Category Archives: Policy Update

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Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
July 17, 2019

After months of twists and turns regarding the possibility of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the Trump administration finally announced the conclusion of this saga last week. The final decision: there will be no question about citizenship included in the census.

This is a victory because including a citizenship question would have prevented a full and accurate count from being completed. The census is constitutionally mandated to count all persons in the United States and census data is used for distributing federal funding, congressional apportionment, and more. So, a full and accurate Census count is vitally important for our nation. The Census Bureau’s own data predicted that, if the question were included, between 5% and 12% of noncitizen households would decline to participate. Additionally, six former census directors and a Census Bureau internal analyst all said a citizenship question would harm the count. Without an accurate count, communities that are undercounted would be under-funded and under-resourced for the next decade.

When the Commerce Department first announced it was pursing the addition of a citizenship question over a year ago, advocacy organizations, voting rights advocates, and community-based partners all responded in strong opposition. Multiple suits were brought against the Commerce Department on the basis of both procedural standards as well as “discriminatory animus.” While the final decision from the Supreme Court did not reject the citizenship question itself, it did reject the justification the Trump administration used to argue for its inclusion. Due to the rapid timeline for printing and executing the impending 2020 count, the Trump administration has finally given up on including the citizenship question on the census.

In order to save face after backing down from the citizenship question, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to gather citizenship data from other federal agencies. We will remain alert for more details of this new plan for compiling citizenship data.

In June, we responded to the Supreme Court decision with cautious optimism. Sister Simone said “I’m relieved to see that the Supreme Court, which can be so divided along partisan lines, recognized that this Republican scheme to reduce the count in the 2020 Census was an attempt at crass manipulation of the data by the Trump Administration.” Now, we remain optimistic about the prospects for the 2020 Census. We are re-focusing on accomplishing a fully representative, fair and accurate count of all people living in our nation so that we can accurately distribute federal funding and political representation until our next count takes place in 2030.

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Raise the Wage Act Will Positively Impact Workers

Elisa McCartin
July 11, 2019

This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report on H.R. 582, the Raise the Wage Act. This legislation would gradually increase the U.S. federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and would further eliminate the tipped wage of $2.13 by gradually raising it to meet the federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. NETWORK strongly supports this bill as it would substantially reduce income inequality and poverty across the United States. The CBO report highlights the numerous ways this bill will benefit low-income workers, as outlined by the Economic Policy Institute.

Some groups have responded to the CBO report by pulling out selective data chosen to alarm the public about the costs of raising the minimum wage. We believe, however, that the data supports our stance in favor of raising the wage. According to the report, 27 million low-income workers’ wages would increase with a $15 minimum wage. Low-wage workers would see their annual earrings rise by $44 billion by 2025. Moreover, a $15 minimum wage would lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. This bill will have a profound impact on reducing rampant inequality in the U.S. by raising the wages of the lowest-income workers.

The CBO report further demonstrates that the benefits of this bill greatly outweigh potential costs. Even accounting for their prediction of some job losses, the CBO concluded that the average low-wage worker would earn $1,600 more per year. The CBO’s job loss prediction was also based on faulty methodology that focused primarily on subgroups of workers like restaurant employees. Studies that look holistically at the low-wage workforce find that a $15 minimum wage does not reduce employment.

Research conducted by the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that across 138 state-level minimum wage increases, there were no measurable employment losses. For example, between 1979 and 2016, states with the highest minimum wage increases experienced no negative employment effects. Minimum wage increases at the city-level have had no detrimental impact on restaurant employment levels. In 1968, when the U.S. had its highest minimum wage adjusted for inflation, there was no adverse impact on employment. Thus, while the CBO’s central estimate predicted some job losses, its other “likely” estimates projected that there may be no job losses as a result of a $15 minimum wage in 2025.

Even if the CBO’s job loss predictions were fully accurate, a $15 minimum wage would still tremendously benefit low-wage workers. According the CBO, 7% of the lowest-wage workers could face job losses, while 93% would earn 12% more an hour. An additional 10.3 million people would earn above $15 an hour by 2025 with no employment reductions. Furthermore, because jobs will pay higher wages, even workers experiencing “job-losses” would likely have higher annual incomes due to wage increases. The CBO acknowledged that families may be able to cut back working hours or the number of jobs per family with higher wages, contributing to these “job-loss” statistics. Thus, these job-loss numbers are best interpreted as fewer hours worked throughout the year because there will be a reduced need to work extreme hours to make a living wage.

NETWORK and our partners are incredibly proud to support the Raise the Wage Act. For decades, the U.S. workforce has been exploited under a system that fails to guarantee workers a living wage. The Raise the Wage Act is a first step in truly transforming our economy into a moral economy.


Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University.

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line

Trump Administration Seeks to Re-Define the Poverty Line 

Elisa McCartin
July 10, 2019

The Trump administration is escalating its attacks against working families and using the power of the executive branch to implement their agenda unilaterally. This circumvents the legislative process and is a rejection of the legislative branch’s power 

How Agency Rule Changes Work 

Our many federal agencies create and implement policies that have profound impacts on our nation. Members of President Trump’s cabinet can direct the agencies to alter their policies and procedures by proposing specific rule changes. The agencies are required to give citizens and organizations a specified time period (usually 30-60 days) to comment on proposed changes before the agency is allowed to make a final rule. The agency must consider every comment before they implement their decision. These comments are often the only means the public has to check the power of these rule changes.  

After a rule change goes into effect, people or organizations can then challenge the agencies in court and the agencies must prove they considered every argument in every submitted comment. Because of this requirement, NETWORK and many of our partners have submitted comments on the harmful proposed rule changes the Trump administration has been rolling out in various federal agencies. We encourage our members to keep track of these sly and underhanded harmful policy proposals and submit comments to prevent or at the very least, stall, the Trump administration from enacting more damaging policies without Congressional approval.  

Proposed Poverty Line Rule Change 

One proposed rule change that NETWORK and many other advocacy organizations submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) about would alter the inflation measurement used to determine the U.S. poverty line. The Official Poverty Measure (OPM) in the U.S. is calculated based on three times the estimated cost of a subsistence food budget for an average family, and adjusted for inflation each year. The OMB usually uses the Urban Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) as the inflation adjustment mechanism. The OMB’s proposed rule would mandate a switch from using the CPI-U to the chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U) or the Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCEPI). The inflation index the OMB uses to adjust the poverty line is extremely important because it will alter families’ eligibility for social programs.  

Both proposed alternative inflation indices—the chained CPI and the PCEPI—underestimate inflation. The CBO reports that the chained CPI grows 0.25 percentage points slower than the CPI-U. This is because the chained CPI and PCEPI account for when consumers substitute goods for one another in the marketplace based on price increases. However, low-income families do not have the level of economic flexibility where they can exchange goods for one another, thus making this measurement inaccurate. Moreover, low-income families feel inflation more severely than middle and high-income families. Low-income people spend a larger percentage of their income on housing, and home rents have risen at double the inflation rate. Using indices that underestimate the inflation rate to determine the poverty line is an utterly inaccurate measure of the costs low-income families face. These should not be used to calculate the poverty line in the U.S.  Our principles of Catholic Social Justice teach us to prioritize the needs of those at the economic margins. This proposed rule denies the fundamental realities of people struggling to make ends meet. 

Furthermore, this move would have devastating effects of people who currently qualify for federal programs. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) calculated that switching to the chained CPI would lower the poverty line by 2.0% and using the PCEPI would reduce the poverty line by 3.4%. This dramatic reduction would prevent millions of individuals and families from receiving benefits and social services, as they would no longer be eligible even though their actual economic status remains unchanged. As a result, the CBPP projects that more than 250,000 senior citizens would no longer qualify for Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, 150,000 seniors would have to pay premiums exceeding $1,500 per year, 300,000 children would lose medical coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), 250,000 adults who gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would lose it, and 150,000 consumers would no longer receive cost-sharing assistance in ACA marketplaces.  

The U.S. poverty line is already too low—20% of people living in the U.S. do not meet one or more of nine basic need standards. This change would strip millions of life-saving supports, compounding the already severe impacts of poverty, homelessness, and hunger in our society. As people of faith, we are called to support those in need—not further entrench vulnerable families in poverty. 

NETWORK believes that it is our obligation to prevent the catastrophic effects of this proposed rule. The Trump administration is circumventing the legislative branch where citizens have more influence, amplifying the need to closely follow and comment on agency rule changes spearheaded by Trump Cabinet members. Although the period for submitting comments on this rule has closed, it is our imperative to continue tracking OMB’s decision making, to hold the executive branch accountable to the people, and to advocate for policies that mend the gaps 

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Elisa McCartin is a NETWORK volunteer and student at Georgetown University. 

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Updated: June 27, 2019

We at NETWORK, with many of our partners, are naming this week “Shelby Week” in recognition of the six years that have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. 

In the aftermath of the June 25, 2013 Shelby decision – which gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) – states and localities across the country jumped to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions of American voters. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.


The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

In contrast, under the Section 5 process the Justice Department provided quick, inexpensive reviews and decisions on proposed changes to voting requirements or procedures. The vast majority of proposed changes to elections were cleared and there was space to appeal decisions when they were not.  It was a system that worked; the VRA without this preclearance mechanism is not working.

This Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will be conducting a hearing on “Protecting the Right to Vote: Best and Worst Practices.” Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), who is also a professor of Constitutional Law, the First Amendment, and Legislative Process, will lead the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee in this effort to get to the bottom of voter suppression today.

For six years, Congress has made multiple unsuccessful legislative attempts to update the preclearance formula and restore this crucial provision of the VRA. Part of the process to adopt a preclearance formula that the courts will uphold is gathering and documenting evidence of efforts to disenfranchise voters. Congress is currently building this record to demonstrate ways in which jurisdictions have changed laws to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color. Most recently, we can look to states like Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, and Alabama for flagrant examples of manipulated election procedures that effectively suppress the vote of communities of color.

Throughout April and May, the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections is holding a series of field hearings on voting rights and election administration. Hearings have taken place in Standing Rock, ND; Halifax, NC; and in Cleveland, OH. Still to come are field hearings in Alabama and Florida to review and hear testimony about the impacts of new voting and registration laws on communities of color. These hearings are the opportunity to examine what voter disenfranchisement in the 21st Century looks like—so we can prevent it from happening.

In late February, Representative Teri Sewell (AL-07) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) introduced the 116th Congress’ high-priority legislative fix to restore and extend these key provisions of the VRA. It’s not the first time that a “Shelby-fix” bill has been introduced since 2013, but this year it’s coming on the heels of an historic election in which rampant and flagrant voter suppression was apparent. H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) has also already passed in the House and specifically named this as a crucial component for democracy reform.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (VRAA), H.R. 4, represents the most robust and inclusive proposal to revise the criteria for determining which States and political jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance requirements. Specifically, the formula proposed in VRAA subjects any jurisdiction with 15 or more voting-rights violations over the past 25 years to 10 years of federal preclearance. The threshold would be lowered to just 10 violations if any of them were committed by the state itself. VRAA is not solely a defensive measure. It’s intended to be punitive, to deter people who take advantage of the fact that there are few real consequences for officials found in violation of the Constitution. The VRAA would add teeth that the Voting Rights Act didn’t have even at full strength. While alternate bills are already emerging with less-expansive formulas, NETWORK strongly supports H.R.4 as the way to quickly address and end voting rights abuses that have become commonplace across our country.

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

Appropriations Bill
House
Senate
Subcommittee Committee Floor Subcommittee Committee Floor Reconciled?
Labor-HHS-Education (H.R.2740) Passed
(April 30)
Passed
(May 8)
Passed
(June 19)
Transportation-HUD (H.R.3163) Passed
(May 23)
Passed
(June 4)
Passed
(June 25)
Commerce-Justice-Science (H.R.3055) Passed
(May 17)
Passed
(May 22)
Passed
(June 25)
Financial Services Passed
(June 3)
Passed
(June 11)
Department of Homeland Security Passed
(June 5)
Passed
(June 11)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Today, the House passed its second “minibus” or package of spending bills, this time including funding for Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science. In the $383 billion five-bill package, the House included language to block a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and bar the Department of Justice from using federal funds to dismantle Obamacare in the courts. The final vote was 227-194.

Before the vote, NETWORK sent the a vote recommendation to the House in support of the funding package. Read the vote recommendation here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Today, the House began consideration on another package of spending bills, this time including Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations. The House is expected to vote on this package tomorrow. These appropriations bills are critical to provide funding to housing programs serving millions of families and the Census Bureau to execute a fair and accurate census.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tonight, the House of Representatives voted 226 – 203 to pass a package of four appropriations bills, including Labor-HHS-Education appropriations. These appropriations would provide critical funding for the Office of Refugee and Resettlement and support for children at the Southern Border. We encourage the Senate to pass similar appropriations to care for vulnerable children and families at the border.

Before the vote, NETWORK released a statement encouraging members of the House to vote yes on the package. Read NETWORK’s statement of support here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Right now, Congress is working on federal budget appropriations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020). This process is critical because the result determines how much funding federal programs that mend the gaps receive for the following year.

Appropriations Background

Members of Congress decide our nation’s federal budget every year through a process of writing 12 different appropriations (or spending) bills before the annual fiscal deadline of September 30. The process begins in the House after the President submits a budget proposal to Congress for consideration (which is usually rejected all or in part by Congress). House and Senate Appropriations Committees draft and modify spending bills through a series of committee votes before advancing the bills to the full House or Senate for another round of votes.  Typically, the House and Senate bills are not identical and thus must be reconciled before sending a final bill to the President for enactment.

