Category Archives: Policy Update

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.

Congress Takes First Step to Lower Maternal Mortality and Improve Health Equity

Congress Takes First Step to Lower Maternal Mortality and Improve Health Equity

Siena Ruggeri
December 17, 2018

There’s a silent but deadly epidemic occurring across the United States: women are dying during childbirth at an alarming rate. The United States is the only developed country where the maternal mortality rate is rising. Pregnancy-related deaths increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to a high of 17.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2009 and 2011. On top of that, 50,000 mothers a year experience dangerous complications that have the potential to kill them. U.S. women had a better chance of surviving their pregnancy thirty years ago than they do today. The fact women are worse off than thirty years ago is an embarrassment and a terrifying reality for women who are choosing to start families. If we truly care for one another, we must put a special focus on this critical issue impacting women across the country.

The rising maternal mortality rate is a public health crisis that is receiving a woefully low amount of coverage and legislative responses. California is the only U.S. state that has successfully lowered their maternal mortality rate. From 2006 to 2013, the state cut its maternal death rate in half. This was accomplished by a thorough investigation of the care process, and an implementation of better practices. California hospitals work in a collaborative that shares information and best practices specifically about maternal care. In order for other states to replicate California’s success, Congress must act.

Recently the House and the Senate passed the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, which was introduced by Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, with bipartisan support and a companion bill in the Senate introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp.  It creates maternal mortality review committees in every state that gather data and report their findings back to the Department of Health and Human Services.

(image courtesy of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice)

The U.S. healthcare system denies far too many women the care they need before, during, and after giving birth, a fact that needs to be remedied through legislation. Due to the medical racism that permeates the healthcare system, women of color are frequently ignored by providers when they advocate for their medical needs.

Black women are almost four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes, pointing to a shocking racial disparity. This is intensified in maternal health care deserts, where women lack access to critical healthcare. In rural and urban areas with limited OB-GYN services, women of color suffer greatly. In her congressional testimony, Stacey Stewart, the president of the women’s health nonprofit March of Dimes, emphasized that women of color often feel less trusted and feel less listened to in the medical system. She pointed to the fact that there are no obstetrical services east of the river in Washington, D.C.’s predominantly Black neighborhoods—women must cross the river to receive any sort of prenatal care. She also observed that in New York City, women of color are 12 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white women. Women of color are disproportionately vulnerable to deadly pregnancy complications, making the maternal mortality crisis a horrifying manifestation of racial injustice.

In his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee in September, maternal healthcare advocate Charles Johnson told how he lost his wife Kira after she gave birth to their second child. Kira and Charles, a young Black couple, made sure that hospital staff were aware that Kira was bleeding heavily after her C-section. Yet the hospital waited ten hours to address her medical crisis. By the time hospital staff acted, it was too late. Kira died of massive internal bleeding, leaving behind an 11-hour-old child, her husband, and her other young child. Kira did everything right; she advocated for herself and her child throughout her time in the hospital. Despite Kira and her husband’s persistence, her symptoms were ignored until it was too late.

The CDC Foundation estimates that 60 percent of American pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths could be prevented. The U.S. healthcare system is focused on infant health while ignoring the holistic needs of women.  As a result, healthcare providers are not equipped to protect pregnant women and prevent complications that can be easily addressed under the right care. We know many of these deaths can be avoided, but we must take action to examine how our healthcare system fails women and create policies that will prevent this.

Congress has taken the first step passing the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act, which was only possible because of the continued advocacy of the public. Using this as a first step, it’s important to keep the momentum going to fight for even bigger reforms to make health care safer and more equitable.  Health advocates need to make it clear to legislators that maternal health needs to be a key priority, both as we come to the end of the 115th Congress and in the new Congress. Far too many women, especially women of color, have needlessly died in this public health crisis. The only way to begin working toward a solution to this crisis is providing resources to gather more data on this epidemic so healthcare providers have the tools to prevent more tragic losses.

