Category Archives: Policy Update

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

José Arnulfo Cabrera
February 26, 2019

On February 12, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders took to the streets of Washington, D.C. demanding Congress to pass legislation that would give them a pathway to citizenship, after the Trump Administration pressured the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deny their document renewals. TPS holders who have been in the U.S. for years, some since 1990, all of sudden now face the potential reality of going back to their native countries or becoming undocumented.

Temporary Protected Status was first enacted by the Immigration Act of 1990, which reformed our immigration system. One of the many things the bill created was away for foreign nationals who couldn’t legally be defined as refugee or asylee (but without a doubt fleeing, reluctant to return, or unable to return to their home country due to violence) to attain legal status. TPS allowed individuals to be granted work authorization without being deported.  The first group to be granted TPS was Salvadoran nationals. As time went on more foreign nationals were granted status and now people from ten countries are eligible to receive TPS.

For almost 29 years, TPS holders have been living successfully in the U.S. They have started families and careers, and have contributed to American society, but now are fighting to stay in their new home with the families and lives they’ve created. TPS holders and recipients (also called DREAMers) both find themselves in danger of losing their status and having to leave the U.S., or become undocumented. Like TPS holders, DACA recipients have been living in the U.S. for years and only in the past seven years have they had some form of status that allowed them to work in the U.S. Last Congress, multiple bills were introduced that would have “fixed” the problem the Trump Administration created. Of all the bills introduced, only two bills would have given DACA recipients and TPS holders a pathway to citizenship: the American Promise Act would have given TPS holders a pathway to citizenship and the DREAM Act would have given DACA recipients, as well as some who didn’t fit the age requirement, a pathway to citizenship.

This congress is different. Not only do the faces of Congress look different, but so are the bills they’re introducing. Instead of having two separate bills that would give TPS holders and DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, the house will introduce a single bill that will give both a pathway to citizenship! While the specifics of this bill are not public yet, the bill will pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully, the House Judiciary Committee will soon have a hearing that will allow Members of Congress to know more about the people facing the issue, so that they can then move the bill forward.

TPS holders and DACA recipients have always been here, and they’ve always been a part of American society. Sorry to those who just noticed us, but we’re not leaving — because this is home for us.

NETWORK Advocates for Legislation to Lower Drug Prices

NETWORK Advocates for Legislation to Lower Drug Prices

Siena Ruggeri
February 13, 2019

Last week NETWORK sent the following letter to all members of the House of Representatives urging them to support a bill introduced by Rep. Lloyd Doggett that would require pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prices with Medicare Part D. The bill now has over 100 cosponsors and is being evaluated in the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Health.

In the State of the Union, President Trump voiced his support for Congressional legislation to lower prescription drug prices, saying: “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs… This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it.”  Rep. Doggett’s Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act is just the start of the House’s legislative action on drug pricing. NETWORK will evaluate additional legislation and continue advocating for policies that mend the gaps in access to healthcare.

Read the letter below or as a PDF here.


Dear Representative,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges members of Congress to become original cosponsors of the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act today.

It is morally reprehensible that 1 in 4 Americans have difficulty paying for their prescriptions. Congress must take specific steps to remedy this wrong.

Taking action to lower drug prices is the top domestic policy priority of Democrats and Republicans, and achieving lower prices for Medicare Part D through direct government negotiation with drug manufacturers is both popular and effective. This policy has support from more than 9-in-10 Americans across the political spectrum. The midterm election was clear—voters expect practical solutions that lower unreasonably high prescription drug prices.

The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act is a common-sense reform that would allow Medicare to negotiate reasonable and affordable drug prices for seniors. By including a fallback to negotiations of competitive licensing when pharmaceutical companies fail to offer an appropriate price, seniors are protected from unfair prices, and Medicare patients will have continued access to the medication they need.

Healthcare is a fundamental social good and essential human right. Inspired by Catholic Social Justice, we seek health care that is high-quality, accessible, affordable, and equitable. We know that unaffordable prescription drugs keep care out-of-reach for far too many people. Congress must take this concrete step to lower drug prices for patients to ensure no one has to go without their medication due to cost.

