Category Archives: Income

Finding Beauty in Difference

Finding Beauty in Difference

Caitlin Wright
November 3, 2017

Everything is so…white, I couldn’t help but think as I emerged from the 72nd Street Broadway metro station on the Upper West Side. Not only were the people strikingly white, but the buildings, the sidewalks, everything was gleamingly ivory. The streets of Brooklyn that I had grown accustomed to were far away, both in distance and memory, as I converged with the other white women of one of the wealthiest areas of Manhattan. Though I was not sporting Givenchy or Prada, it was odd to think that superficially, I had much more in common with these people than with residents of the other boroughs. Yet I felt the most uncomfortable I had since moving to Bedford-Stuyvescent, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, as a Jesuit Volunteer a month and a half prior. I pounded the pavement — my attempts to look like a native New Yorker typically consist of me walking quickly in a distinct direction — toward the Church of the Blessed Sacrament to see a talk with a Jesuit priest that others and I admire very much: Father James Martin.

In his talk, Father Martin spoke about his most recent publication, Building a Bridge, a monumental piece of literature for the Catholic Church. In Building a Bridge, Father Martin reflects on the essential bond the Church must nurture between members of the Catholic faith and the LGBT community. After the lecture, I could not stop thinking about the discussion surrounding the concept of “the other”. Jesus calls us toward the marginalized, toward the oppressed, and toward those in need. He calls us not toward ignorance, nor denial, nor pity for those who are different, but toward solidarity; toward true empathy that we are unified as children of God. Your neighbor, whoever he/she/they may be, is inextricably bound to you through God’s love. As Father Martin said that night, “There is no ‘other’ for Jesus. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. There is only us.”

In no way am I disregarding the essential recognition of those who are different from you or me, but we must see the beauty in these differences rather than allowing them to become divisive. It is far too easy to allow ourselves to see each person superficially, especially in this political climate. Even Jesuit juggernauts like Father Martin are facing massive backlash for efforts toward unification that are manipulated into cruelty and spite. Class consciousness only prevails in the greatest efforts toward understanding, when we ask a question and sincerely listen to the answer without malice. And it is only with this class consciousness that we can achieve a faith that does justice.

I thought about this as I exited the church back into the Upper East Side, questioning the judgements I had held about the diverse neighborhoods of the largest city in the world. On my train back to Brooklyn, I asked myself, had I been too self-righteous in thinking that I already knew it all? Was I inserting myself into a community with preconceived assumptions, allowing existence of the “other” to remain? When I arrived in Bed-Stuy, I promised myself that I would ask more of these questions, and challenge myself to see beyond. I am called to act with justice, not only as a Jesuit Volunteer, but as a child of God, and this call asks me to love and serve by being with others, side by side, in solidarity. Whether I am with my clients, my housemates, my neighbors, the people in my subway car, or even the Upper East Siders, the matter remains: there is no “us” and “them”. There is only us.

Caitlin Wright is a Jesuit Volunteer serving at Catholic Migration Services in Brooklyn. She is originally from Prior Lake, MN and graduated from Creighton University in May of 2017.

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Broadening Horizons: A Deeper Understanding of Poverty

Mary Cunningham
October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called to Defend the Rights of Workers

Called to Defend the Rights of Workers

By Joseph Geevarghese
From NETWORK’s Catholic Social Justice Reflection Guide

Every day, Charles Gladden wakes up and goes to work at the US Capitol. As a cook and cleaner at the Senate, Charles serves some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in our nation. But every night, Charles goes to sleep outside a metro station just a few blocks from the White House. Even though Charles worked full-time, he was homeless.

Charles is just one of millions of low-wage federal contract workers who earn so little that they cannot live in dignity. In fact, the U.S. Government is America’s leading low-wage job creator, using our tax dollars to fund more poverty jobs than Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined.

This means that we the people – as taxpayers and citizens – are complicit in creating an economy that keeps Charles and other workers struggling to survive. But it also means that we have the power to stand-up and transform a broken system.