NETWORK Urges House to Vote No on Tax and Oversight Package

NETWORK Urges House to Vote No on Tax and Oversight Package

Laura Peralta-Schulte
November 29, 2018

Today, NETWORK sent the following letter to all members of the House regarding the Tax and Oversight Package that may be voted on as early as today. We oppose the package because it adds over $55 billion in debt and fails to make our tax code more just. Read the text of the letter below:


Dear Representative:

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice was founded by Catholic Sisters over 40 years ago and has 100,000 activists around the country.  We writes today in strong opposition to the newly released partisan Tax and Oversight Package scheduled to be taken up on the House floor as early as today.  The bill, unfortunately, mirrors many of problems found in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Law:  it was created in secret, it is loaded with benefits for corporations and wealthy individuals, and it adds over $55 billion in debt. We urge you to oppose this bill.

This fall, NETWORK’s “Nuns on the Bus” campaign toured 21 states over the course of 27 days to educate voters about the problems with the TCJA.  In state after state, we heard stories from people who are struggling and concerned about the viability of Medicare, Social Security and other vital programs.  Working people know the tax law rewarded the wealthy and the well-connected who are already not paying their fair share.  We should not be exacerbating that mistake.

Rather than giving more benefits to the extremely wealthy, Congress should be repealing its 2017 tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations in order to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and to generate enough revenue to make new investments in helping working families like expanding working family tax credits, creating affordable housing and green-energy jobs and providing healthcare for all.

Now is the time to stop business as usual in Washington.  Americans don’t want to see an end-of-year Christmas tree of gifts for all sorts of wealthy special interests.  It is time for Congress to put the interest of the common good over those of the wealthy few.  We urge you to vote no on the Tax and Oversight bill.

Sincerely,

Laura Peralta-Schulte,
Senior Government Relations Advocate

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

What to Look Out for in Lame Duck!

NETWORK Government Relations Team
November 5, 2018

The Midterm Elections are upon us — and NETWORK is busy looking ahead to the work that must be done for the rest of the year.

Members of Congress will arrive back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 13 to finish out the final legislative efforts for the 115th Congress. There are some time-sensitive issues Congress must address, as well as others that may be considered if there is time and political will. All the items on the agenda will be affected by two factors: the outcome of Tuesday’s election as well as subsequent leadership elections, especially in the House of Representatives.

With these uncertainties in mind, here is NETWORK’s analysis for upcoming issues in the final days of the 115th Congress.

Must Do: Fund the Government for 2019

Appropriations: Congress outperformed all expectations by passing 7 of the 12 appropriations bills for FY2019 before the start of the fiscal year, which began on October 1.  While kudos are in order, NETWORK is urging them to pick-up where they left off as soon as they return and it’s imperative that they finish the job before the end of the year.  Lawmakers have until December 7th to reach agreement on the 5 remaining spending bills which fund programs at more than 10 federal agencies, or risk a government shutdown.  Several of our Mend the Gap issues are among the log-jam.  These include: programs that fund the 2020 census, affordable housing and keep immigrant families together.

Border Wall

The most contentious issue will be funding for the Department of Homeland Security; which President Trump has already threatened a government shutdown if Congress fails to appropriate roughly $5 billion for his border wall.  A government shut-down would be detrimental just weeks before Christmas and would coincide with the anticipated arrival of thousands of migrants trekking toward the Southern border.  NETWORK has joined hundreds of advocacy organizations in calling for Congress freeze spending at FY 2018 levels for immigration enforcement officers, agents and detention beds.   And we urge Congress to pass a separate short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security.  NETWORK is ready to kick our advocacy efforts into high-gear if we perceive threats around funding for our immigration and census priorities.

