters and more than 1.2 million members around the country who are working to strengthen our democracy. Read the “Democracy on the Ballot” report at www.commoncause.org/resource/democracy-on-the-ballot

 

The Impact of Gerrymandering on Voters, Elections, and Lawmakers

By Celina Stewart, Director of Advocacy and Litigation, League of Women Voters

Gerrymandering comes in two forms—racial or partisan—and has been happening since before the Constitutional Convention of 1787; no party is innocent in using their political power to influence what they want. But what is gerrymandering? Where did it even come from?

In1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting bill, creating a new voting district designed to favor his party. In the end, the district was curvy and long—much like a salamander. So foreign was this shape that a Boston Gazettecartoonist added claws, wings, and fangs, naming it “The Gerry-Mander”. Just like that, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Since then, very little has changed. Legislators have simply found new and innovative ways to accomplish the task. Some of this “innovation” stems from the evolution of technology. For example, as the United States entered the Digital Age, the development of computers and their ability to store, sort, and hold an enormous amount of information allowed political parties to gerrymander faster and methodically. So, why does this matter? Because voting data can now be exploited, in a way like never before, to distort our democracy; and politicians can pick their voters instead of voters electing their politicians. It’s a game politicians win before it even starts, and voters are the pawns.

Many of the gerrymandered maps created in 2011 during the last redistricting cycle ensured that no matter who voted, the outcome was already determined. This was achieved, with mathematical precision, by either “packing” or “cracking” minority voters into various districts. Gerrymandering tactics employed in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina, coupled with the gutting of Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), created the perfect storm for rampant voter suppression across the country.

Fast forward to 2019 – We now have 20/20 vision of the impact rampant gerrymandering and the Shelbydecision have made: Lawmakers choose their electorate without any checks in place to stop, discourage, or limit the practice without court intervention. For more than two decades, voters have existed in a system that favors the powerful and well-connected, enabling self-serving politicians to game the political system in ways that undermine the very essence of the U.S. Constitution. In a system like this, voters simply are disempowered.

Principles of fair governance are not hard to understand or articulate. If we want our government to truly represent all the people, then all our votes must count, and that’s what makes gerrymandering so dangerous. It’s why we must all be determined to fight for redistricting reform and relentlessly defend our democracy’s promise of “one person, one vote.”

Celina Stewart joined the League of Women Voters as Director of Advocacy and Litigation in April 2018.The League of Women Voters of the United States encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.League m77embers in all 50 states and in more than 700 communities register new voters, host community forums and debates, and provide voters with election information they need.

 

Census: The Foundation for Fair Representation

By Sister Quincy Howard, OP, NETWORK Government Relations Specialist

For the more than a year, the NETWORK community has advocated and lobbied Congress for adequate funding to support an accurate 2020 Census count. The Census’s potential future impact on billions of dollars of federal funds allocated to local communities for infrastructure, schools, and other vital services is deeply concerning to us. The census is a crucial tool for maintaining our safety net programs and providing for the needs of communities. The decennial census count also lays the foundation for our democratic systems. Census data is used to apportion Congressional representatives; determine the votes of each state in the Electoral College; and draw state, local, and congressional districts. Therefore, failing to accurately count all persons in the United States would be enormously damaging for, and potentially undermine, our democracy.

The federal government is constitutionally obligated to count all persons in the United States, both citizens and non-citizens alike, in the decennial census. After the 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution established a democracy premised on the idea that all persons—no matter where they are from, regardless of whether they can vote—deserve equal representation in our government. This precept aligns with our own Catholic Social Justice principles which promote the dignity of every person and the right and responsibility to participate in politics and society. Ensuring a proper count of the nation’s population to apportion representatives requires an “actual enumeration” of the people. This “actual enumeration,” specified by the Constitution imposes a clear duty on the federal government: to count all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or not and whether they were born in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The Trump administration, however, is once again threatening to undermine the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 Censuscount by including a citizenship question. Under the current climate of fear, mandating such a question would have a chilling effect on response rates in immigrant communities. The ill-conceived addition of the question circumvents the Constitution’s requirement to obtain an accurate count of all persons living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The Census occurs only once every ten years, and there are no do-overs. These numbers could lock our nation into an unfair count and inaccurate representation for at least a decade and possibly longer. The repercussions of an unfair, inaccurate count are immense, so we must do whatever we can to ensure that every person counts in the 2020 Census.

