Category Archives: Mend the Gap

Reflection: Paying Our Union Dues, Then Heading South

Reflection: Paying Our Union Dues, Then Heading South

Sister Michele Morek, OSU
October 12, 2018

This post originally appeared on the Global Sisters Report website.

The Nuns on the Bus canvass Las Vegas neighborhoods with members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Oct. 10. (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

 

Si, se puede! U-nion! U-nion! 2-2-6! 2-2-6! We vote, we win!

We got right into the spirit of the vigorous chants of the members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

After a long drive from California, we joined them Tuesday afternoon for a meeting with a large group in the union hall, listening to the issues they have with some of the casino owners. Most of the big casinos have come to an agreement with the workers on living wages and benefits, but there are still a few holdouts. The workers suspect it is not lack of funds that stands in the way — one owner just spent over $20 million on a daughter’s wedding. (One of the workers whispered into my ear that $2 million of it was for the cake!)

There are about 50,000 workers in the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which includes food service industry workers in the big casinos and hotels as well as people in housekeeping and other aspects of the industry. Of these, 54 percent are women and 55 percent are Latino. There are workers from 173 countries who speak 40 languages. That they can organize themselves at all under those circumstances is a minor miracle, and that they have managed to do it so effectively is a major miracle! They have some talented and dedicated leaders.

Members of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 rally Oct. 10 in Las Vegas to hear us talk about the tour and about our support of their work before we all left for canvassing. (Provided photo)

I talked to one leader, Rashauna, who had taken a three-month “political leave” to work at turning out the vote for a candidate known to be more friendly to unions; she and many more had sacrificed their $20-per-hour earnings for $12 with the assurance of continued employment at the end of their leave thanks to the union. Their enthusiasm, love and respect and support of each other was inspiring to all of us.

It had been a long and exhausting day, so we were glad to see our rooms at the end of the second day: rooms at one of the less expensive casinos on the old Las Vegas Strip. There are no motherhouses or big convents in Las Vegas, and the casinos like to lure customers in with inexpensive rooms and food!

As tired as we were, there were some who ventured out to see the bright lights, and one sister even found a zip line to try. In spite of a few bleary eyes, we were at the union hall bright and early the next morning for our adventure in canvassing.

Sr. Michele Morek, OSU, left, and Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, show off their red shirts from the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 for canvassing Las Vegas neighborhoods (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

We helped prepare packets and distributed ourselves among the groups going out to canvass the neighborhoods to push their candidates for the 2018 midterm elections and urge everyone to get out the vote. First, the leaders outfitted us with red shirts and hats and assigned us to teams. That was after a few more rousing choruses of “Si, se puede!” and “U-nion! 2-2-6!” and “We vote, we win!”

After we returned to the union hall and the workers signed the bus, we left Nevada, eating lunch on the bus, not for the first time. What gorgeous desert and mountain scenery! We enjoyed seeing Lake Mead and going across the Hoover Dam into Arizona; when we saw our first saguaro cactus and Joshua trees, we knew we were ready for our next adventure in Phoenix.

We are educating ourselves by site visits and talking with people; that’s part of the listening mission of Nuns on the Bus. But we are also determined to educate people about what the tax policy really means for real people and to encourage them to use tax policy as one of the most important norms of who should get their vote.

Each day, we begin with half an hour of prayer together: once in a motherhouse chapel, once in an unused convent chapel, once in a convent community room, and once in Sr. Simone Campbell’s hotel room at the casino. That and a cup of coffee gets us going.

One of the best tools of the bus is the town hall developed by Network staff as an educational illustration, an effective graphic description of the effects of tax inequity. Without giving away the plot, let me just describe it as a human bar graph that introduces the audience to a real character NETWORK has encountered in the process of listening to people all over the United States.

The exercise dramatically illustrates how much that person benefited (or not!) from past and current tax policies. If you figure in other events likely to result from the tax changes, the lower economic quartiles of people even go backward.

Of course, the talented Nuns on the Bus take the parts of the characters. Doing the actions the exercise called for made me feel in my bones and muscles the desperation and despair of people in the middle and lower quartiles. The take-home lesson is (and you have heard this before): The lower economic groups suffer while the upper ones benefit.

A new insight I gained from the exercise is an understanding of why the richer people often cannot even see the suffering of the less privileged. They just do not move in the same circles — they are so far away from the other’s reality. It may also explain why some feel isolated, lonely, angry, and threatened by any discussion of tax justice.