2020 Census

Funding for the Census Bureau, which requires a significant ramp-up for Census 2020 preparations and planning.   If Congress returns to the dysfunction we saw last year with repeated funding delays via Continuing Resolutions, it could seriously threaten the ramp-up and preparations for our government’s largest peacetime undertaking, the decennial.  Fiscal Year 2019 is the pivotal year leading up to the 2020 Census so postponing full funding would have dire consequences on the preparations and outcome of the count.  While the proposed funding levels from the Senate and the House seem acceptable, it is unclear what the budget impact would be on the impending court ruling on the controversial citizenship question.

Click here to read more about NETWORK’s FY 2019 appropriations priorities.

That being said, there are some outstanding “Maybe” issues that Congress could address: the Farm Bill, Criminal Justice, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Farm Bill: Protect SNAP

There has not been much apparent progress since the Farm Bill moved into conference in August.  One of the primary sticking points in negotiations is the nutrition title and reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The partisan House Bill—which passed by 2 votes on the second try—includes harmful provisions that would undermine the program’s effectiveness and cut nutrition assistance for millions of Americans.  The Senate bill, which saw the strongest bipartisan support of any prior Farm Bill (86-11), makes key improvements to strengthen SNAP without threatening food security of participants.  The 2014 Farm Bill expired this month but, fortunately major programs like SNAP have a funding cushion that minimizes the impact of Congress missing that deadline.  It’s highly likely, though, that the Farm Bill conference committee will kick into high gear when Congress returns on November 13th.  During Lame Duck NETWORK will need your help to ensure that the nutrition title from the Senate bill is what’s ultimately adopted and voted into law.

Criminal Justice

There is wide speculation that the Senate could join the House and take up a modest criminal justice reform package during the Lame Duck session, if 60 Senators agree to proceed.  In May, the House passed the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill purporting to be a significant step forward in prison reform.  Over the summer the President tentatively agreed to include several sentencing reform elements into a prison reform package. The Senate was split on the issue of separating prison reform from sentencing reform but has changed course given the President’s willingness to negotiate a compromise.  While NETWORK supports sentencing and prison reform as a joint legislative package we did not take an official position on the First Step Act.

Read NETWORK’s thoughts on the First Step Act, from when it passed the House, here.

Low Income Housing Tax Credit

As Congress concludes work for the year, there is a tradition that of a small group of tax bills that are bipartisan, non-controversial and relatively inexpensive get passed.  This group of tax bills is called “extenders.”  Members of the tax writing committees are now reviewing what their priorities are for any extender bill.  One of the tax initiatives under consideration is passage of “The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act of 2017” (S. 548) which expands the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) to meet the housing needs of extremely low income renter households. This credit is the primary tool to encourage private investment in affordable housing development and is responsible for 90 percent of all affordable housing developments built each year.  Since it was passed in the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, the credit has incentivized the creation of 3 million affordable rental homes around the country.  NETWORK will work with

Given the national shortage of affordable housing, NETWORK believes it is critical that new build more low income housing units. Passage of this bill will go a long way to meeting the needs of the homeless and other vulnerable low income individuals and families.

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

José Arnulfo Cabrera
November 7, 2018

For the past year, the Trump administration has been renegotiating a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Trade is a priority issue for President Trump and his Administration has emphasized the need to increase trade benefits to Americans as part of his “America First” agenda. While NETWORK affirms the need to improve the working condition in the United States, we also believe that any deal must benefit workers and those in poverty in all three countries. To that end, we and our faith partners sent a letter to the Administration outlining priorities for the renegotiation.

We have a 24-year track record with the current NAFTA agreement and we know that the agreement created great benefits for large corporations, but time and time again it has failed to benefit the common good.  For example, NAFTA flooded the Mexican market with subsidized corn, wheat, and soy from the U.S., forcing literally millions of family farmers off their land. The pacts also allowed huge U.S. corporations to move in, driving tens of thousands of additional small- and mid-sized Mexican employers out of business. In fact, real wages in Mexico are lower today than before NAFTA was enacted. During this same period working families in the U.S. have suffered as well from flat wages and loss of jobs in the manufacturing sectors.  The new NAFTA, if done right, has the opportunity to make incremental changes to the status quo.