We urge you to cosponsor this important legislation.

Sincerely,

Sister Simone Campbell
Executive Director
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Looking at 2018: Chaos and Cooperation in Congress

2018: Chaos and Cooperation in Congress

Laura Peralta-Schulte
February 13, 2019

2018 saw the second session of the Republican led 115th Congress, the second year of the Trump administration, and another year of persistent challenges to mending the gaps in our country. As was the case in 2017, the Trump administration continued to cut human needs programs, relentlessly attack immigrant and refugee communities, and double down on tax breaks for the wealthy. The latest Presidential tweet or scandal seemed to dominate news headlines in 2018, often to the detriment of substantive national policy issues. Some Congressional action took place within this context, but much of our legislative success was noticeably absent from news coverage.

There is some good news to report this year: in the Senate, there was true bipartisan partnership on a number of our key legislative priorities. In contrast to 2017, Republicans in both chambers decided not to use budget reconciliation to allow the Senate to pass a bill on a simple majority vote, so cooperation was essential. Some bipartisan relationships formed quickly to tackle emergencies like the opioid crisis, others had been going on for years and finally resulted in steps toward meaningful change on criminal justice reform. In instances such as the Farm Bill and many appropriations bills, the elected officials who lead key committees agreed to take the most controversial proposals off the table in order to pass needed legislation. We are grateful for this measured leadership and believe it should be the model for how Congress works.

House Republicans took a different approach to their work this year. The Republican caucus was deeply fractured between moderate Republicans and tea party conservatives. Under Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican leadership promised that any bill passed in the House must be supported by a majority of Republicans. As a result, their legislation largely reflected conservative tea party priorities. Moderate House members supported these bills, often recognizing that the worst proposals would be removed by the Senate. They believed this political posturing would satisfy their voters.

These member of Congress were wrong. They failed to understand how their votes would impact their political support at home. At the end of the day, many of these elected officials suffered defeat in the midterm elections because of their support for controversial bills on issues such as healthcare and taxes. The 2018 election showed that voters want their elected officials to protect healthcare, social security, and other federal programs and ensure that the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes to support these programs.

Congressional action on immigration in 2018 deserves its own analysis. As you will see in our voting scorecard, there were significant votes on different immigration policies during 2018, but the reality is that Congress failed to take any meaningful steps to fix the broken immigration system or to protect immigrants who living in the United states. Much of the Congressional action stemmed from the crisis created by the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA in September 2017. Rather than passing the Dream Act to protect DACA recipients from deportation and provide them with a pathway to citizenship, Republicans aligned themselves with the Trump administration to push significant cuts to the legal immigration system and other harsh measures to harm immigrant families. The result has been bittersweet: immigration advocates were able to convince Congress to reject these harmful proposals, but the lives of DACA recipients and their families remain at risk. At the end of a difficult year, there is much that we wish would have turned out differently, but we remain hopeful for another opportunity to work for justice in 2019 with the 116th Congress.


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

Find NETWORK’s 2018 Congressional Voting Record here.

Faith Community Supports Back Pay for Federal Contractors

Faith Community Supports Back Pay for Federal Contractors

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
February 8, 2019

This week, NETWORK joined fellow faith organizations asking Members of Congress to provide back pay to federal contractors who were unable to work and receive their paychecks during the five-week partial government shutdown. Without legislation from Congress providing this back pay, federal contract workers will suffer the most as other federal workers return to work and receive back pay for the weeks they were furloughed.

Read the letter below or as a PDF here.


February 4, 2019

Dear Members of Congress:

We write as faith-based organizations and religious bodies representing Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other faith traditions to urge you to support efforts to secure back pay for employees of federal contractors who were unpaid during the recent government shutdown. All of our faith traditions uphold the critical importance of the dignity of work and the obligation of employers to compensate workers for their efforts. Just as Congress rightly provided back pay for federal employees who were furloughed or unpaid during the shutdown, Congress should also provide back pay for the contract employees who face extreme financial hardship because they went more than a month without their paychecks.

