Category Archives: Mend the Gap

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.

Healthcare Open Enrollment 2018

Healthcare Open Enrollment 2018

Mary Cunningham
November 2, 2017

At NETWORK we believe that healthcare is a human right. Regardless of financial status or geographic location, everyone should have access to quality, affordable care. It is vital that as people of faith we strive to protect the human dignity of all. One way of doing this is to encourage everyone who doesn’t already have coverage for a healthcare plan to sign up during Open Enrollment. Not sure where to start? Read below to see what Open Enrollment is all about.

Spreading the Word about Open Enrollment

One very important way to spread the word is to use your social media accounts to share facts with your friends and followers. When you tweet, use the hashtag #SoulsToEnroll to show your support for Open Enrollment. Another way to share information is to include an insert in your church’s bulletin with the dates for the Open Enrollment period and information about how to sign up.

For more ideas about how to promote healthcare enrollment, check out NETWORK’s Open Enrollment Toolkit.

Who Can Sign Up

Anyone can get coverage through a state marketplace or healthcare.gov if they are not already covered through a job, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP or another source. Twelve states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington) have their own exchanges and their own deadlines to sign up for 2018 coverage. The rest of the country will use the federal exchange at healthcare.gov.

When to Sign Up

The Open Enrollment period this year starts November 1 and ends December 15. After this period, you can only enroll for 2018 health insurance if you experience a qualifying life event that makes you eligible for a Special Enrollment Period. Notice that this year the enrollment period is shorter than usual — it no longer ends on January 15. Thus, it is vital to go to healthcare.gov as soon as possible to look at plans and to sign up.

How to Sign Up

Individuals can sign up for a healthcare plan through healthcare.gov or their state-based marketplace’s website. These websites allow you to search different plans and get access to affordable healthcare coverage. By shopping around you can compare plans to see what best fits your needs. Even if you already have a plan, it’s worth checking out and comparing new options. Plans change from year to year, meaning the cost of your current plan may have changed.

While signing up for a healthcare plan may seem intimidating, you don’t have to do it alone! There are several ways to sign up including online, over the phone, in person, through an agent, or using a paper application. If you have questions there is also a 24/7 call center you can call every day (except Thanksgiving) during Open Enrollment for assistance. The number is 1-800-318-2596.

Why Sign Up?

Getting coverage is important! Signing up for a plan will help protect you from unforeseen injuries, illnesses or accidents. Access to healthcare is a right, and obtaining health insurance is an important step for securing access to care in the United States.

Despite the common conception that healthcare plans are costly, plans on healthcare.gov can be affordable. These plans are required to provide free preventative care with no co-pay. In addition, they must cover benefits like prescription drugs and maternity care. It is important now more than ever to sign up for a plan so you can guarantee you and your loved ones are protected. Spread the word!

“Hearts Starve as well as Bodies; Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses”

“Hearts Starve as well as Bodies; Give Us Bread but Give Us Roses”

By Rachel Schmidt
Novermber 20, 2015

Some policymakers believe the more support the government provides the less motivated people in poverty will be to work. They couldn’t be more wrong. As Congress begins the annual appropriations process, it is crucial to point out the major flaws in this line of thinking, because legislators who buy into this narrative are less likely to allocate sufficient funds to human needs programs. This is not what people in the United States need, especially those living at the margins. In order to combat poverty in the U.S., it is necessary, as Pope Francis says, to “always consider the person” recognizing the dignity of the human person as our first priority. The narrative that economic insecurity motivates people to have a better work ethic is a dangerous myth and an attack on the human dignity of families and individuals who have been pushed into poverty.

All human beings want to flourish and, according to the Catholic Social Teaching principle of human dignity, we all deserve to flourish. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, there is dignity inherent in all human beings so concrete that nothing – behavior, birthplace, income, race, or sex – can deny it. Being human is the only prerequisite for having dignity, and it is instructive for how we are to treat one another on this Earth. A person made in the image of God is worthy of having enough to eat, having meaningful work, expressing him or herself through art and creativity, and having access to what is necessary to live out his or her potential. We are called to flourish by God and any act or system that prohibits this flourishing must be challenged. The structure of society, therefore, must be founded in a firm respect for humanity that acknowledges and provides the resources that every human needs to live out his or her potential.