On September 30, the Administration laid out newly designed NAFTA 2.0. NETWORK, along with our faith and secular partners, began reviewing the new deal with the hope that progress would be made. Thankfully, there were some important areas of progress made on key faith priorities. There are, however, areas where the new NAFTA fails.  We expect the Trump Administration will sign the NAFTA 2.0 on November 30 and then send it to Congress for consideration under fast-track authority which allows for an up or down vote on implementing legislation without possibilities to filibuster.  We don’t expect it to be taken up by Congress until early next year.

What does this mean for NETWORK advocates?  Plain and simple, we must work over the next few months to seek changes to the agreement that will substantially improve NAFTA 1.0.  As a faith-based organization, we believe the global economy must care about and respect people and creation. The renegotiation of NAFTA can and must make North America a model of the trade policy we want to see across the world.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS): There are four areas where we see significant improvement in the new NAFTA 2.0. The first issue pertains to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, or ISDS, which gives giant corporations the ability to sue foreign governments over their domestic laws. To date, those courts have been used largely to attack domestic health, safety, and environmental laws.  This gives a lot of power to corporations over affected communities. The new NAFTA completely eliminated the ISDS between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico the ISDS was replaced by a new version of ISDS. The new one eliminates extreme investors’ rights, and remedies key procedural concerns. Unfortunately, there is a loophole in U.S.-Mexico’s new ISDS that gives nine U.S. oil and gas companies power going into ISDS courts. NETWORK and our partners will work to close this loophole.

Labor: Faith partners affirm the need for strong worker protections in all countries so that workers receive good wages, have the freedom to organize and work in healthy and safe environments. The NAFTA 2.0 text establishes new rules to end wage suppression “protection contracts” in Mexico – which, if enforced, could make a big difference over time on Mexican wage levels and incentives to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico.  Recently, Mexican workers arrived at a new plant to find that a “union” they never voted for has signed a contract they never approved locking in low wages. Workers who strike are fired. Labor organizers face violence and intimidation. This is a step forward.

The key problem is that there is no language that ensures these rules will be enforced. Unless strong labor standards are made subject to swift and certain enforcement there is no way to ensure the new rules are implemented. NETWORK and our partners will continue to work to improve the agreement so it contains real enforcement mechanisms that allow workers to thrive. Without enforcement of these new rules, they are meaningless.

Environment:  To have a global economy that cares and respect all creations we must uphold environmental protections. NETWORK recognizes that climate change is real and disproportionately affects the poorest residents, especially the poor in developing countries and small islands. We can’t accept or have a trade deal that continues to contribute to climate change. NETWORK, along with our faith partners, hoped to see the new NAFTA prioritize long-term ecological sustainability. NAFTA 2.0 eliminated the forces that made countries export natural resources that they seek to conserve. This is a good start, but NAFTA 2.0 still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, NAFTA 2.0 failed to adopt, maintain, implement, and enforce domestic laws that ensure the seven core multilateral environmental agreements. The deal also failed to mention the word “climate change” along with stating the economic and national security challenges that climate change creates.

Access to Medicine: This is one of the biggest failures in the current NAFTA 2.0.  NETWORK is a strong believer in affordable medicine and healthcare for all. Therefore, we want NAFTA 2.0 to increase access to affordable medicine, not to limit it. Further, we believe the U.S. government should prioritize pharmaceutical corporations and allow them to continue monopolizing their product through trade agreements. The new NAFTA keeps expanding the monopoly of big pharmaceutical companies, and allows many big pharma companies to keep medicine prices high, and moves further away from affordable medicine. We are working with our faith partners to change the current pharmaceutical language so we can begin to move towards more affordable medicine and eliminate the current monopoly pharmaceutical companies have now. NETWORK will work to eliminate the bad policies included in NAFTA 2.0 which line the pockets of pharma will harm patients.