Over the past few decades, the federal government has contracted out more and more of the jobs and functions it used to perform. For every federal worker hired, there are nearly double the number of contract workers hired, reaching about 3.7 million according to 2015 estimates from the Volcker Alliance. These jobs include the women and men who clean federal buildings, staff cafeterias and concession stands, who process payments, and who provide vital tech support to federal agencies.

These federal contract workers help keep our nation running even when their paychecks aren’t cut directly by the U.S. government, and they need their paychecks just as badly as federal employees. Many of these workers are struggling right now to pay their bills for necessities like food, medicine and housing. They deserve to be paid.

As Congress negotiates a deal to secure funding for the rest of the fiscal year, we urge you to do everything within your power to provide back pay for the contract workers throughout this country who have suffered just as grave a financial injury as federal employees during this shutdown. Equity and justice demands they too receive compensation for the injuries they suffered.

Sincerely,

National Council of Jewish Women
The Episcopal Church
Interfaith Worker Justice
The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society
First Universalist Church of Auburn, Unitarian Universalist
Union for Reform Judaism
Ecumenical Poverty Initiative
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
American Baptist Home Mission Societies
Faith in Public Life
Office of Public Witness
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Alliance of Baptists

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Presidential Failures to Mend the Gaps

Colleen Ross
February 8, 2019

Over the course of 2018, the Trump administration set numerous policies into motion that are sure to harm vulnerable communities and exacerbate the gaps in our society. Our spirit-filled network took action to denounce the harmful actions taken by the Trump administration and prevent them from going into effect. By writing and submitting comments on proposed rules in the federal register, organizing and attending protests, and raising awareness of these issues, you acted in solidarity with the individuals and families impacted by these unjust decisions.

Healthcare

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) would begin approving states’ requests to impose burdensome Medicaid Work Requirements. Since then, work requirements have been approved in five states, and are pending in ten more states. These work requirements target already vulnerable low-income adults, many of whom are already working or doing their best to secure steady work that pays sufficient wages.

Nutrition

The Agriculture Department released a proposed rule to enforce stricter SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Work Requirements right at the end 2018. This happened just after Congress had finally reached agreement after months of bipartisan negotiations, resulting in a majority of Congress voting to not include these restrictive work requirements in the Farm Bill. This unilateral action from the administration is clear rejection of Congress’s hard-won, bipartisan agreement.

Census

President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced they would be adding a Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census just as it nears the final stages of preparation. The addition of a citizenship question is likely to further depress Census responses from communities of color (which are already undercounted), due to fear of immigration enforcement in the current climate. Additionally, concerning information about persuasion from the White House and undisclosed communication with the Department of Justice encouraging Secretary Ross to add the citizenship question, has become public.

Immigration

In September, the Trump administration released a proposed regulation that the advocacy community refers to as the Flores Rule. This new regulation would dismantle the current “Flores” standards, now allowing the indefinite detention of immigrant children and families, including asylum seekers. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this proposal rejects proven alternatives to mass detention, which are more humane and effective. This proposed rule would allow the federal government to set their own standards for holding families and children in detention and undermine independent oversight of conditions; it also reduces vulnerable families’ access to due process and humanitarian protections.

The Trump administration’s proposed “Public Charge” Rule, published in October, would make it more difficult for immigrants to apply for and receive legal immigration status in the United States. This proposed rule seeks to drastically redefine what it means to be a “public charge” in the immigration system. This would increase the probability that legal immigration applications would be denied based on factors such as age, health, family status, financial status, education, skills, and employment history and would hurt and potentially separate families. Even the threat of this rule is already causing parents to choose between needed public assistance to keep their families housed, fed, and healthy or making their family vulnerable to separation.

Throughout the year, the Trump administration has threatened immigrants with legal status through two programs. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a legal immigration status for nationals of a country experiencing ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or another extraordinary and temporary condition. Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) allows foreign nationals to be protected from deportation and have the opportunity to work. Currently, the Trump administration is in the process of ending protections for TPS or DED holders from 11 countries. Many of these TPS/DED holders have been here for more than 20 years, have families in the United States, and would continue to face conflict or other difficult conditions in their home countries.