Members of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 sign the bus after an Oct. 10 canvassing session in Las Vegas (Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice / Colleen Ross)

When we finish tonight, Thursday, we will have done this in three parishes or churches, each with its own personality and challenges. The discussion after the activity has been lively as the audiences discussed how the tax changes would likely affect their area or city or state and what they could be doing about it. Some great ideas have been suggested! The people have the answers. NETWORK then collects their input and uses it in later educational activities.

In legislative visits, we generally try to meet with a congressperson (usually one we know voted for the tax bill and does not agree with us!) to explain our position. We are meeting with them to hold them accountable for what their votes are doing to their constituents.

The first had to postpone the meeting with us but promised to meet with constituents on this topic later. We are heading for a meeting with office staff of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona as I write this on the road to Tucson.

More later!

Travel Log: Tucson

Travel Log: Tucson

Sister Michele Morek, OSU
October 11, 2018

The Nuns on the Bus visited Tucson! Local advocates for justice were successful in securing a lobby visit in the district office of Representative Martha McSally (AZ-02), so four of our Nuns on the Bus joined two constituents, Christine Krikliwy of Vincent de Paul and Jeanette Arnquist, a local justice-seeker, at the visit, while Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Sister Mary Ellen Lacy, DC, Sister Dusty Farnan, OP, and Sister Chris Machado, SSS, attended from the bus. There was a large police presence at first: four cars, due to intense protests the week before.

The Sisters returning from the visit did not look too happy; indeed, one looked a little “steamy.” CJ Karamargin, Representative McSally’s District Director, was not very receptive to their input or ideas. He said the Representative thinks the economic benefits that will come with the bill will help businesses hire more people, who are hoping for more construction.  Thus far, Representative McSally has not looked at the Affordable Care Act or possible healthcare solutions, but she voted against provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps.

Local people I met at the bus-side rally and the evening Town Hall told me that Representative McSally does not like to talk with local constituents, and usually refuses to see them.

Christine, one of Rep. McSally’s constituents, talked about the level of poverty among Arizona children (24%, higher than national average): Arizona is #45 of 50 overall in the level of poverty. Next, fellow constituent Jeanette talked about the local area’s interests and programs , such as AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System).

The crowd of about 75 was very receptive, consisting as it did of a large number of justice-seekers. The AFL-CIO was there with a big banner, and they brought us a cooler of drinks; in return, we left them with a box of Connection magazines and Nuns on the Bus signs, which they requested and said they would put to good use at their own events.

For our evening Town Hall for Justice at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church, the crowd was large, noisy, enthusiastic, indignant about “the way things are,” and very welcoming! There was a friendly, comfortable spirit, with popcorn, drinks and snacks for the attendees.  Fr. Bill and the “Raging Grannies” warmed them up very effectively.  I believe it was our most enthusiastic Town Hall, and certainly the most fun.

The attendees loved the exercise we used to demonstrate the impacts of the Republican Tax Law and encouraged us to get the information out there in a form they could share, so attendees could convert their families and teach their children and co-workers.  Put it on YouTube , they said! There were some common themes that had arisen the previous night: win trust/make friends, and concern over voter suppression.

I met a woman who had dragged her Republican husband to the event, and she said he was absolutely converted by the end, saying, “I just didn’t REALIZE.”  People were offering generous donations to the Nuns on the Bus; we later learned that the sum we collected that night was the largest yet.  What fun!

Travel Log: Phoenix Day 2

Travel Log: Phoenix Day 2

Sister Bernadine Karge, OP
October 11, 2018

A beautiful Phoenix day dawned with cool temps and blue sky.

We headed to the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, AZ, where we were welcomed by Rick Mitchell, the Executive Director of the Homeless ID Project. This campus is an amazing project of cooperation and collaboration between private and state agencies working together to serve those experiencing homelessness in the area. The goal of this client-centric program is to end homelessness.

Over the past decades, 13 agencies that provided individual services to persons experiencing homelessness in overtaxed rundown warehouses in a neighborhood called “the zone,” have created a mall-like campus to deliver comprehensive services to thousands of persons in Phoenix each year.

With a central admission center where they offer coordinated services, including obtaining identification documents and a campus ID for services, individuals can begin their new start in life.