Agriculture:  NAFTA 2.0 does not address the needs of small farmers and locks in many of the agriculture rules that have devastated family farmers.  In fact, NAFTA 2.0 seeks to provide new intellectual property rights that stop farmers from being able to save and share protected seeds. The new NAFTA allows agricultural biotechnology products that will bypass national efforts to ensure safety, effectiveness, and impact on workers, rural communities and ecosystem should be rejected. All of the current agriculture problems NAFTA has created allows big corporate farmers to overpower small farmers in all three countries; because of that, it is slowly monopolizing farming. NETWORK will continue to work to protect small farmers.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Legislative Update: Trump Administration Proposes New Regulation to Create a Wealth Test for Immigrants

Laura Peralta-Schulte
October 24, 2018

On October 10, 2018 the Trump Administration proposed drastically expanding the definition of who constitutes a “public charge” through a proposed rule in the Federal Register. Such a change would have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of individuals and families. If approved, it would set a wealth test for those seeking to become lawful permanent residents (LPR or green card holders), to extend or change the category of a nonimmigrant visa, or to bring family members to the U.S.  During this term in Congress, the Trump Administration has urged Members to pass legislation cut the family based immigration system and to shift to a merit based system.  Having failed to persuade Congress to much such a change, the Administration is now proposing to change the rules which will in practice limit legal immigration to US to those who are wealthy, well connected and well-educated.

The Administration is punishing people who wait years for a visa to come to America, work hard, and build a better life for themselves and their families. Previously, the government only restricted immigration applications on public charge grounds if it determined an immigrant would likely depend on public cash assistance or need long-term medical care in an institution at the government’s expense. Now, the bar will be much higher and impossible for many average, hardworking people to overcome. Under the proposed rule, receipt of an expanded list of public benefits will also be counted against a person including basic food, health and housing assistance. The full list includes:

  • Long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense
  • Medicare Part D
  • Non-emergency Medicaid
  • Public Housing
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • General Assistance

D.H.S. is also considering adding the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the list.

Further, under this rule, having income below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,975 for a family of three, would also be counted against an applicant.  A full third of all previous applicants had an income below this level. D.H.S. would also consider age, health, family status, assets, education and skills when determining whether an immigrant would become a public charge and certain characteristics would be deemed “negative factors,” or as indicators that the immigrant could become a public charge. Children, for example, start out with a negative mark because they don’t work.  If an immigrant has a medical condition, that will make it harder to become a lawful permanent resident. Preferencing the wealthy and failing to consider the tremendous gifts all immigrants bring to our communities is wrong.

The consequences of this proposed rule would be felt directly by those applying as well as U.S. citizen children: parents of U.S. citizen children could perceive they must choose between depriving their children of critical public health and safety programs or jeopardize their own immigration status. This is a painful and impossible decision. Both outcomes have devastating consequences for the wellbeing of children and families in America as one quarter of children in this country have at least one immigrant parent, and 90 percent of those children were born in the U.S. This is not a theoretical assertion.  The last time the United States made changes to the public charge rule, as part of the welfare reform effort in 1996, it instilled so much fear in communities that it led to significant drops in the use of programs critical to families. Even populations who were exempt from the public charge, like refugees and victims of trafficking, stopped using critical benefits that provided the support necessary for their families to become stable and healthy.  The use of a temporary assistance program known as TANF, for example, fell 78% among the refugee population despite the fact that refugees were not subject to the public charge test. The current proposed rule would similarly instill great fear in our communities across the country.

Finally, it is clear that the faith community and others who provide human needs services to those struggling in poverty will not be able to meet the needs of those impacted by this rule.  For example, Catholic Charities serves 1 in 9 individuals in need of food assistance in the United States. If the federal government implements the proposed changes, Catholic Charities would absorb an estimated $24 million in services that would no longer be covered.

We can all work to defeat this rule. Stay tuned for more resources and an upcoming action alert from NETWORK for how you can make a difference!

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Thousands of Medicaid Recipients in Arkansas Lose Access to Care

Siena Ruggeri
October 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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