To Repair Democracy

To Repair Democracy

Stacey Abrams
May 28, 2019

Within the corridors of government – from the highest levels of federal and state leadership to county and city municipal bodies – public servants and community advocates, carrying deeply-held motivations like faith, family, and service, fight relentlessly. Their mission: to ensure that decision-makers enact policies to enrich and protect the lives of those they govern. In my home state of Georgia, advocates continue to wage an impassioned battle for Medicaid expansion, which will cover more than 500,000 Georgians who need healthcare access. They demand a world-class public education from cradle to career to empower Georgia’s children regardless of zip code.  Refusing to accept economic insecurity as a given, they push for economic opportunity to reach every corner of our state’s 159 counties.

But dreams of expanded economic and social prosperity, of policy outcomes that truly lift up people, are built on a foundation of hearing every voice from the people, through free and fair elections in a thriving democracy. Yet, as the 2018 midterm elections proved, particularly in Georgia, from voter registration to ballot access to full confidence that votes cast are counted, our elections are in dire need of repair.

Fixing our broken democracy stands as a foundational prerequisite to progress. Our work to achieve healthcare access, education parity, social and economic justice and more, they each depend the fundamental obligation that undergirds them all—eradicating voter suppression and ensuring that our elections are fair fights.

After acknowledging the result of widespread election irregularities following my race for governor last year, I redoubled my commitment to voting rights and founded Fair Fight Action, calling on my fellow Georgians of all stripes to join me in pursuing a fair and equitable elections system that operates effectively, efficiently and equally.

In this pursuit, our strategy recognizes that the path to progress is both political and legal. Therefore, we filed a voting rights lawsuit in federal court that details how the seamless integration of incompetence and malfeasance through arcane or manipulated laws deprive citizens of their constitutional right to vote. Likewise, we have engaged in local efforts to thwart legislation that would deepen disenfranchisement, and we have participated in a national conversation about the restoration of the Voting Right Act. Our motives are simple: we cannot allow an immoral and unacceptable system of voter suppression to tarnish our elections, as we have unfortunately witnessed in full force after the Voting Rights Act was effectively neutered in 2013.

Voter suppression has ravaged voter registration, ballot access, and ballot counting processes alike. Attacks on third-party registration submissions and databases rife with errors and security concerns, the discriminatory ‘exact match’ policy blocking many registrations from voters of color, and wildly reckless voter roll purges (which once circumscribed the right to vote for a woman who had lived in the same house and voted at the same precinct continuously for over thirty years), serve as infamous examples of suppression executed by top elections officials in Georgia.

Ballot access has fared no better, with our most recent cycle producing myriad instances of absentee ballots that never arrived, regular voters forced to cast provisional ballots, unacceptably long lines, precinct closures, vulnerable or inadequate equipment, disparate treatment based on county lines, and ill-equipped elections staff. And ballot counting processes include absentee ballots never found, provisional ballots never accounted for, and insecure voting machines producing inaccurate, unverifiable tallies, all within districts surgically gerrymandered to drown out the voices of marginalized voters.

Make no mistake, while our fight has taken root in Georgia’s tarnished elections, our nation’s democracy is imperiled. While Georgia has uniquely linked together a dizzying array of voter suppression tactics, examples of voices silenced can be found across the country. Luckily, we can also hear the clarion call of faith from organizations like Nuns on the Bus, who have been warriors against discrimination and disenfranchisement for decades. From the movement in the 1960s that produced the Voting Rights Act, led by faith leaders like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Georgia churches that have directly joined our ongoing lawsuit as co-plaintiffs, voices of faith are indispensable to framing the moral imperative of free and fair elections that affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person and every voice in our democracy.