However, in recent years due to partisan politics over spending allocations, many of the spending measures bypass floor debate after committee action and are instead consolidated into an omnibus or minibus spending bill.  Above, you can see the progress of the bills that include NETWORK priorities.

This year, the appropriations process has added uncertainty because there has not been any agreement between the House and the Senate on overall funding levels. This sets up a future showdown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump on one side and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the other; likely coming down to the amount of funding President Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or other controversial issues.

House Appropriations State of Play

So far, the House Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. These 10 bills are now ready for votes on the House floor. The committee expects to complete their work on all 12 appropriations bills this week. Democratic leaders want to pass all the appropriations bills on the House floor by the end of June to allow time for negotiations with the Senate before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

They plan to do this by first passing a package of five bills (totaling nearly $1 trillion in spending), which they began considering this week. Passing this package of bills could take several days. The package includes the two biggest appropriations bills: Defense (HR 2968) and Labor-Health and Human Services- Education (HR 2740) as well as the Energy-Water (HR 2960), State-Foreign Operations (HR 2839) and Legislative Branch (HR 2779) bills. After this five-bill package, House Democrats plan to combine the remaining seven bills into additional packages.

Homeland Security and Financial Services appropriations bills will be taken up by the House full appropriations committee this week. NETWORK is following Homeland Security appropriations closely and calls on appropriators to reduce funding for deportation, immigrant detention, and border militarization and instead to prioritize alternatives to detention, implement robust Congressional oversight over Homeland Security practices, and support refugee resettlement and asylum seekers.

Another NETWORK funding priority is Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations. This bill, as it emerged from the House Appropriations Committee included $7.5 billion in new funding for the 2020 Census, as well as a restriction against using the Census appropriations to fund a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire. The House CJS appropriations bill also restricted funds from being used to be used to hire more immigration judges, and instead would establish a pilot legal advocacy program for nonprofit organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.

Of course, federal housing programs, which are included in the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill, are a NETWORK focus. While President Trump’s budget proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development funding by $9.6 billion, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill provides a total of $50.1 billion for HUD, an additional $5.9 billion over the FY19 funding.

Senate Appropriations State of Play

Appropriators in the Senate have held off working on any of their bills so far. They are waiting while talks proceed on a budget deal to set overall spending levels.

On Tuesday, June 11, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and other Republican appropriators met with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. They discussed making a budget deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown or automatic spending cuts in October, and have agreed to proceed with bringing the President’s $4.5 billion southern border humanitarian aid package to the floor next week.

President Trump Calls for Mass Raids This Weekend: What is Your Faithful Response?

President Trump Calls for Mass Raids This Weekend: What is Your Faithful Response?

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 21, 2019

President Trump began his 2020 campaign this week with the same anti-immigrant platform he ran on in 2016. In his opening speech, he promised to begin a set of raids intended to “remove millions of illegal aliens beginning this weekend.”  Thus begins the likely ramping up increased domestic terror against our immigrant sisters and brothers.  Following the announcement, there have been leaks from ICE, the agency in charge of conducting raids, confirming they may begin actions as early as this weekend. While raids are not new – the Administration has already conducted massive raids in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Tennessee – this racketing up is intended to remind President Trump’s supporters that this is still his number one campaign objective.

Our best understanding is that individuals and family units with final orders of removal are anticipated to be targeted. Such targeting would likely result in collateral arrests, meaning: persons who are undocumented but do not have a final order of deportation will likely be detained also.

What does this mean for us, as people of faith?

For some of us, this means our families will sit in fear between now and the election waiting for a knock on the door. We will fill out the appropriate legal documents full of personal information so that if the worse happens, we know our kids will be safe in the custody of a family member or a friend. We will review what we learned at Know Your Rights trainings so that if and when the knock comes, we know what to do. We will live in a continued state of fear.

We learn more and more everyday about the impact of toxic stress on the bodies and health of people under duress. It takes a tremendous toll on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. We are reminded by our partners at the Center for Law and Social Policy about what happens when children witness the arrest of a parent – particularly in their own home. The children are now ‘at greater risk of suffering mental health and behavioral problems with have long-term implications for their overall development and future success.’

What does it mean for those of us who are not directly impacted?  This is the key faithful question of our time. As people grounded in sacred texts that call for welcome and love, how do we respond? Do we look away because it all seems overwhelming? Do we chose to sit in our comfortable homes, go to our pools, enjoy a barbeque with family and friends completely detached from this terror? Or, do we engage in acts of resistance and love?

NETWORK is continuously engaging in discernment to discover how we as an organization can live a more authentic life, one grounded in the work of racial justice. This year, our Lenten reflections aimed to strengthen our commitment to be and work in solidarity with communities of color, so we can live out our call to justice for all people in the public square.