Judicial

The Senate approved 66 of President Trump’s Judicial Appointments in 2018, including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. This is a significant number of appointments and these confirmations will have a strong impact on the makeup of our judicial system.


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

In Order to Call Itself Family-Friendly, the U.S. Must Examine its Workplaces

In Order to Call Itself Family-Friendly, the U.S. Must Examine its Workplaces

Siena Ruggeri
February 5, 2019

February 5th is the anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, which was passed in 1993. This law gives employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was a huge step forward for working families, but it still excludes many. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth estimates that half of all working parents and 43 percent of women of childbearing age are excluded from FMLA coverage due to outdated eligibility requirements.[1] Family leave policies need to be updated for 21st century workplaces and include low-wage earners.

Even if a worker qualifies for FMLA coverage, in many cases, they can’t afford to take it. Quite simply, far too many people can’t weather the sudden loss in income, and often fear they will lose their job if they take unpaid leave. Family leave needs to be paid for workers to utilize it, but paid leave remains rare in U.S. workplaces: 93% of low-wage workers have no access to any paid family leave.[2].

In 2019, the United States remains the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal paid leave benefits. After 26 years without landmark paid leave legislation, the time has come to not only offer family leave, but ensure all working families can access it. We need a federal universal paid leave policy to accomplish this goal.

A lack of family-friendly workplaces is bad for both employers and their workers. Employers must deal with the costs associated with high turnover, and employees are forced to choose between advancing their career and caring for family members.

The growing demands of caregiving can’t be ignored by federal policymakers any longer. According to a recent Harvard Business School study, almost three quarters of U.S. workers are caregivers in some capacity. Of those, 80% said that their caregiving responsibility made it harder to do their job. As a result, 32% of all employees surveyed said they left a job to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities.[3]

With women taking on a huge majority of caregiving, they are disproportionately impacted by a lack of paid leave. Women are twice as likely to stay home to care for a sick child, and three in five women say they have their care responsibilities on their mind when they’re at work. [4] Our society can’t achieve true economic justice for all women when we offer them no support or legal protections to balance caregiving and a career.

Government inaction on paid leave also reinforces the racial wealth gap. Already paid lower for the same work as their white peers, people of color are deeply impacted by inaccessible leave policies. Black women are the primary breadwinners for 70 percent of their families.[5] They’re also more likely than white women to leave or lose their jobs after birth.[6] By refusing to support black women in their careers, we create yet another structural barrier to push women of color out from opportunities for economic advancement.

Let’s take the anniversary of the FMLA to push Congress to give working families, and especially working moms, the relief they need. It is not just the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing. We cannot call ourselves a family-friendly country until we do so.

 


[1] https://equitablegrowth.org/research-paper/paid-family-and-medical-leave-in-the-united-states/?longform=true

[2] United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 32. Leave benefits: Access,private industry workers,” National Compensation Survey, March 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2018/employee-benefits-in-the-united-states-march2018.pdf.

[3] https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/Documents/The%20Caring%20Company%20-%2001.17.19.pdf

[4] “Modern Family Index,” Bright Horizons, https://solutionsatwork.brighthorizons.com/~/media/BH/SAW/PDFs/GeneralAndWellbeing/MFI_2017_Report_v4.ashx

[5] Sarah Jane Glynn, Breadwinning Mothers. (taken from this link: https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018/12/2018_pfmliscriticalfor_0.pdf)

[6] Lynda Laughlin, Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns. (taken from this link: https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2018/12/2018_pfmliscriticalfor_0.pdf)

Working Towards a Livable Income: The Raise the Wage Act

Working Towards a Livable Income: The Raise the Wage Act

Siena Ruggeri
Quincy Howard, OP
January 22, 2019

Working Americans are getting left behind. While corporations have reaped the benefits of economic recovery, taken advantage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, been pocketing record profits, and making trillions of stock buybacks, the American worker is in a state of crisis.  Wages have stagnated since the 1970s with any gains mainly going to the highest-paid workers.  The federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) has not budged in a decade.  These realities threaten the financial stability of millions and mean that the purchasing power of most workers today is the same as it was in 1978.[1]