Among the collaborative services available are: assistance reunifying with family members and providing shelter until permanent housing can be obtained. The St. Joseph the Worker program assists individuals with computer access to apply for jobs online.  The program director stated that  today there are 38,000 jobs available in the county: 50% of them would be jobs that their program participants could fill. The quote on the wall of St. Joseph the Worker expresses the mission well:

No one can go back and make a brand new start.  Anyone can start from now and make a brand new beginning.

The array of medical services was most impressive including a walk-in clinic, a 24 hour clinic, and an array of dental services with new equipment. The latter provides a rotation for dental students to learn the latest techniques and equipment.

The State of Arizona has offices on the Campus which enables persons to apply for state benefits and  services. The vision of the founders of the Human Services Campus was to have a mall-type setting with services available within a manageable distance for those seeking them. In October 2017, Maricopa County transferred ownership of the Campus to the Human Services, Inc.

All of us Nuns on the Bus were truly enthusiastic about this model of service delivery with its blend of public and private funding to serve the common good.  It made me think of the Four H club: health, housing, humanity and HOPE.

The usual Nuns on the Bus rally followed our visit.  A few dozen folks joined us and Amy Schabenlender, Executive Director of the Human Services Campus, welcomed us and thanked us for visiting. This model of service delivery was praised by Sister Simone as a magnificent example of collaboration and the use of reasonable revenue for responsible programs.  Sister Julie Fertsch, SSJ, expressed our gratitude for the opportunity to see how each segment of the operation did their part extremely well. She shared Bishop Ken Untener’s reflection on St. Oscar Romero: ”We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well.”

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
October 10, 2018

We started our second day in Vegas after a late night of heavy drinking and gambling (I’m joking, of course).  We were warmly greeted by the Culinary Workers Union 226 at their headquarters, joining a large room crowded with culinary workers diligently prepping canvassing materials.  Their morning briefing before heading out was raucous and full of energy—a great primer for a quick rally with the nuns to follow.  Sister Bernadine Karge, OP and Sister Simone were joined by two female union members to address a crowd of 150 or so unionized workers.  They spoke powerfully about human dignity, the need to respect workers, especially women (54% of their union members are female) and the importance of communal action and unity to bring about change.  The idea of solidarity and shared responsibility is especially crucial for a union that consists of 50,000 members from 173 countries that speak 40 languages.

Since over half (55%) of Union 226 members are Latinx, Sister Chris Machado, SSS and I had the opportunity to canvass with two Spanish-speaking women from Mexico and Cuba.  Most of the union workers had taken a political leave of absence—one of the contract provisions won through years of hard-fought negotiations.  Maria and Martha were both proud to take a leave—along with a pay cut—in order to put in their share of hours canvassing.  They want to promote candidates who will, in-turn, support workers’ rights and strengthened collective bargaining.

During their familiar routine going door-to-door, they explained that the names and addresses were of residents who did not, or rarely, voted in past elections.  As non-partisan participants, for myself and my fellow Nuns on the Bus, our primary push was to stress the importance of voting on November the 6th—that their vote and who we elect makes a difference. Most knocks had no response, so we left the materials at the door and Maria and Martha would return to follow-up.  Each time Maria saw that a resident was a registered Republican she would make the Sign of the Cross before approaching the door—but she did it anyway.  Needless to say, they are sometimes turned away with harsh words, but these workers are a persevering bunch.  They are driven for the sake of their families and inspired by their fellow union members who they consider their sisters and brothers.

 

To view more photos of the canvassing event, visit our Flickr album.

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Siena Ruggeri
October 2, 2018

In September 2018, the state of Arkansas revoked coverage for more than 4,300 Medicaid users. The state recently implemented a stringent work requirement on Medicaid recipients under the Arkansas Works program, stipulating that they must perform 80 hours of work, service, job training, or education a month. The state unceremoniously dropped recipients who did not properly log their hours into an online portal for three months. These dropped Medicaid users have no possibility of reapplying for the entirety of 2018.

This news came as a shock to the many low-income Arkansans who previously qualified for Medicaid. Due to the low profile implementation of the program, many were not aware of the new requirements. Some will not even realize they have lost their healthcare coverage until they go to the doctor or try to fill a prescription.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Across the country, the Trump administration and its allies are encouraging burdensome work requirements for programs like Medicaid and SNAP (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). Indiana, New Hampshire, and Kentucky already received federal approval to implement their own Medicaid work requirements, while at least nine other states are considering them.