We must shake off the choice of inaction. To fail to speak out against injustice is to be complicit.  We can and we must live into our call to be a people of love and justice.

Congress Holds Hearing on Situation at the Border

Congress Holds Hearing on Situation at the Border

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 11, 2019

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing to examine the refugee crisis at U.S. – Mexico border. The key witness will be Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. During the hearing, McAleenan is expected to call for: increasing border militarization; stripping away the rights of children from Central America to seek asylum; making it more difficult for families to assert a claim to asylum; and dramatically expanding family detention.

This Administration has already taken unpresented steps to dismantle our asylum system, going as far as separating children from their parents with full knowledge of the harm this inflicts on children and families. Tragically, at least six children have died in federal custody in the past year due to lack of access to healthcare. It was recently revealed that 37 children were locked in vans for up to 39 hours in a parking lot of a detention center outside Port Isabel, Texas.  Further, the private prisons this Administration desperately seeks to expand to house immigrant families have come under continued criticism for their dangerous conditions. Just last week the Inspector General Department of Homeland Security found “egregious” health and safety violations at four major ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities.

None of this is surprising given immigration was President Trump’s signature issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. His racist attack on immigrants, symbolized by the call to “build the wall”, set the stage for the policies his Administration is currently pursuing.  The scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers will only increase as we head into the 2020 campaign.

Sacred scripture instructs people of faith about how we should treat migrants.  We are called to “release those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke.” (Isaiah 58) We must “Bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:16-21) This is not a political issue for the faith community, it is a matter of justice.

Acting Secretary McAleenan, let us be clear:  NETWORK and our interfaith partners reject your false choice between chaos and compassion. It is wrong to use a humanitarian crisis to shred laws protecting vulnerable families seeking asylum. It is wrong to cage children and families in indefinite detention. It is wrong to strip protections for children that keep them safe and healthy.

These actions are cruel and unjust. We will continue to call for justice for our immigrant family.

Mending the Gaps Experienced by the LGBTQ+ Community

Mending the Gaps Experienced by the LGBTQ+ Community

Siena Ruggeri
June 7, 2019

NETWORK is proud to have supported the recent passage of the Equality Act in the House, and we urge the Senate to also pass this important legislation. While the Equality Act would extend critical anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ+ community in both the workplace and housing, many of NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps other issues have a direct impact on the LGBTQ+ community. As we work to mend the gaps in our nation, it is important to consider the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community and ways federal policies can reduce those challenges.

Paid family leave, for example, is a significant issue for LGBTQ+ families. Even in areas and workplaces that do offer paid leave, LGBTQ+ families face an extra hurdle to taking the necessary time they need to be with their families. According to a survey by the Human Rights Campaign, 27% of LGBTQ+ people of color and 16% of LGBTQ+ white people say they are afraid to request time off to care for a loved one because it might disclose their LGBTQ identity. 44% of LGBTQ+ people of color are afraid of losing their job if they took paid leave, compared to 37% of their white counterparts.

Paid family leave is already challenging to access for countless families. LGBTQ+ workers have to disclose their gender identity or sexual orientation in order to access paid leave, putting them in a highly vulnerable spot. In our efforts to expand access to paid leave, we must intentionally include all types of families. This is why legislation like the FAMILY Act (H.R.1185) is so important to advance — this policy has a broad definition of family, allowing for all types of families, biological and chosen, to take equal advantage of paid leave.

LGBTQ+ people may also face barriers to healthcare because of discrimination against their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Just last week, the Trump administration proposed rolling back an Obama-era HHS rule called the Health Care Rights Law, which ensures healthcare providers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. The rollback of this rule will strip away the protections established by the ACA, which were critical for LGBTQ+ healthcare access.

According to a 2015 report by the Center for American Progress, 23.5% of transgender respondents and 10.3% of LGBT people of color avoided doctors’ offices in the past year due to fear of discrimination. Ensuring affordable, accessible healthcare is an LGBTQ+ issue, and we must consider the unique challenges the community faces as we advocate for greater access to quality, affordable health care.

LGBTQ+ issues also intersect with immigration. Those who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are three times more likely to be incarcerated. As a result, LGBTQ+ migrants are uniquely vulnerable to overpolicing, discrimination, and violence. There has also been an increase in violence towards undocumented LGBTQ+ people. According to the Center for American Progress, 6% of survivors of hate violence were LGBTQ in in 2014, compared to 17% in 2015. While immigrants already face discrimination, those who also identify as LGBTQ+ face even more danger.