The concept of a minimum wage establishes a floor of compensation below which workers cannot hope to support themselves: our floor has been set at $7.25/hour since 2009.  That federal minimum wage has not increased with inflation, either, so it loses value over time.  Over those 10 years, it has become increasingly difficult for someone working a full-time minimum wage job to cover their basic needs. Earning the minimum wage does not ensure a livable income but having a fair minimum wage goes a long way towards helping low-income workers get by.

Minimum wage workers are parents, caregivers, and community members. They include home health workers that support the independence of people with disabilities, preschool teachers who serve low-income students, and the cabin cleaners and baggage handlers that ensure our air travel runs smoothly. It is reprehensible that millions of people work full time, yet are a paycheck away from acute poverty and homelessness. Raising the minimum wage is a common sense step that would bring dignity back to the millions of employees that have been left behind.

Since Congress has failed to increase the minimum wage, states have been leading the way.  Twenty-nine states have raised their minimum wage; the 2018 midterm election brought about successful statewide minimum wage raises in both Missouri and Arkansas, with incremental increases to $12 and $11, respectively.[2] Minimum wage increases in numerous and diverse states around the nation tell us that not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes good economic sense.

[3]

The introduction of the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 is a top legislative priority for the 116th Congress and for NETWORK Lobby’s livable income policy initiatives.  This legislation gradually increases the federal minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour by 2024. It also addresses the inflation issue by automatically raising the minimum wage based on subsequent increases in the typical worker’s wages. The bill also addresses inequities built-in to our current minimum wage by applying the same wage requirements for tipped workers and workers with disabilities.  The Raise the Wage Act offers an impactful and targeted policy which would immediately help people and families living in poverty: 27% of beneficiaries are working parents with children and half have family incomes of less than $40,000 per year.  While an incremental raise is not going to immediately fix the deep inequities low-wage workers have been dealing with for decades, it offers a much-need relief that will have an immediate impact on their quality of life.

Even as we push for passage of the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, NETWORK continues to lay the foundation of pay justice for workers.  Advocating a livable income for workers means promoting a broad array of policy changes in addition to increasing the minimum wage.  A livable income would enable workers to accrue savings and assets, retirement security and protection against unemployment.  What we consider “livable” allows workers to earn a disposable income, making possible leisure, educational and skills enhancement.  A livable income incorporates opportunities for continued wage growth and promotion at a job.

For the lowest wage earners in the country, the Raise the Wage Act would double their pay; potentially enabling them for the first time to afford safe and stable housing, sufficient amounts of food, adequate transportation, and reliable child care.  Now is the time to put pressure on our representatives to do the morally responsible thing: raise the wage and provide a desperately needed economic safety net to the millions who have been left behind.

 

 

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/voters-approve-minimum-wage-increases-in-midterm-elections-in-missouri-arkansas/

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/voters-approve-minimum-wage-increases-in-midterm-elections-in-missouri-arkansas/

For the People Act Introduced in Congress

For the People Act Introduced in Congress

Bold Democracy Reforms in the Making
Sister Quincy Howard, OP
January 15, 2019

This week, as the new Democratic House leadership began implementing their agenda, democracy reform emerged as the #1 priority. Speaker Pelosi, with Representative Sarbanes’ leadership, introduced the For the People Act (H.R.1), broad legislation designed to put the people back in charge of our government. When this bill was introduced earlier this month, it immediately garnered 220 co-sponsors.

The timing and importance of this bill cannot be overstated. Today we see how the manipulation of big data and key SCOTUS rulings (Shelby and Citizens United) have resulted in an impaired democratic system. Last year’s midterm elections revealed a system that allows suppression of votes, distortion of representation and the prominence of moneyed interests to sway election outcomes. Fortunately, the 2018 election also demonstrated a growing momentum across the nation to strengthen our democracy. Local and state ballot initiatives emerged—and many passed—which sought to reinstate the influence of voters in an increasingly rigged system. 