Charles is already taking action alongside other low-wage federal contract workers. Over the past four years, thousands of these workers – supported by Sr. Simone and other faith leaders – walked off their jobs 20 times to help 20 million contract workers win higher wages, protection against wage theft and other labor abuses, and paid leave benefits through Presidential action.

However, these gains are now at risk of being lost. Like our Latino and Muslim brothers and sisters, the rights of workers are under attack.

Catholic social teaching calls us to stand in solidarity with workers to transform unjust political and economic systems that put people last. We are called to defend the right of workers who are organizing to create a better life for themselves and their families. We are called to safeguard the right of workers to enjoy the fruits of their labor. And, importantly, we are called to unite with workers like Charles to hold our elected officials accountable to end our government-sponsored low-wage economy.

Joseph Geevarghese is the Director of Good Jobs Nation, an organization of low-wage federal contractors organizing for living wages and union rights. Read more at: http://goodjobsnation.org.


View the full Catholic Social Justice Reflection guide here.

View the Lent Calendar to take action on healthcare here.

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

Voting to Mend the Gaps in Indianapolis

By Meg Olson
October 6, 2016

This past week, we traveled to Indianapolis and visited Southeast Community Services, an agency that provides GED preparation and job skills training. As Sister Simone spoke with 30 clients, we learned that there is a severe shortage of affordable housing in Indianapolis and that low wages are preventing parents and grandparents from adequately providing for their families. It was also clear many of the people sharing their stories didn’t feel like they should vote because they were poor or hadn’t graduated from high school, or because they felt like politics didn’t apply to them.

We showed two of our presidential candidate Side by Side videos, one that compared Clinton and Trump’s positions on affordable housing and one on living wages. Afterwards, Sister Simone asked, “So, what do you think?” Immediately, Thomasina raised her hand and said, “I’m going to vote! I wasn’t going to because I thought I was going to destroy something…but it’s important for my family! How do I vote?” Thomasina, who had just sold her car for $150 so she could buy her kids new school clothes, is going to vote for the first time in this election and add her voice to our democracy.

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

By Colleen Ross
October 5, 2016

Protecting and promoting the rights of workers is at the heart of Catholic Social Justice. The stories of people like Kathy whose “temporary” position does not provide insurance or paid sick days and Joan who shared the story of a nurse’s aide returning to work the day after experiencing a miscarriage show the need for continued advocacy on behalf of workers. Nationally, there are about 41 million workers who lack access to paid sick days, forcing them to choose between their health and a paycheck anytime they or a family member are sick. [1] This is both an exceptional and unjust state of affairs; every other developed nation requires access to paid sick leave for their workers. [2]

Members of Congress, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and President Obama have called for legislation to provide American workers with paid sick days for years. In a significant step last week, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that requires businesses doing work on federal contracts to allow their employees to earn up to seven paid sick days a year beginning January 1, 2017. This rule could affect up to 600,000 people nationwide, and sets a strong precedent for businesses to follow.

In a related move last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final revisions to the EEO-1 form that will be used to collect data to prevent pay discrimination in workplaces. Though we have made progress as a nation in decreasing wage discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnicity, pay gaps still exist. As Pope Francis said “Why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. This disparity is an absolute disgrace!” [3] NETWORK supports both the EEOC and the Labor Department in these steps towards realizing more just and equal conditions for all workers.


[1] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-sick-days.html

[2] https://thinkprogress.org/the-u-s-is-the-only-developed-country-without-paid-sick-days-obama-is-calling-for-that-to-change-21af09694174#.d55xrlwdn

[3]General Audience, April 29, 2015  https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150429_udienza-generale.html

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

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

By Lucas Allen
September 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

More resources:

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

https://networklobby.org/election2016/

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

Travel Log: Toledo Rally and Site Visit

Travel Log: Toledo Rally and Site Visit

Sister Margaret McGuirk, OP
July 16, 2016

Holy Toledo! Here we are in Ohio. This morning began at 10 AM at the International Park in Toledo and our focus was on Access to Citizenship.