The threat of deportation is also a life or death issue for countless LGBTQ+ migrants. 76 countries allow the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. This means many of our nation’s refugees seeking asylum are fleeing their home countries based on the threat of violence due to their LGBTQ+ identities. By denying asylum claims and deporting undocumented LGBTQ+ immigrants, our nation is putting their lives at risk. The Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants puts already vulnerable LGBTQ+ immigrants in dangerous, often life-threatening situations.

The experiences of the LGBTQ+ community intersect with each of NETWORK’s Mend the Gaps issues. This Pride Month, we continue to work toward federal policies that bring justice and equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.

House Dream and Promise Act Vote Approaches

House Dream and Promise Act Vote Approaches

Laura Peralta-Schulte
June 4, 2019

Today, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. This legislation would provide permanent protections and offer a pathway to citizenship for more than two million immigrants who are Dreamers and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) or DED (Deferred Enforced Departure) holders.

We at NETWORK strongly support this legislation and encourage all members of the House to vote for the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6). You can still call your Representative’s office and ask them to vote YES on H.R. 6 before the vote today by dialing 888-738-3058.

Read the vote recommendation that NETWORK sent to all House offices below :

NETWORK Calls on Congress to Immediately Pass the American Dream Act and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6) to Provide a Pathway to Citizenship for Dreamers, TPS, and DED Recipients

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice educates, organizes, and lobbies for economic and social justice. We have a 46-year track record of lobbying for critical federal programs that support people at the margins of our society and prioritize the common good. Inspired by our founding Catholic Sisters and the leadership of the women who followed, we faithfully embody Gospel justice as we work for change. We are rooted in Catholic Social Justice and open to all who share our passion. NETWORK Lobby has over 100,000 members in every congressional district across the country.

Catholic Social Justice teaches that all people are made in the image and likeness of God and possess an equal and inalienable worth. Because of this essential dignity, each person has a right to what is necessary to reach their full potential as intended by God. NETWORK believes it is long past time for Congress to provide Dreamers, TPS, and DED holders with a pathway to citizenship. This has been a cornerstone goal of numerous legislative efforts to reform our broken, outdated immigration system. The American Dream Act and the Promise Act will create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS, and DED holders.

NETWORK strongly urges you to support and pass this legislation. Failing to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS and DED holders would mean that we fail to recognize their contributions to our society and their inalienable worth.  We also request all Members to oppose any changes to the bill on the floor including a Motion to Recommit.  Adoption of any amendment would risk final passage of this important bill.

Every day that a real solution is delayed, countless members of our community have to live in anxiety and fear, unsure if they will be allowed to stay in the country they call home. For far too long, our immigrant sisters and brothers have waited for Congress to pass legislation that affirms their dignity by providing them access to citizenship. Congress must pass the American Dream Act and Promise Act immediately.

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

April 2019

The right and responsibility to participate in our government motivates NETWORK’s mission to educate, organize, and lobby for justice. We believe that every person is called to work to promote the common good through our political system. This sacred right must not be violated.

The influence of money in politics, gerrymandering, varied methods of voter suppression, felon disenfranchisement, and other anti-democracy tactics limit the impact of individuals’ participation on our policies. The variety of ways that voting rights and fair representation are undermined at the local, state, and federal levels makes it difficult to see the total effect on our democracy. As a result, our political reality moves further from a system of fair representation and elected officials who are accountable to their constituents.

Together with faith and secular partners, NETWORK is working to restore the influence of individuals in our representative democracy. Recently, the For the People Act (H.R. 1) passed in the House of Representatives, signifying a groundbreaking shift of power in favor of participation. While H.R. 1 has little chance of a vote in the Senate, its strong passage in the House and the building momentum around the country are clear indications of pro-democracy support. It may ultimately fall to the next Congress to take action, but H.R.1 is clearing a path to strengthen and protect our democracy.

Until then, NETWORK, along with our partners, will continue to oppose threats to participation and promote the right to vote, advocate, and have fair representation in our democracy.

 

Working for Fair Participation in the Public Sphere

By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network

The Gospel of Matthew tells us we cannot not serve God and money. After hearing God’s call to “rebuild My Church,” a young St. Francis famously renounced his wealthy merchant father and all his worldly possessions. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics,” we are reminded that that means everyone must have an equal say in the public square.

Following the Gospel example of Jesus and taking our cues from both St. Francis and Pope Francis, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) leads an interfaith coalition, “Faithful Democracy” working on the issue of money in politics. The coalition looks at this issue from both a faith and legislative perspective. It is imperative that we institute reforms in the areas of campaign finance, voting rights, and good governance for a fully functioning and representative government. FAN has called for those reforms since the Citizens United decision nearly a decade ago.