We know that now is the time to act: there is a groundswell of urgency and deep concern for our democracy. There is a growing movement for reforms explicitly committed to ensuring that all voices are heard equally and to advancing the rights of those who have been cut out of the current system. People want to believe in a successful and functional government that truly represents the values of their community. 

Voting rights and fair representation in our democracy are foundational to NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps policy vision for 2020. Just and equal representation for all is a necessary condition for making progress in our advocacy efforts. It takes full representation to pass policies that benefit the common good. At NETWORK, we also believe the right and responsibility to participate in the political process. No individual or community should be disenfranchised by federal policy.

NETWORK is part of a diverse advocacy coalition building momentum by advancing policies that promote just election reforms at the federal level. The For the People Act is a comprehensive package of policy fixes which, combined, are far-reaching in scope. These provisions run the gamut from ethics rules for elected and appointed officials to automatic voter registration, publicly financed election campaigns, and everything in-between.  

H.R. 1 is generally described as having three broad policy objectives:

  1. Ending the dominance of big money in our politics
  2. Ensuring public servants work for the public interest
  3. Making voting easier and improving elections

Within this legislative framework, NETWORK Lobby is focused on policies related to voting and elections. Our faith teaches that we have a responsibility to participate in politics out of a concern for, and commitment to, the common good. This responsibility to participate means each person also has a fundamental right to participate.  

H.R.1 has a bold and comprehensive platform of provisions intended to ensure that all votes count. For the People would begin the process to restore the Voting Rights Act with a series of hearings to investigate modern-day tools used to suppress the vote. [Spoiler alert: many of them are the same tactics banned under the original Voting Rights Act!]  

NETWORK supports additional provisions that improve election integrity by: 

  • Making registration and voting more accessible for eligible voters
  • Improving polling and election operations
  • Restoring voting rights as criminal justice reform

Finally, in line with NETWORK’s advocacy for an accurate Census 2020 count, we support provisions to end gerrymandering.  A democracy that accurately reflects the body politic requires a fair, accurate Census count for fair apportionment and then a non-partisan redistricting process. H.R.1 includes reforms that would separate the redistricting process from politics through independent state redistricting committees.  

A functional and fair democracy undergirds all of the policy goals and objectives that we at NETWORK advocate for. 


Learn more about the broader Declaration for American Democracy coalition and advocacy efforts around H.R.1 on their webpage.

Keeping the Momentum for Affordable Housing

Keeping the Momentum for Affordable Housing

Siena Ruggeri
December 28, 2018

During NETWORK’s journey across the country , we were energized by the many community organizations we encountered that are doing fantastic work reducing homelessness and housing instability. In Detroit, we met Cass Community Social Services, an organization that bought three blocks of land in their neighborhood to build tiny homes for low-income community members. In Miami Beach, we saw how the Elderly Housing Development and Operations Corporation develops and manages housing for seniors. These apartments provide vital spaces for seniors; the average wait time for seniors in need of affordable housing is four to eight years. The Women’s Community Revitalization Project develops affordable housing for women and families in Philadelphia, a city coping with opioid addiction and housing instability, and we were able to see their tangible impacts in their community.

Direct service providers across the country are implementing creative solutions to housing instability, but their efforts are not adequately supported in Washington. These communities rely on federal funding and tax credits. We must connect the work being done at a community-level to our federal housing policies. The federal government’s approach to housing has barely budged for decades—solutions that were prescribed in the 1960s are insufficient to meet the complex challenges of housing in the 21st century.