Faith undergirds my every step in this work. My parents, retired ministers and civil rights workers, instilled in me and my siblings a deep respect for the right to vote. As we continue to demand full, unfettered voting rights for citizens in Georgia, the cradle of the civil rights movement, I call on NETWORK and its members to join us in our call for the end to voter suppression wherever it may be found. Whether through supporting the Voting Rights Advancement Act in Congress, or advocating for ballot security on the local level, or holding every presidential candidate accountable for putting forth a plan to end this abominable practice, together we can finally establish an electoral system that operates under the consent of the governed, where policies of, by, and for the people, truly flourish. And, in the process, repair democracy itself.


After running for governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams joined Fair Fight Action in 2018. Fair Fight’s mission is to advocate for election reform and engage in voter education and turnout to secure the voting rights of Georgians. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, lobbies the state legislature for election reform and engages in targeted voter registration and other voter outreach programs and communications.

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

Renewing the Promise of ‘By the People, For the People’

Renewing the Promise of ‘By the People, For the People’

During our Nuns on the Bus trip in the fall of 2018, just before the Midterm elections, we heard many stories about efforts to limit access to our democracy:

  • For every Republican office that we lobbied (or attempted to lobby) we heard constituents’ stories about their representative’s refusal to meet with them. One Republican member’s district chief of staff even went so far to say that the problem was that her boss “was incredibly shy…he was an introvert.” As if that justified it when he met regularly with donors.
  • We heard of some state legislation that would require a street address in order to vote. However, on the Native American reservations there were no street addresses so Native American people would be “purged” from the voter rolls.
  • Gerrymandering was mentioned at many stops where the Congressional district maps were drawn to benefit the majority party. In fact, it was so bad in Pennsylvania that the court had stepped in and redrawn the state’s map for Congressional representation. This was the first election under the very new map, but even that was confusing to some of the voters we met, as their districts and their representatives were now different.

I ended the bus trip worried about our democracy and how it is being undermined. The political “game” of winning has taken precedence over the commitment to let every voice be heard.

This isn’t just a “Republican thing.” In Maryland, where Democrats are in the majority, districts were drawn to benefit Democrats and reduce the number of Republicans in Congress and the state legislature.

This bipartisan desire to win at the expense of democracy underscored for us why we need to heal our democracy if we are going to “Mend the Gaps” in our nation. For this reason, access to democracy is one of the key provisions in our policy agenda.

But this work is multilayered. We initially started by thinking that it was only about the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court undermined a few years ago in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holderdecision. But as we went deeper, we realized that if the census is flawed then the data from which districts are determined is also flawed. Article I Section 2 of the Constitution mandates that there be an “enumeration…every subsequent term of ten years.” This is a mandate to count everyone without regard for citizenship or even immigration status. The Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country.

Therefore, we are engaged in making sure that there is adequate funding for the 2020 Census count and that it is carried out in a way that encourages participation. We have been fighting against including a “citizenship question” to the census questionnaire or any other actions that would push people away from responding to the census.

Whether our work is about the census, efforts to restore the Voting Rights Act, or ending gerrymandering, we do this work because every voice matters in our democracy. This is the difference between the economy and government. In the capitalist economy there are those who are “winners” and those who are left out. But in a functioning democracy everyone needs to be afforded equal dignity and opportunity to be heard. It is this dignity of the individual that is at the heart of our work…and the heart of our faith.

Pope Francis says in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.’ That is why the Church set before the world the ideal of a ‘civilization of love’.” (Paragraph 231)

Let us labor in love in our society to ensure that everyone in our nation can fully participate in our democracy. This is the doorway to realizing the common good.