There’s a beautiful song that captures the intensity of the human desire and need to flourish called Bread and Roses. My favorite line is “our hearts starve as well as bodies,” because it illustrates that a well-fed body is not a comprehensive human experience. Our hearts must also be well-cared for in order to have a truly human life. In his ministry, Jesus Christ recognized earthly goods as the means to life, not the end of life. He said, “One does not live by bread alone…” We also live by roses like spirituality, love, beauty, and the appreciation of life. Don’t we all want not merely to have our personal needs satisfied, but to experience the wonder and amazement of life? The words of Rose Schneiderman from the women’s labor movement in 1912 that inspiredBread and Roses encapsulate this human desire. She said:

What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

People struggling with poverty do not have the opportunity to live out their potential or have “roses” when humanitarian programs are not appropriately funded. According to psychological studies, slashing benefits does not provide any motivation to work harder. Instead, it actually generates more stress on the brain, which results in inadequate decision-making that can exasperate a situation of poverty. Thus, cutting poverty programs leads to the opposite of the spouted “less government aid equals harder work” argument. Furthermore, a permanent underclass, what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture,” is perpetuated by blaming people in poverty for an economic situation that they cannot create solutions for without the satisfaction of their basic needs. This treatment of our sisters and brothers is gravely unjust.

Therefore, I admonish those in Congress and society that blame people in situations of poverty. Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), and he recognized a design for living that embraces the human capacity to thrive. We must foster human thriving through a society that structures itself to make human dignity a priority, which includes adequate funding of human needs programs. Pope Francis recently spoke of the right humans have to rest, experience leisure, and flourish. The “occasion to live one’s own creatureliness” the pope speaks about is the joyful consequence of a human dignity-centered society. We as a nation must focus our energy on creating this society rather than blaming those who are poor for being poor.

Blog: Intentional Diversity

Intentional Diversity

Elizabeth Latham, Summer Intern
July 08, 2015

If I were to start in my driveway at home, I could walk for an hour before the percentage of white inhabitants would dip below 75%. If I were to walk in a certain direction during that hour, I would end up at the all-girls school I attended for eight years. In the time that I went to school there I could count the number of practicing Jews and Muslims I knew personally on one hand. Of those I knew with sexual orientations other than straight, only two had come out to the general public and the rest, previously closeted as I am now aware, could have probably fit comfortably in a closet. If you had used the word cisgender in conversation, I would have blinked confusedly at the accepted term for my own gender identity.

Naïve, idealistic and incurably curious, I headed off to Phillips Andover Academy and found an atmosphere of unmistakably intentional diversity. On my first day, I met a greater social variety than I had previously encountered over the course of my entire life. That day was two years ago. Sitting here, now, I know that I would not have become the person I am today without my experiences there. Even if I had gone to a school that was equally academically rigorous and with less diversity, I would not be as socially intelligent now. What made me the person I am today was living in community with people of completely different backgrounds than I had, who always had different stories to tell. Doing so made me realize the extent to which peoples’ lives range past mine in both directions. As long as I live, I intend to learn from as many different experiences and opinions as I can, not limit myself to growing from my own triumphs and mistakes.

Diversity like this, breadth of culture and opinion, is a gift that can be appreciated on earth exclusively by human beings. We are intelligent enough to disagree and developed enough to communicate our disagreements with each other. What a shame it is, then, when we become trapped in deserts of coequal social standpoints and similar life experiences, safe from floods of overwhelmingly diverse human interaction and ignoring what I have found to be a burning thirst for powerful and thought-provoking conversation. What a blessing it is when we can live and learn in a community of people with varied backgrounds and skillsets. President Obama is taking steps to implement the kind of intentional diversity in cities like Baltimore and Chicago that I was lucky enough to encounter as early as sophomore year of high school. Is it out of pride that we would fight this kind of positive social engineering? Can I really say that I have nothing left to learn, as much as there is to be taught in our nation? I, as a human being, have so much to gain from learning about the lives of others—their struggles, their triumphs. I had been given abilities like compassion and adaptability and was entirely ready to squander them on the same not-quite-conversations in elevators and while waiting in line with people from the same socioeconomic, sexual and racial backgrounds — people with so much less to teach me.