1ToledoWe were blessed by some wonderful speakers:

    • Sister Geraldine Nowak began her opening prayer with: Do not tire of working for peace for all people.
    • Pamela McGarey of the Amalgamated Transit Union 697 is a Paratransit Worker who drives a bus for the disabled. She said that the theme that the City promotes is “You do better in Toledo.” She is grateful for the good job that she has with benefits but laments the fact that her benefits do not cover her family. In order to get health care for her family she would have to pay $700 which would mean working 60 hours instead of 40 hours She called for universal health care
    • Enedilia Cisneros is with Farmer Labors Organizing Cooperative (FLOC). When she first came to the United States and began working in the fields, they had no way of asking for their basic rights. But with the help of FLOC they now receive benefits and are working for a living wage. Enedilia continues to work in the fields despite the fact she is now in her 60s and she is proud that she has four children who are not forced to do the backbreaking work that she has done over the years.
    • Dr. Jonathan Ross spoke passionately of the need for single payer universal health care and the expansion of Medicare. He said that even he who is a medical doctor and has years of experience as a medical doctor finds the system of payment complex and confusing. There are 10,000 deaths a year because people are not covered by health insurance and this happens year, after year.
    • Doug Jambard Sweet is dedicated to a constitutional amendment to block big money in politics. He spoke with conviction and hope that this change can be a major factor in mending the gap.
    • Representative Marcy Kaptur, who has served the thirteenth district of Ohio for 34 years. Her voting record reflects her deep commitment to the policies that bridge the gap and re-weave the fabric of our nation and she is a true friend of NETWORK.

2-ToledoIn the afternoon, we were hosted by Baldemar Velasquez who is the president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). Baldemar is an internationally recognized leader in the farmworker and immigrants’ rights movements.

The most exciting part of our discussion was the witness of youth who are being trained as organizers and future leaders of the community. The teenagers told us about recent projects they have been involved in with guidance from their FLOC mentors—one involving changing school policies about sexual harassment and another about engaging law enforcement around the issue of racism.

It was encouraging to see that the next generation of leaders is carrying the baton and learning from Baldemar and other labor organizers who paved the way for them. These young people are learning early how to Mend the Gaps!

 

See also:
Reflection on Day Six: Choosing Positive Change
Slideshow: Toledo Rally
Slideshow: Farm Labor Organizing Committee
Reflection: Connecting with Other Sisters

Speaker Ryan Fails to Consider His Faith in His Policies

Speaker Ryan Fails to Consider His Faith in His Policies

By Molly Burton, NETWORK Intern
July 7, 2016

My name is Molly Burton and I’m very excited to say that I’m interning at NETWORK this summer. I’m a rising junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying peace studies, gender studies, and philosophy. My ultimate career goal is to become a human rights lawyer and work in policy against sex trafficking and sexual based violence against women, so I’m excited for NETWORK to teach me more about the lobbying side of policymaking. I’m originally from St. Louis, MO and went to Catholic grade school (Mary, Queen of Peace) and high school (Nerinx Hall).

That description doesn’t just describe me, however, it describes hundreds, even thousands of people whose Catholic backgrounds guided them into the policy world. One of these people is current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Though Speaker Ryan and I might share the same religion, I frequently (if not almost always) disagree with him. An example of this can be seen with Speaker Ryan’s recent release of his anti-poverty plan, “A Better Way to Fight Poverty.” House Republicans released this plan at the beginning of my third week at NETWORK and my third week on the Hill and it left me a little disappointed in how the House Republicans view poverty and those stuck in poverty. I have been grateful for the amount of pushback this plan is getting from critics both inside and outside of the Congress.