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

Rabbi Kimelman-Block: Mourning Children Who Died at U.S. Border

Mourning Children Who Died at U.S. Border

Rabbi Kimelman-Block
May 28, 2019

On Thursday, May 23, 2019, NETWORK joined faith partners in a prayer vigil for children who have died in the custody of Border Patrol. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block shared the following remarks: 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel recounted a story of when he was a little child in Europe, he was studying the book of Bereshit, Genesis with his teacher.  They began studying the story of Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac.  They read about God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his child. They read about the three day journey. They read about Abraham and Isaac carrying the wood to Mount Moriah, of Abramac tying Isaac to the altar, and grasping the knife in his hand.  Little Heschel, as a young boy, began to weep. The teacher reassured him – “No, child — please read the rest of the story — don’t you know? Isaac was spared! An angel comes and rescues him at the last moment!

Heschel responded.  “But the angel came at the very last second!”  What if the angel was delayed and had arrived too late?  That would have been the end of Isaac — and the story of the Jewish people would have ended there on that alter?!”

The teacher responded — “Young boy — don’t you know; an angel cannot be late!”

Heschel then instructed all of us “It may not be possible for an angel to be too late, but is all too possible for a human being, of flesh and blood, to be too late.”

We say this morning, with broken hearts and with tears in our eyes that we were too late.

We were too late for Carlos, 

We were too late for Wilmar, 

We were too late for Jakelin, 

We were too late for Felipe, 

We were too late for Juan.

And we were too late for Claudia Patricia Gómez González, who one year ago today was shot was shot in the head by a Border Patrol agent while seeking safety in the United States. 

May all of their memories be blessings — 

And may we be blessed to see this society finally declare “no more”  and act decisively to stop this cruelty.

Let us declare this morning that all of us, this entire society, must take responsibility for these children’s deaths.  In the words of the grown-up Rabbi Heschel “in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” 

Let us confess the fact, that despite our protests, despite our opposition, despite our support for immigrants, for these children — for Carlos, Wilmar, Jakelin, Felipe, Juan, Claudia — we failed and we were too late.

And let us also resolve that we will not be too late for the next children.

By demanding accountability to those in charge of detention facilities; 

By demanding accountability for ICE and CBP — and demanding that Congress rein them in – by demanding Congress defund hate;

By calling for the resignation of the government officials in charge of implementing immoral and cruel immigration policies.

Let us resolve, not in words or in tears, but in action that we will not be too late.


Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block is the Washington Director​of BEND THE ARC: Jewish Action.

Trump Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps

Trump Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps

Tralonne Shorter
May 24, 2019

In March, President Trump released his federal budget for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020). The budget proposed across-the-board spending cuts by at least 5 percent.

At NETWORK, we believe the budget is a faithful, moral document that should reflect our values as a country.  What’s not faithful is the President’s FY 2020 budget which proposes drastic cuts to non-defense discretionary spending by $2.7 trillion over 10 years (a 10% reduction from FY 2019), $8.6 billion to fund a superfluous Southern border wall, the elimination of dozens of social programs for working families, while also siphoning billions of dollars into defense programs through the Overseas Contingency Operations slush fund.

Historically, Congress rarely passes a president’s budget without any changes. However, because of sequestration caps imposed in 2011, without agreement by Congress to lift spending caps, steep cuts to discretionary funding will take effect.  The caps set in the Budget Control Act of 2011 would trump even the President’s proposed FY 2020 budget by imposing a 10 percent cut ($125 billion) across the board in 2020.

NETWORK urges Congress to reject the Trump administration’s abandoning of vital investments in affordable housing, healthcare, Medicaid, SNAP, and an accurate 2020 Census –instead calls on Congress to raise the budget caps and pass a faithful budget that invests in the common good.

A faithful budget would invest in healthcare and nutrition, housing, and a fair and accurate 2020 Census.

Here’s how President Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposal would impact the Common Good:

Irresponsible, Superfluous Spending to Secure the Southern Border  

  • $5.4 billion in border security technology, infrastructure, and equipment at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • $3.6 billion in new military construction resources at the Department of Defense
  • $478 million to hire and support 1,750 additional law enforcement officers and agents at Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • $2.7 billion in total funding for 54,000 average daily ICE immigration detention beds.
  • $4.5 billion of additional funding to cope with a surge of migrants at the U.S. southern border in a supplemental budget request to Congress.