If, to speak of my human ignorance in addition to my pride, I am hesitant to welcome strangers into my home environment based on generalizations as sweeping as those often made about races, it is because I am programmed, in many ways, to fear things that I do not understand. As an intelligent human, fighting this fear is something of a life mission. In doing so, I have to ask myself, am I so ignorant and generalizing as to assume that I have cause to shy away from anyone who is black? …who is gay? …who is male? How can we, the home of the brave, fear someone for something as inconsequential as the color of their skin? It is the automatic assumption that any person who is different from me cannot understand me, fears me, and therefore wants to hurt me. We are on a path now. Every year, we can become more and more content to live in community with people just like us, or we can take the leap and strive to accept people regardless of their differences. Only once we conquer that fear of the unknown can we begin to do accept people because of them.

Blog: Speak Up Now to Oppose Congressional Targeting of Poor Children

Speak Up Now to Oppose Congressional Targeting of Poor Children

By Mary Ellen Lacy
February 01, 2012

TODAY and TOMORROW, join Mind the Gap! activists around the country and call (202) 224-3121. Ask to be connected with House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the tax package conference and your representative to tell them that you OPPOSE funding the payroll tax credit on the backs of working families and their children. See below for more information.

The House is pushing legislative action that would deny child tax credit refunds for those filing taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security Number (SSN). ITINs are issued to non-citizens who are present in the U.S. on valid, temporary visas or are present without papers. They do not replace the need for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Nonimmigrant aliens and undocumented persons do not qualify for a SSN so they are issued the personal ITINs, which merely enable the worker to pay his/her federal taxes. The IRS states that it does not exchange any information with the Department of Homeland Security.

Presently, the Child Tax Credit allows taxpayers to file for a credit that is generally computed pursuant to the number of minor, citizen dependents. An impoverished person, who qualifies for some relief in the form of a tax credit, could file for the credit and be eligible for a refund of a portion of their taxes. For those already living on the margins, the cash refunds, called the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) are an income supplement and anti-poverty tool, much like the older, more established Earned Income Tax Credit. see:http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71370_Page2.html#ixzz1l8x0DooQ. The proposed legislation would remove the possibility of cash refunds from those filing with ITINs.

Given that their income is already so low, the credits typically allow for a refund for those living in poverty. Further, the proposal makes no distinction between the lawfully present and working person with an ITIN and the undocumented immigrant who uses an ITIN. Neither would be able to receive this credit refund. In the end, we will have another piece of legislation that further marginalizes the people in poverty instead of taxing the wealthiest.

It has been estimated that two million families are headed by undocumented workers. They have been paying taxes without hope of SSI or Medicaid/Medicare assistance in their futures. All of them will be denied this credit which, in turn, will plunge many impoverished people into further poverty.

Alternatively, it will push more desperate families further into the shadows and force them to refrain from paying taxes just so they may feed their citizen children. Some Members of Congress fiercely protect the tax breaks for the wealthy and move to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. It is time to say, ENOUGH!

Blog: The Ignatian Family and NETWORK

Blog: The Ignatian Family and NETWORK

Jean Sammon
Nov 16, 2011

November 16 marks the 22nd anniversary of the 6 Jesuits and two women martyrs at the UCA in El Salvador. Remembering these men and women – who would certainly have been a powerful force in the 99% – over 1,000 students and teachers from Jesuit high schools and colleges came together in Washington DC last weekend for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.

Three of us from NETWORK – Lobbyist Marge Clark, BVM, Education Coordinator Shannon Hughes, and myself (Field Coordinator Jean Sammon) – were happy to be a part of it. We were all re-energized by the young leaders from around the country who engaged with us in breakout sessions and at our display table.