Now, there is a newfound energy on Capitol Hill for these good governance reforms. Join us as we bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth and implement vital reforms that are necessary to have a fully functioning and healthy democracy.

Patrick Carolan has been the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) since 2010. FAN is an advocacy voice for the entire Franciscan family in the United States representing over 50 different institutions nationwide. FAN is inspired by both the Gospel of Jesus, and by the example of Saints Francis and Clare, to transform U.S. public policy related to our core issues: peace making, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.

 

State-Level Barriers to Voting

By Colleen Ross, NETWORK Communications Coordinator

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our conception of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws are making it harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on voters of color and low-income voters who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics were implemented after 2013, when the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards. Up until this decision, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula set by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements for any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots that they wanted to implement. In Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the formula was no longer accurate, dissolving the preclearance requirement for areas it had previously applied to: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Since then, states have been able to freely implement restrictive voting requirements and 23 states have chosen to do so.  Now, these discriminatory laws must be challenged after the fact—essentially setting up an unjust competition to reinstate fair elections through expensive litigation. Meanwhile, the resulting election outcomes and disenfranchisement cannot be undone. Cases of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. While excessive money in politics and gerrymandering distort the results of elections across the country, it is important not to lose sight of the ways states prevent eligible citizens from even casting their vote.

 

Incarceration does not Negate Citizenship Rights

By Joan Neal, NETWORK Senior Fellow Government Relations and Strategy

In the United States, there is both an expectation and an assumption that every citizen has the right to vote. The Constitution fails to explicitly state that all citizens have the right to vote, but future amendments have made it very clear when the vote cannot be denied: on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay poll tax or any other taxes, and age (for anyone at least 18 years old). Yet, at the federal and state level, formerly incarcerated citizens are routinely denied their right to vote despite the fact that they have served their time and paid their debt to society. In fact, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that strips returning citizens of their right to vote.

As of 2016, The Sentencing Project found that more than 6 million formerly incarcerated people have been denied their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. This number has grown exponentially since the 1970s, largely due to the War on Drugs and the resulting increase in incarceration. Currently, approximately 2.5% of the total U.S. voting population – 1 of every 40 people – is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this policy of disenfranchisement; as of 2016, one in every 13 Black adults could not vote as the result of a felony conviction.

Clearly, the denial of the right to vote for so many citizens produces unequal representation in the political system. It effectively silences the voices of people who have not lost their citizenship but who are prevented from exercising their full range of rights. Research shows that the results of several close national and state elections would have been decidedly different if formerly incarcerated citizens had been allowed to vote. Voting restoration will not only give returning citizens a say in their own governance, but will help them to feel a connection to society again. For the millions of formerly incarcerated people living, working, and paying taxes in their communities, it will be a deterrent to recidivism, will restore their dignity as human beings, and, most importantly, will make our democracy more truly representative.

 

Resisting the Influence of Money in Politics to Restore Our Power

By Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause

Our democracy faces a crisis not seen since the 1970s. Some elected officials and states continue to suppress the votes and voices of Americans; self-interested politicians cherry-pick their voters; the Trump administration continues to undermine our Constitution and the rule of law; and special interests, big-monied lobbyists, and multi-national corporations have a megaphone in deciding policies that our government makes while our children and our communities often suffer the consequences of those rigged policies.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is the biggest, boldest democracy reform package introduced since the Watergate era. It would restore the rule of law, stop hyper-partisan gerrymandering, strengthen the right to vote for all citizens and empower the voices of all our nation’s people. It contains many bold reforms, such as: small-donor citizen-funded elections, disclosure of secret money in politics, and closing loopholes to prevent foreign money from being spent in U.S. elections.

Citizen-funded elections are an especially important part of H.R. 1 because they allow individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities, who may not always be connected to sources of money, to run for and win elected office. In my home state of Connecticut where I helped lead the successful fight for the Citizens’ Election Program, the program is making a difference in the types of policies that are debated and passed in the state legislature, and it is shifting power from lobbyists and big-money corporations back to the people.

Nearly all the reforms contained in H.R. 1 have been tested and proven at the state and/or local level, often with Common Cause state chapters leading those efforts. Last November, Common Cause supported more than two-dozen pro-democracy reform ballot initiatives, more than 90% of which passed in red, blue, and purple states and localities, often with strong bipartisan support. We detail those initiatives, including six successful state initiatives to reduce the influence of money in politics, in our “Democracy on the Ballot” report. Additionally, with the beginning of many states’ legislative sessions this year, we have already secured several key voting reform victories in 2019.

We, and all the incredible allies in the faith community and other organizations, must continue fighting to “hold power accountable” to make sure that the voices of all people, regardless of the size of their wallets, can be heard in our democracy.