Prioritizes Profits over the Health and Well-Being of the Common Good

  • Proposes more than $1.2 billion in net mandatory health savings
  • Repeals the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Expansion
  • Replaces ACA coverage with an inadequate block grant, while also imposing a per-capita cap on the rest of the federal Medicaid program.
  • Decentralizes the administration of Medicaid to the states by creating a new federal-state partnership

Inadequately Funds 2020 Census

  • The President’s FY 2020 budget request sets aside $12.2 billion for the Department of Commerce and provides a $6.1 billion budget for the Census Bureau — an increase of more than $2.3 billion from fiscal 2019 enacted levels.
  • The budget request is $900 million short of Secretary Ross’ previous estimate of $7.4 billion for decennial operations alone; despite the need to conduct field tests of the new IT systems the Census Bureau plans to implement in 2020.
  • Inadequate funding has contributed to the cancellation of two of the three end-to-end field tests originally planned and could threaten the accuracy, and ultimately increase the overall cost of the Census.
  • The Census Bureau now estimates the 2020 Census will cost $15.6 billion, $3 billion more than original estimates. including better efforts to collect despite a $1.2 billion in contingency funding

Citizenship Question
For the first time since 1950, the decennial Census would ask households whether their members were U.S. citizens. In response, 18 states have sued the Commerce Department to prevent the inclusion of this question, more than 160 mayors from both parties wrote Secretary Ross requesting removal of the question, and several former Census directors warned about the risks and costs associated with including a citizenship question.

Inadequately Supports Working Families in the Workplace

  • The Trump budget would offer a limited paid family leave proposal only targeted to families with newborn or newly adopted children.  The president’s budget excludes adult children caring for aging parents or parents caring for disabled children.
  • Further, the budget’s budget only funds 6-weeks of leave, which is inconsistent with the 12-weeks of guaranteed leave offered through the existing FMLA law.
  • The Trump budget provides a one-time, mandatory investment of $1 billion for a competitive fund aimed at supporting underserved populations and stimulating employer investments in child care for working families; placing the burden on states to sustain.

Housing Proposals Would Increase Poverty and Put Families on the Street

  • Overall, the administration proposes to cut HUD by an astounding $9.6 billion or 18% below 2019 enacted levels, imposing deep cuts to affordable housing and community development, as well as other essential programs that ensure basic living standards.
  • The President’s proposal would eliminate or deeply cut essential housing and community development programs like the national Housing Trust Fund, the HOME Investments Partnership program, and public housing capital repairs.
  • Additionally, the budget would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the HOME Investment Partnerships program, Choice Neighborhoods grants, the Section 4 Capacity Building program, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program.
  • There is no discussion of how eliminating CDBG would impact future disaster relief efforts, which heavily rely on CDBG-Disaster Recovery funds to address unmet housing and infrastructure needs.
  • The budget would increase rents and imposing work requirements on current and future tenants requiring tenants to pay 35 percent of their gross incomes, compared to 30 percent of their adjusted incomes previously, on their rents. The very poorest elderly and disabled families would also see their rents triple up to 30 percent of their gross incomes or $50, whichever is higher.
  • The budget would cut funding for tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA). The request provides $22.244 billion for TBRA. At this amount, the budget request does not provide enough funding to ensure that all contracts are fully renewed. As a result, NLIHC and others expect that this would result in the loss of thousands of vouchers.
  • The budget proposal would provide $12.021 billion to renew project-based rental assistance (PBRA) contracts, an increase of $274 million from the FY19 funding level. This will likely not be sufficient to renew all existing contracts.
  • Public housing takes a huge hit under the Trump budget proposal. The public housing capital fund, which received $2.775 billion in FY19, would be eliminated in FY19. The allocation for the operating fund would fall significantly, from $4.65 billion in FY19 to $2.86 billion, or 38 percent.
  • President Trump would fund homeless assistance programs at $2.599 billion, or $34 million less than 2019 enacted levels.
  • The budget provides $644 million to the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, a $34 million decrease from this year’s funding level.