I facilitated a Mind the Gap! workshop on Saturday night that was filled to capacity, and Shannon facilitated a second Mind the Gap! session on Sunday. The students were very aware of the wealth gap in the U.S. (and the global wealth gap) and came with questions about whether capitalism makes this gap inevitable. We talked a lot about the reasons that wealth disparity has grown so much in the past 30 years, which was a lifetime for most of the workshop participants. We saw that it doesn’t have to continue this way. Together, we identified policies that affect the wealth gap, such as tax rates, minimum wage, labor rights, and campaign financing. And we convinced ourselves that we have the power to change these policies, if we are dedicated to educating, organizing and advocacy.

Marge worked with the 70 participants from Oregon and Washington, in preparing for their Hill visit the next day.  They were clear on the basics of a visit and had great ideas about how to persuade legislators to support the DREAM Act and to support students who had lived in the U.S. virtually all of their lives.  They were excited to talk about the School of the Americas, and funneling of our tax dollars to that – when it could be going to support work-study programs for students struggling to stay in school.  They were prepared for a vibrant day on the Hill.

The Teach-In closed Sunday night with Mass. After such rich conversations and time spent envisioning an economy that works for all of us, it seemed ironic to hear the gospel proclaim, “For to all those who have, more will be given . . . but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Our presider, Fr. Don MacMillan, asked that we consider the behavior displayed and consequences received by each individual in the story, but wondered aloud what might have happened to each servant if they had invested and grown together.

Blog: Thoughts on the Half In Ten Campaign—Cutting Poverty Rates in Half over Ten Years

Thoughts on the Half In Ten Campaign—Cutting Poverty Rates in Half over Ten Years

By Claire Wheeler
October 27, 2011

Yesterday, while walking back to the NETWORK office after a coalition campaign (Half In Ten) panel discussion on poverty, my thoughts were racing. I was contemplating the different reasons people are motivated to care about the welfare of another human being. I then questioned the potential explanations as to why others are so opposed to the notion of shared responsibility, which promotes the common good. This shared responsibility is not only central to the Catholic faith tradition, but it’s also fundamental to being an American. This is evidenced in both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice… promote the general welfare…”

My thoughts were interrupted by a voice politely asking, “Will you help the poor today, Ma’am?” This question came from a man waving a Street Sense newspaper in my peripheral view. Twelve steps later, I confronted a woman sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign that read: “Hi, my name is Carla. I am deaf and homeless….” The clump of pedestrians with whom I was walking all passed by without acknowledging this woman, but behind me, I saw one woman drop back and hand Carla a banana from her lunch. Many Americans are eyewitnesses to poverty on a daily basis, if not living it themselves. It’s unsettling how many of us are able to stare poverty in the face, yet continue on with our routines.

In our country, poverty has been isolated as someone else’s problem. The timeliness of NETWORK’s Super Citizen Campaign is great because of the opportunity to ride the energy waves from the multiple Occupy protests and seize the moment to make progress with our message. The ‘political will’ required to change our infrastructure and create jobs is not confined to our legislators, but to every American. We must be advocates for ourselves and for those who aren’t heard. If we as a nation are to achieve Half In Ten’s stated goal of cutting poverty in half in ten years, we need to proactively help others become civically engaged. When the time comes, more people need to vote for Members of Congress who will champion these social justice issues. Many people are not financially able to write their preferred elected officials a check to help with campaigns, but voting has its own arsenal of power, which has yet to be fully utilized.

I encourage you to read Half In Ten’s reports. To access the full report, click here and to access the summary advocacy sheets, click here. They provide us with substantive material to educate our Congress, acquaintances, and friends and family.

When dealing with those who are ambivalent about poverty, educate them. When dealing with people who claim that they have no obligation to look out for anyone’s welfare but their own—well, it looks like they are in the wrong country.

Banks, Bail-outs, and the Widening Gap

Banks, Bail-outs, and the Widening Gap

By Matthew Schuster
October 27, 2011

Over the past few months, we have looked at a wide variety of factors that contributed the wealth gap. Check out ournewest resource, a handout that will take you on a quick journey through time to examine the role government regulations – or lack thereof – play in contributing to this growing inequaltiy.

Blog: Income Gap Continues to Widen – Shouldn’t It Be Decreasing?

Blog: Income Gap Continues to Widen – Shouldn’t It Be Decreasing?