Even if Medicaid recipients in Arkansas are aware of the recent changes, they might not be able to access the Arkansas Works website to log their hours. According to the Federal Elections Commission, about a fourth of Arkansas’s population lives in areas without Internet service. The online portal has also been fraught with problems, preventing many from logging their work hours. Curiously, the website is down for 10 hours every night for maintenance, leaving it out of commission for 70 hours a week. These barriers make compliance difficult for a population already stretched thin.

It’s not as if Medicaid recipients aren’t working. At best, only 15% of enrollees not exempt from existing work requirements are not employed (Urban Institute); the vast majority are already working. The reason they are utilizing Medicaid is not due a lack of work—it is due to the deep poverty they are experiencing. Recipients do not have access to quality jobs that pay a living wage and provide health benefits.

Let’s not be mistaken—programs like Medicaid already have strict work requirements. These additional work requirements are an attempt to burden vulnerable populations with administrative barriers to affordable, quality healthcare. By dropping more than four thousand people from Medicaid coverage, the state of Arkansas stands to save 30 million a year. States like Arkansas that choose to implement these cumbersome some work requirements are choosing savings over care for their people.

Burdensome work requirements don’t address the realities of the low-income populations Medicaid serves. Work requirements don’t create stable jobs that pay a living wage, nor do they do anything to alleviate the racial income gap. Black Arkansans are twice as likely to live below poverty level than their white counterparts. These work requirements are complex in nature—they are designed to quietly dismantle social safety nets while stigmatizing low-income people as the problem. If Arkansas is serious about getting its residents off Medicaid, it needs to address economic inequality and reinvest in the working class.

The data from Arkansas gives us a look at the true human cost of burdensome work requirements. As other states roll out similar programs, thousands of people will unknowingly lose their coverage. There is no human benefit to burdensome work requirements. They only serve to harm people who utilize programs like Medicaid and SNAP to survive. NETWORK opposes implementing work requirements on our most effective human needs programs, and urges lawmakers to craft these programs to uphold human dignity, not diminish it.

Walking and Praying for an End to Immigrant Detention

Walking and Praying for an End to Immigrant Detention

Vince Herberholt
September 13, 2018

St. Joseph Parish in Seattle embarked on a journey almost a year ago that recently resulted in a prayer pilgrimage and Mass at the GEO run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Washington – a destination 30 minutes away by bus and light years away from where we come from as a faith community.

St. Joseph is a wealthy Jesuit parish in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  The houses that surround the parish sell for millions of dollars.  Very few of our members would be considered poor or marginalized and almost no one would be considered “illegal” or more correctly undocumented.  And yet a year ago, our parish, known for its commitment to social justice,  started a journey of education and  solidarity with  the immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker and those detained in Immigration Prison.

After some preliminary research and assessment, we discerned that the greatest need, our interest and gifts as a faith community lie with public witness and advocacy.  So beginning in March 2018 we published a Parish Letter, “A Church of Accompaniment,” that serves as our Mission Statement.  From there we organized 2 community forums on Immigration and detention attended by over 300 people.  In the second forum we were joined by our Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, our representative who is a staunch advocate for immigrant justice.

Now with growing parish support, we began planning with our Jesuit Sister Parish, St. Leo the Great, for a pilgrimage and Mass at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.  On August 25th we gathered at St. Leo’s and began our prayerful 1.6 mile walk to the detention center in a bleak industrial area near the Port of Tacoma.  We were surprised and pleased that over 500 faithful people joined us.

The Mass was co-presided by our two pastors, Frs. John Whitney SJ and Matt Holland SJ, and the homily was delivered by Fr. Scott Santarosa SJ, the provincial of the Jesuit West Province.  His words exhorted us to “bridge all divides, and foster understanding among diverse peoples and cultures, and make people feel in the most real way at home.”

At the conclusion of the Mass we blessed the detainees and their captors.  It was a hopeful day that renewed our energy for the continuing journey and cemented our relationship with immigrants and refugees.

To learn more about St. Joseph Parish, visit their website here

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

Laura Peralta-Schulte
March 7, 2018

2017 was a tumultuous year for our nation. Following the election of President Trump and with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, advocates were fearful of what lay ahead for women, people of color, immigrants, and other communities that had been the target of then-candidate Trump’s consistent attacks on the campaign trail.