Only 1 in 4 people who qualify for federal housing assistance receive it. Once they obtain a Section 8 voucher, it’s another battle to find a landlord who will accept the voucher. This is an antiquated system and an affordable housing supply that is dwarfed by the magnitude of the housing crisis. A minimum wage worker can afford a one-bedroom at a fair market rate in only 22 out of more than 3,000 counties nationwide. It’s not a small minority that’s struggling to find an affordable place to rent. Teachers, college graduates, and white collar workers alike are struggling to find housing. With the middle-class feeling the pinch, low-income families who have always struggled with secure housing are pushed out even farther. With wages stagnant, someone can have a full-time job and still not be able to keep up with rapidly rising rent prices.

Our nation’s lack of investment in housing exacerbates social inequalities and widens the racial wealth gap—housing is a key means to acquiring generational wealth. It is unfortunate the housing crisis has only recently been emphasized in the media because it now impacts people outside of traditionally housing insecure groups. It does present an opportunity to demand our legislators give the housing struggle their attention.

There is legislative momentum building on the idea of affordable housing. The 115th Congress included the Rent Relief Act, a bill introduced by Senator Kamala Harris that would assist renters who spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would invest $445 billion dollars in the national Housing Trust Fund over 10 years, providing resources to build housing for the lowest-income households. The bill also expands protections against housing discrimination, provides down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers living in formerly redlined or officially segregated areas, and includes local incentives to reduce the cost of middle-class housing. Senators Maria Cantwell and Orrin Hatch introduced the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, which expands the low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) by 50%, enabling the construction of more homes for people with extremely low incomes.

While there are innovative ideas being introduced, those ideas are not making it to the finish line of being passed into law and actually impacting real lives. With the shadow of the 2020 elections looming over Congress, affordable housing could easily be seen as simply a messaging tool to strengthen congressional resumes before the primaries. Housing demands urgency and action in order to advance meaningful legislation in the next Congress. While our new Congress looks hopeful, it is only as good as the legislation it produces on issues that directly impact families and communities in our country.

There is also an opportunity to advocate for affordable housing via the budget process. Congress has yet to pass a spending bill for 2019. The Department of Housing and Urban Development budget proposed by the Senate ensures that HUD does not have its funding cut further. If Congress does not pass an updated HUD budget, housing will be funded by a continuing resolution. Since a continuing resolution does not reflect market-rate rents, housing programs would face deep cuts. Any cut to HUD funding decreases the government’s ability to serve people who depend on assistance for affordable housing, including seniors, people with disabilities, families with young children, and people experiencing homelessness or people on the verge of homelessness. Congress needs to pass a budget for the 2019 fiscal year that adequately funds key programs that protect vulnerable groups from homelessness.

NETWORK Celebrates First Step Act Becoming Law

NETWORK Celebrates First Step Act Becoming Law

Joan Neal
December 21, 2018

NETWORK congratulates Congress for passing the FIRST STEP ACT with strong bi-partisan support and becoming law.  It is rare to see any legislation pass with such backing from both sides and we commend all those who worked so hard to achieve this victory.

While the law offers only modest changes, it begins at long last, the process of making some much-needed improvements to the federal criminal justice system.  Among its more laudable provisions, the legislation reduces the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, gives judges more leeway in sentencing, revises the ‘good time’ credit calculation, improves conditions in federal prisons, including prohibiting the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated women, and provides additional resources for rehabilitation, job training, and recidivism reduction programs that increase the chances for success for those who will eventually re-enter society.

At the same time, some of the provisions fail to go far enough.  Many of the sentencing reductions are prospective–forward looking only.  This potentially leaves thousands of people in prison, continuing to serve time under the very outdated laws this bill revises.  Additionally, it allows private prison companies to profit, fails to address parole for juvenile offenders, and exposes inmates of color to the possibility or disparate treatment due to racial bias in the risk assessment tool.  As its name implies, the FIRST STEP ACT is a beginning, a place to start to make our federal criminal justice system more just and humane.

Nevertheless, we commend lawmakers for taking this ‘first step’ at reform.  Clearly, there is more work to be done to reduce the number of people entering the system, to eliminate racial disparities and to create second chances for all those impacted.  Our faith teaches us that redemption and rehabilitation are possible even for people who have committed crimes against society and our criminal justice system should reflect that value.  This can be the beginning of such transformational change.