Category Archives: Income

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Seeking Shelter from the Affordable Housing Disaster

Mary Cunningham
December 20, 2017

Three months ago I left the quiet Massachusetts neighborhood I grew up in to move Washington, D.C. One of my first impressions of the city as I walked around was how drastically the neighborhoods changed from block to block. In my own neighborhood in Northeast D.C., I was surprised to find that after walking only a few blocks I ran into a Starbucks, a Chipotle, and a Barnes and Noble. The residential area my house was in felt worlds away from the perfectly paved sidewalks and the gleaming new buildings I encountered on my walk. I thought to myself, this just doesn’t seem to fit.

I was also shocked to hear that D.C. has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. When I first arrived in D.C., the city seemed so robust that I never considered homelessness might be a major issue. And yet, as I ventured into more of D.C.’s neighborhoods, I began to see more and more people experiencing homelessness. I wondered, how can a city so rooted in public service have people living on the streets? Some may look at the gentrification sweeping through D.C. and many other cities as a way of moving the city forward. What they may not realize, however, is that it also leaves people behind.

Once every few months, the NETWORK staff participates in a Political Ministry Day: a chance to engage in service, immersion, and reflection together. Recently, we spent part of our day at The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, which provides legal assistance and “Know Your Rights” resources to anyone suffering from homelessness. During the afternoon, we heard from Patty Fugere, the Clinic’s Executive Director, who facilitated a panel with LaJuan and LaTreviette, two women who have experienced homelessness. After they shared their lived experiences, Patty talked about how difficult it is to find affordable housing in D.C. She said new housing units are constantly being built, but they are almost always out of range for low-income folks. As I listened to a mix of personal stories and harsh realities, I was astounded by the pervasiveness of the affordable housing crisis and its effects.

While it seems like there is an overwhelming amount of construction in D.C., the new apartments and homes are drastically out of the price range for low-income families. According to a study by Freddie Mac, between 2010 and 2016 the amount of affordable housing for low-income families in Washington D.C. dropped by 60%.[1] Without access to affordable housing, individuals become cost-burdened (spend more than 30% of income on housing), they are unable to build wealth, and they become increasingly susceptible to poverty. Another issue lies in who affordable housing is available for. “Affordable rental units” are units available for families making 50% of the average median income. In Washington D.C., 50% of the average median income for a family of four ranges from $55,000 to $88,000.[2] What does that mean for the drastic number of families making below $55,000? Where are they supposed to find housing? With their income level, how are they supposed to choose between housing, food, and everything else they need to provide for their family?

The lack of affordable housing in Washington, D.C. and across the country needs to be amongst the first issues addressed in order to adequately respond to the members of our community who are experiencing homelessness or are who are extremely cost-burdened. If we continue avoiding this issue, we are shirking our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers.



Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Mary Cunningham
December 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some ways to oppose to GOP tax plan:

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

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:

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.



[3]General Audience, April 29, 2015

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:

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.