Matthew Shuster
Oct 11, 2011

The wealth gap in the United States has grown larger, and the ugly beast is not done growing. According to an article on the Huffington Post’s official website, the median income for the United States is less than $27,000 annually.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest, much-smaller portion of the American population who make over a million dollars has increased to 94,000 people. In comparison, in 2009, 79,000 people made over a million dollars. How can it be that the richest people in America continue to get more and more money while a much larger number of people are struggling to make ends meet with just $30,000 to 40,000 a year (If that!)? Pretty soon, there will be no middle-class, just two teams: The Strugglers who must obsess over grocery shopping coupons and the Exuberantly Wealthy.

People have a right to feel pessimistic about the unemployment rate and salaries in America. Not only are the unemployed unhappy financially, but even people who already have jobs are upset because necessities like food and fuel are becoming more and more expensive while their incomes are not increasing. According to the Huffington Post, nine in ten employees do not expect a raise in the upcoming year. Furthermore, household income has declined more during this “recovery” period than during the initial impact of the economic recession.

Something must be done to mend this income gap and there should be more jobs created for the unemployed. In addition, I hope that there will be more salary rewards given to the already-employed who work hard to care for their families. If you would like to read into this further, check out this article!

Blog: My Reaction to New Poverty Statistics

Blog: My Reaction to New Poverty Statistics

Claire Wheeler
Sep 20, 2011

Last week, the Census Bureau released its data on 2010 poverty statistics.  I found the following numbers particularly disturbing:

  • 1 in 6 Americans lived in poverty in 2010.
  • Incomes fell 4-5% for American households in the bottom 20%, more than 6 times as much as those in the top 20%.
  • More than 1 in 5 children are living in poverty. This issue is compounded by the fact that the racial and ethnic wealth gap also expanded in 2010. This is demonstrated by the fact that approximately 40% of African American children live in poverty, while only 12% of Caucasian children are living in poverty.
  • Over 40% of single-mother families lived below the poverty line, compared to 8.8% of families headed by a married couple. Furthermore, more than half a million single women who worked full-time, year round, lived in poverty.

After these 2010 figures were announced, I attended “Poverty and Income in 2010: A Look at the New Census Data and What the Numbers Mean,” a panel arranged by the Brookings Institution. The panelists represented a wide range of ideologies and advocated differing prescriptions for our country’s poverty dilemma. These prescriptions ranged from blaming personal irresponsibility to fully adopting President Obama’s American Jobs Act. One panelist even insinuated that we should put the needs of the most vulnerable on hold until the nation is financially “able” to address that problem. Essentially, the growing wealth gap was of no concern to this panelist.

These opinions were frustrating, needless to say, because although personal responsibility is relevant, it should not be used as a gross overgeneralization for condemning millions of people in situations beyond their control. People need to be provided with the opportunity and resources before being expected to take responsibility for their reality. We also know that people across socioeconomic stratifications are looking for jobs, but we cannot ignore the most vulnerable in our society in our attempts to stimulate our economy. Drastically uneven income growth is harmful to our nation.

The severity of the poverty numbers is best understood when looking through the lens formed by the majority of the panelists’ testimonies: 1) The 2007 economic recession was much worse than we realized, and will require more drastic steps to repair, 2) Government programs are necessary to diminish the poverty level in our country, and 3) It is feasible to simultaneously lessen the poverty rate while decreasing our nation’s deficit.

Indeed, the new data released by the Census Bureau was altogether grim, to put it lightly. However, there were a couple of positive points that are worth highlighting:

  • The poverty rate did NOT increase significantly among senior citizens. This can be attributed to safety net programs like Social Security; and
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 prevented 4.5 million people from entering poverty.

Through government policy, we can make things better or worse. It is with hope that we look to Obama’s jobs proposal, which one of the panelists predicted will bolster the safety net, keeping 1.5 million fewer people in poverty by extending unemployment insurance. She also predicted that it will create/ save jobs for an additional 1.5 million people, to prevent a total of 3 million people from slipping below the poverty line. Ultimately, jobs are the best antipoverty strategy, and we must be active in voicing our concerns to our representatives, which will help ensure that they enact steps to alleviate the weight of our nation’s predicament.

For more information on the poverty statistics, click here.