You’d think fighting poverty would be an issue that both parties would agree on, that we could put aside our differences and help those who need it the most. Well, it doesn’t seem to be that way at all. The 30 plus page document that Speaker Ryan released (that I couldn’t even get all the way through because it frustrated me too much) has an underlying message throughout that no one would be poor if they worked. For instance, the taskforce that “A Better Way” creates, “recommends that federal safety-net programs expect work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits. That’s the only way they can escape poverty.”

This idea bugged me just a little bit (a lot it bugged me a lot). It ignores the systemic nature of poverty and how truly difficult it is to escape it. It ignores how ingrained racism, sexism, and classism is in our society and how that constantly pushes people down. It ignores how society has ghetto-ized poverty and forced those who are perceived as different out towards impoverished, violent neighborhoods with poor education systems. Speaker Ryan’s poverty plan is not a better way to fight poverty; it is a better way to fight those in poverty.

His ideas aren’t going to make conditions better for anyone living in poverty. Honestly, the ideas that Speaker Ryan presented in his plan offended me and I’m sure anyone who has seen poverty first hand. In my opinion, Speaker Ryan misinterpreted what it means to help those in poverty by expecting from them to achieve what was handed on a silver platter to him and those surrounding him. His privilege makes him blind. Though I am incredibly privileged as well, I’d hope that the influences in my life, like my years of Catholic school and the Catholic Social Justice principles here at NETWORK, have given me a way to see those struggling with poverty without blindly demanding more work from a population that has been working as many shifts as possible at a minimum wage job and making still less than the federal poverty line. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Speaker Ryan’s right to his opinion and definitely acknowledge that he is way more informed about policy than I, an intern and not even a junior in college, am. Yet, I still ask Speaker Ryan to consider his Catholic faith and really ask himself if “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” really is a better way to fight poverty.

Read more from NETWORK about Speaker Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan here.

Blog: Predatory Lending, the Latest Target for the CFPB

Predatory Lending, the Latest Target for the CFPB

Alice Kitchen, NETWORK Board Member
June 8, 2016

“You have been providing payday loans to people who are mentally retarded and mentally ill. You have provided payday loans to people who are illiterate, who cannot read the very contract you have them agree to. This is wrong”. These were the words of a staff member of St. Vincent DePaul Society in Southeast Missouri.  She was part of the 50-60 people who gave personal testimony at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Hearing in Kansas City, Missouri on June 2nd.

This public rally and hearing has long been in the works. In 2012, activists throughout Missouri gathered signatures to put payday lending reform on the statewide ballot. Signatures were easy to come by as citizens throughout the state saw these payday lending storefronts everywhere but mostly in low income communities. Missouri legislators failed to pass laws to reduce the ceiling on interest rates for payday loans below 450%. Industry leaders and the Missouri Equal Credit Opportunity have amply contributed to state legislators, the Black Caucus, and the Urban Summit to the tune of over $2 million in the past 3 years.

Photo courtesy of Andrew King

Photo by Andrew Kling

Over 1,000 people joined the public rally. The highlight for me was seeing Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, alongside of the Rt Rev Martin “Bishop Marty” Field of West Missouri leading a long procession of faith leaders and social justice activists.

Bishop Johnson said to a local journalist “[predatory lending] is one of the most atrocious things that still exist in our society. It’s incredible that people can be exploited like this.”

The rally participants came from all over Missouri, parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Kansas City was selected for the hearing because some of the most egregious abuses have occurred here. As anticipated, two large charter buses pulled up in front of the Music Hall to deliver over a hundred payday loan workers from surrounding areas. The employees of these storefront payday loans made the pleas to oppose the proposed regulations. During the four hours of hearings many of them stated how their services helped people in desperate situations. Activists and faith based speakers prefaced their comments with their name with “and I am not paid to be here.” One woman working at a payday loan office made an emotional plea not to enforce the proposed regulations since she needed her job; she just purchased a home and has two daughters to support. How perverse is this?

The stories were painful to listen to as they told of loss of income to pay the rent, purchase medications, pay for transportation, feed their family and maintain their housing. Some told of their loss of their homes, the marriages, their cars were repossessed, and several committed suicide.