President Trump began his Inaugural Address talking about “American carnage”, building walls, and making “America first.” The next day, millions of people marched in Washington and around the world to show their opposition to President Trump’s agenda. Sister Simone Campbell addressed the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. asking people of faith to actively engage in the political debate on behalf of the common good. With that historic mobilization, we began the political action of 2017.

Administrative Attacks on our Mend the Gap Agenda

Two areas of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap agenda were under constant attack in 2017:  healthcare and immigration. On both issues, the Trump Administration used all legal means at their disposal to undo the progress of the Obama Administration. For healthcare, the Administration moved immediately to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by changing regulations under the guise of “flexibility” to limit the program. Later in the year, the Administration refused to advertise and engage in ACA enrollment activities, which was an act of sabotage.

On immigration, including in the area of refugee resettlement, the Administration attempted to fundamentally restructure longstanding programs. This began with issuing multiple Muslim travel bans – which were, until recently, stopped by Court challenges – then concluded the year by announcing a historic cut to the number of refugees the U.S. will settle. The Trump Administration also callously rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program created by President Obama that has protected Dreamers from deportation and allowed them legal work authorization since 2012. The Administration is currently working to remove Temporary Protected Status for large communities of immigrants including those from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Legislative Attacks on Mend the Gap Issues

One of the first and most sustained threats to our agenda came as Republicans in Congress launched their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican members of Congress have campaigned on repealing the ACA since its passage, so it was no surprise when the House moved to repeal the program. Congress also moved to unravel our broader healthcare system by attempting to fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program into a block grant. This proposal would devastate Medicaid and risk the health of millions of Americans who depend on the program.

What was surprising – and inspiring – was that these efforts failed due to the hard work of a diverse coalition of advocates and the engagement of many people all around the country who responded to the attack with determination. The Republicans had planned to repeal the ACA quickly at the beginning of the Congressional session, but ended up fighting to make changes through the spring and summer until they finally failed in July. Network chaired the national faith healthcare table and played an important role in defeating the effort.

Harmful immigration bills became part of the Republican legislative agenda during the first days of the new Congress. Republicans moved swiftly to increase funding for deportations, detention, and border security as well as pass new legislation to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding. Early on, Democrats united and refused to support a bill that included significant funding to build a border wall. This was an early win for our community, and it became apparent that Republicans would have trouble implementing their agenda because of Senate rules (requiring 60 votes to pass legislation) when operating under regular process. That is why the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 51 votes) has been used to try to pass partisan healthcare and tax legislation.

Crisis set in as the Administration rescinded the DACA program in September. Over 800,000 Dreamers who had signed up for protections and who are fully integrated in American communities, schools, and workplaces face the threat of deportation if Congress does not pass legislation that provides protection. Congress failed to pass this critical legislation in 2017 and it remains a key part of NETWORK’s agenda for 2018.

End of the Year: Tax Cuts or Bust

Because of advocates’ success in blocking major portions of the Republican agenda during the first half of the year, when Congress returned after the August recess, the pressure was on Republicans to deliver a win before the end of the year. They moved quickly to a popular issue for the party: tax cuts. Congressional Republicans worked feverishly for the rest of the year to pass a partisan tax bill that gives significant tax cuts to wealthy people and corporations at a loss of $1.5 trillion dollars for our nation. While there were obstacles to passing the bill, in the end Republicans rallied around the tax bill written by and for lobbyists and their rich donors, marketing it as a middle class tax bill that will spur economic growth and raise wages. Unlike earlier debates, there was little Republican opposition to the tax bill and it moved forward at lightning speed. The bill did not receive any Democratic support.

This was a significant loss for NETWORK for two reasons. First, as part of the tax bill, Republicans achieve a year-long goal of destabilizing the Affordable Care Act by including a repeal of the individual mandate. Experts show that this will increase premiums and potentially lead to 13 million people losing healthcare in the near future. Second, the significant loss of national revenue sets the table for Republican leadership to talk about the need to cut the social safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition programs next year. Already, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have indicated that Congress will push for “Welfare Reform” next year.

An Uninspiring Federal Budget Process

Congress did not pass a full federal budget for 2018, deciding instead to put all of their political energy into passing tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Congress adjourned on December 21 after passing a short-term bill to fund the government at current levels through January 19. This sets the stage for further budget action as well as discussions on funding for 2019.