Karen Hobert Flynn is the president of Common Cause, which since 1970, has been working to hold power accountable through lobbying, litigation, and grassroots organizing. Our non-partisan, pro-democracy work has helped pass hundreds of reforms at the federal, state, and local levels. We now have 30 state chapters and more than 1.2 million members around the country who are working to strengthen our democracy. Read the “Democracy on the Ballot” report at www.commoncause.org/resource/democracy-on-the-ballot

 

The Impact of Gerrymandering on Voters, Elections, and Lawmakers

By Celina Stewart, Director of Advocacy and Litigation, League of Women Voters

Gerrymandering comes in two forms—racial or partisan—and has been happening since before the Constitutional Convention of 1787; no party is innocent in using their political power to influence what they want. But what is gerrymandering? Where did it even come from?

In1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting bill, creating a new voting district designed to favor his party. In the end, the district was curvy and long—much like a salamander. So foreign was this shape that a Boston Gazettecartoonist added claws, wings, and fangs, naming it “The Gerry-Mander”. Just like that, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Since then, very little has changed. Legislators have simply found new and innovative ways to accomplish the task. Some of this “innovation” stems from the evolution of technology. For example, as the United States entered the Digital Age, the development of computers and their ability to store, sort, and hold an enormous amount of information allowed political parties to gerrymander faster and methodically. So, why does this matter? Because voting data can now be exploited, in a way like never before, to distort our democracy; and politicians can pick their voters instead of voters electing their politicians. It’s a game politicians win before it even starts, and voters are the pawns.

Many of the gerrymandered maps created in 2011 during the last redistricting cycle ensured that no matter who voted, the outcome was already determined. This was achieved, with mathematical precision, by either “packing” or “cracking” minority voters into various districts. Gerrymandering tactics employed in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina, coupled with the gutting of Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), created the perfect storm for rampant voter suppression across the country.

Fast forward to 2019 – We now have 20/20 vision of the impact rampant gerrymandering and the Shelbydecision have made: Lawmakers choose their electorate without any checks in place to stop, discourage, or limit the practice without court intervention. For more than two decades, voters have existed in a system that favors the powerful and well-connected, enabling self-serving politicians to game the political system in ways that undermine the very essence of the U.S. Constitution. In a system like this, voters simply are disempowered.

Principles of fair governance are not hard to understand or articulate. If we want our government to truly represent all the people, then all our votes must count, and that’s what makes gerrymandering so dangerous. It’s why we must all be determined to fight for redistricting reform and relentlessly defend our democracy’s promise of “one person, one vote.”

Celina Stewart joined the League of Women Voters as Director of Advocacy and Litigation in April 2018.The League of Women Voters of the United States encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.League m77embers in all 50 states and in more than 700 communities register new voters, host community forums and debates, and provide voters with election information they need.

 

Census: The Foundation for Fair Representation

By Sister Quincy Howard, OP, NETWORK Government Relations Specialist

For the more than a year, the NETWORK community has advocated and lobbied Congress for adequate funding to support an accurate 2020 Census count. The Census’s potential future impact on billions of dollars of federal funds allocated to local communities for infrastructure, schools, and other vital services is deeply concerning to us. The census is a crucial tool for maintaining our safety net programs and providing for the needs of communities. The decennial census count also lays the foundation for our democratic systems. Census data is used to apportion Congressional representatives; determine the votes of each state in the Electoral College; and draw state, local, and congressional districts. Therefore, failing to accurately count all persons in the United States would be enormously damaging for, and potentially undermine, our democracy.

The federal government is constitutionally obligated to count all persons in the United States, both citizens and non-citizens alike, in the decennial census. After the 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution established a democracy premised on the idea that all persons—no matter where they are from, regardless of whether they can vote—deserve equal representation in our government. This precept aligns with our own Catholic Social Justice principles which promote the dignity of every person and the right and responsibility to participate in politics and society. Ensuring a proper count of the nation’s population to apportion representatives requires an “actual enumeration” of the people. This “actual enumeration,” specified by the Constitution imposes a clear duty on the federal government: to count all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or not and whether they were born in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The Trump administration, however, is once again threatening to undermine the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 Censuscount by including a citizenship question. Under the current climate of fear, mandating such a question would have a chilling effect on response rates in immigrant communities. The ill-conceived addition of the question circumvents the Constitution’s requirement to obtain an accurate count of all persons living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The Census occurs only once every ten years, and there are no do-overs. These numbers could lock our nation into an unfair count and inaccurate representation for at least a decade and possibly longer. The repercussions of an unfair, inaccurate count are immense, so we must do whatever we can to ensure that every person counts in the 2020 Census.