Predatory Lending Photo credit Andrew King2

Photo by Andrew Kling

Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould, of Missouri Faith Voices, spoke eloquently about the need for strong regulation to put an end to the predatory nature of these loans.  Predatory lending, she said is “a scourge on minority communities.” She advocated support for the federal consumer agency’s new proposed regulations, especially the call for a measure of underwriting before a loan is issued. “Basically, to get a payday loan, all you need is a checking account and to be breathing,” she said. This was a woman who had worked in banking for 17 years before going to divinity school.

I testified on behalf of a graduate student of mine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She struggled with her classes, not because she was not capable but because she had student loans and a payday loan to the amount of $80,000. She had no transportation and a fragile housing arrangement; she was the guardian for her grandfather and worked at a coffee cafe to get by. She couldn’t be at the hearing because she finally got a job. With her marginal income it will take many years in the prime of her life to pay off her spiraling debt.

The Consumer Financial Protection Board posted their proposed new rules online just before the hearing. Proposed regulations are “Aimed at cleaning up unfair, deceptive or abusive practices that harm consumers” said Richard Cordray, Director of the CFPB. Many have said that what is most needed is a cap on the ceiling for interest rates. The CFPB does not have the authority to do this, but many suggest the cap that is put on military payday loans which have a ceiling of 36%. The 90 day comment period opened at the hearing and once the proposed regulations are finalized they will go into effect most likely next year. These rules do not require Congressional approval.

You can comment on the proposed rules online at https://www.regulations.gov/ or by phone at 855-729-2372.

Blog: 10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

NETWORK Lobby
June 7, 2016

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice welcomes anyone, any time, to the conversation about how to make sure no one in the United States lives in poverty. But we strongly dispute the claim that this is a deeply complicated problem requiring a brand new agenda, such as the one likely to be presented by Speaker Paul Ryan in the coming days. The fact is Congress knows, and has always known, how to end poverty. It is simply not that difficult, in the richest country the world has ever known, to create an inclusive economy where everyone has the resources to live with dignity.

In fact, we could do much of it as early as tomorrow.

Toward that end, we offer Speaker Ryan, the driving force behind the Republican “anti-poverty” agenda, 10 things he could bring to the House Floor tomorrow that would actually work. This is not everything that has to be done to mend the gaps in the fabric of our society, but it’s a darn good start.