Harmful Neglect of the Common Good

Congress’s single-minded focus on partisan priorities continually got in the way of bipartisan legislation that would have advanced the common good. For much of 2017, NETWORK and partners urged Congress to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) well before the October 1 deadline. For 20 years, CHIP has been a popular, bipartisan program that brought the rate of uninsured children to the lowest level in our history. Congress failed to renew CHIP funding and only passed a temporary funding for the program until March of 2018 when they will try again to achieve bipartisan consensus.

Overall, there are three important lessons we have learned in the past year. First, Republicans are deeply divided on core Mend the Gap issues like healthcare and immigration; it is possible in certain instances to build bipartisan support to block bad bills and, over time, potentially to develop bipartisan legislation to solve problems. Second, in order to be successful, advocates must organize and engage in Washington and, perhaps more importantly, at home. Third, President Trump and Republicans in Washington are fearful of political losses in 2018 and will prioritize “winning” the political fight and the next election over the common good. As we work to resist against unjust policies and to promote the common good, we continue to find our power in diversity and community.

Read NETWORK’s 2017 Voting Record here.

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

Representative Crowley on Surprises, Challenges, and the Road Ahead

February 27, 2018

Congressman Joseph Crowley represents New York’s 14 congressional district and is Chair of the House Democratic Conference. This year, Congressman Crowley received a 100% on NETWORK’s voting record for the sixth year in a row. (View the 2017 voting record.) His six-year record is the longest out of anyone currently serving in Congress. NETWORK spoke to Representative Crowley to learn about how his Catholic faith and his lived experiences inform his political decisions.

How does your faith inspire your work in Congress?
I was raised to live by the Golden Rule: ‘Do to others as you would like them to do to you.’ This has guided me in life and inspired my work in Congress. It is simple: we need to treat others with the same compassion and empathy with which we all want to be treated, and put forward just and fair-minded policies that ensure opportunity for all. This means doing the right thing and working hard to ensure that my constituents from Queens, the Bronx, and all Americans can enjoy the brighter future they and their families deserve.

What is the proudest vote you have cast this year?
I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. That’s why I voted against the so-called “American Health Care Act,” which would have stripped access to quality health care for millions, and punished children, seniors, and those with pre-existing conditions. I am very proud to defend the right of Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care, but also know we must do even more to make sure health care is available to all.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced this year?
A big challenge has been President Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees, including his heartless decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has upended the lives of nearly one million talented DREAMers who contribute to their communities and the American economy. These young people have all the qualities our nation was built upon and should be welcomed here.

What about this past year has surprised you the most, politically?
I’ve been appalled by the completely inadequate response to the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. President Trump and congressional Republicans have treated the victims of these natural disasters like second-class citizens, when they are as American as you and I. I visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria and witnessed the extensive devastation there. We need to do more to ensure that everyone living there has the resources needed to rebuild and recover, and I’ve promised our fellow Americans there that the federal government commitment to them will continue for years and decades.

What policy area will you focus most on in 2018?
There are too many important policies to pick just one. But an issue I’m especially passionate about is ensuring that hard-working Americans have access to affordable housing. Housing is one of the most basic human needs and the lack of affordable housing is a crushing burden for many families in Queens and the Bronx and across the U.S. This year, I introduced the Rent Relief Act – legislation to help those struggling to balance the high costs of rent with the needs of their families. It would put money back in the pockets of renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income each month on housing. This is an extraordinary way for us to build the middle class and secure the financial stability of working men and women.

When times seem difficult, what keeps you motivated to continue working for the common good in Congress? 
My constituents in Queens and the Bronx. Meeting with them and hearing directly about their passions, dreams, and hope are always motivating and inspiring. Despite all the challenges we face, I’ll continue to defend our values and provide good solutions for my constituents and all Americans.

How have you seen policies you’ve promoted in the past positively affect your constituents and our nation?
Legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has positively improved the quality of life of my constituents and of millions of people across the nation. The ACA has expanded coverage, reduced costs, and improved our health care system. We need to continue protecting this accomplishment and come together to improve health care so every American has access to affordable and quality care.

You voted with NETWORK 100% of the time for the past six years, which is the longest record for any current members of Congress. How does it feel?
Extremely honored. From protecting and improving our health care system to creating economic opportunity – my positions on our nation’s most pressing issues are always guided by the common good. I’m proud to be an ally of NETWORK in working toward economic and social transformation in our communities.

Do you have any advice for advocates inspired by their faith to engage in politics?
Turn your faith into action and never underestimate the power of your voice. Now more than ever, your engagement is making a difference.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.