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — Even as the economic recovery has brought lower unemployment, too many people working full-time jobs (or even two or three of them) don’t make enough to get by. A study by the National Employment Law Project found that $15/hour was the lowest wage that would still allow a single worker to meet the basic cost of living just about everywhere in the United States. Speaker Ryan could help lift thousands of workers out of poverty by passing H.R. 3164, the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act introduced in Congress last year.
  2. Guarantee paid sick leave — 49% of workers in America still lack paid sick leave and are forced to choose between losing the salary they desperately need and jeopardizing their health and the health of those around them. After passing a comprehensive paid sick leave policy New York City found not only that it improved the health and financial security of workers, but also that unemployment dropped and businesses grew.The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932) was introduced in Congress more than a year ago. There’s no excuse not to pass this legislation today.
  3. Guarantee paid family leave — In addition to ensuring that everyone has the ability to take a sick day to care for themselves or their family, we must also guarantee paid leave for new parents and those who have to take extended time to care for a sick family member. Only 5% of workers in the lowest 25% wage category have access to paid family leave, compared to 22% of workers in the highest 10% wage category. The FAMILY Act (H.R. 1439), introduced in Congress last year, builds on successful legislation passed by cities and states around the country to create an insurance program that provides workers with the family leave they need.
  4. Expand and protect the Earned Income Tax Credit — The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of our most effective anti-poverty programs. It provides tax relief to low-income workers to ensure that no one who labors to earn a basic wage is taxed back into poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the EITC helped lift 6.2 million people out of poverty in 2013. But the current law overlooks too many workers in need, including those low income workers without children and workers under 25 or over 65. Speaker Ryan himself discussed his support for addressing these gaps when he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee, now he has the means and the opportunity to make those changes today.
  5. Expand childcare subsidies — The high cost of quality childcare takes a dramatic toll on low-income families across the country. A report from theEconomic Policy Institute found that in every state, quality childcare cost more than 30% of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. Access to high quality childcare allows parents to support their families and better prepares children to learn and grow into healthy adults. We shouldn’t ask people to choose between their kids and their paychecks — H.R. 4524, the Child CARE Act, is one way that Speaker Ryan could solve that problem.
  6. Ban the box — It’s no secret that admitting to having a criminal record is the kiss of death for job applicants. Conviction records are likely to reduce the prospect of a job offer or interview by almost 50%. There are currently 70 million people in America with arrest or conviction records, we are only just beginning to realize the massive economic implications of discriminating against the people who are reentering society and the workforce. Passing the Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470) would allow people seeking to reenter the workforce the opportunity to apply based on merit, without facing discrimination.
  7. Pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship — For the millions of people who live in the U.S. without documentation or with only temporary permission to work, finding stable employment can be nearly impossible. Many more immigrants are barred from accessing the social programs they need because of decades of anti-immigrant legislation. By allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows and fully participate in society, immigration reform would benefit individual families and our community; the CBO estimated that immigration reform would reduce our federal budget deficit by $200 billion over ten years. H.R. 13, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, had the votes to become law in 2014 and is a viable solution to fixing our broken immigration system. Speaker Ryan should work with his fellow members of Congress to pass real immigration reform now.
  8. Expand eligibility and opportunity for low-income housing units — There is a significant shortage of affordable housing units across the country. Bipartisan legislation in the Senate rumored to be introduced in the House of Representatives (The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act) would incentivize the building and preservation of almost 1.3 million homes. Speaker Ryan can move forward with his commitment to end poverty by developing a housing plan that focuses on ensuring that everyone has a home.
  9. Continue to make healthcare more affordable — The Affordable Care Act was a critical step toward making sure that all Americans can access the healthcare they need, but it stopped short of realizing the goal of universal healthcare. H.R.3241, the State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015, would allow states more flexibility and freedom to work toward universal healthcare. Speaker Ryan can move forward today to ensure that no one lives in the healthcare gap and take a powerful step toward alleviating the economic uncertainty and financial burden of families still left without health insurance.
  10. Reauthorize and improve the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act — The landmark legislation that helps feed children in schools across the country has been under attack by congressional Republicans. Congress has sought to cut the number of schools eligible to feed all of their students and increase the amount of time and effort schools must put into qualifying for the program. Beyond these initial changes that will kick thousands of students out of the program, Republicans in Congress want to replace the entire program with ‘block grants’ that will seriously jeopardize our ability to feed children in need. Congress has an opportunity to improve child nutrition programs to feed more children who are hungry. If Speaker Ryan wants to lead on poverty, he can start by leading his party away from policies that take food from children.

As NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus reminded Congressman Ryan in 2012, to implement programs that work to eliminate poverty, Congress must have the political will to raise reasonable revenue for these responsible programs. We can pay for these programs by closing tax loopholes and having the courage to fix our broken tax system. Right now, a loophole in tax law allows hedge fund managers to call a portion of their earnings a ‘capital gain’ instead of ‘income’ and that small difference costs the nation billions in tax revenue every year. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) is one such piece of legislation that promotes tax fairness in the United States.

Creative solutions to solving poverty are necessary, but we don’t need to look far to find the answers. What if — instead of giving the billionaires another break — we took that money and used it to expand Section 8, the federal program that helps low-income families find affordable housing? NETWORK Lobby judges all legislation by how it would affect people experiencing poverty. If Speaker Ryan is serious about this issue, we encourage him to use the same criteria.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore