Category Archives: Policy Update

NETWORK Joins Partners in Supporting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Vote

NETWORK Joins Partners in Supporting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Vote

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
September 15, 2020

National policies must ensure family-friendly workplace protections in order to respect the needs of each individual. Workers, especially women of color, must have a work environment where everyone can balance work and family responsibilities. NETWORK Lobby joined its faith and religious organization partners on Friday, September 11th in signing on to a letter to the House of Representatives supporting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694).

The letter read: “Our faith traditions affirm the dignity of pregnant individuals and the moral imperative of ensuring their safety. We also affirm the dignity of work and the obligation to treat workers justly. It is immoral for an employer to force a worker to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning a living. By passing the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), Congress will ensure that workers who are pregnant will be treated fairly in the
workforce and can continue earning income to support themselves and their families.”

Read the letter of support below:

“Dear Representative,

On behalf of the undersigned religious and faith-based organizations representing a diversity of faith traditions and communities across the nation, we write today in support of healthy workplace environments and conditions for pregnant workers. We urge you to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694). People of faith across the ideological spectrum understand that prioritizing the health and safety of pregnant workers should not be a partisan issue. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would ensure that pregnant workers can continue safely working to support their families during a pregnancy. The bill requires employers to make the same sort of accommodations for pregnant workers as are already in place for workers with disabilities.

Our faith traditions affirm the dignity of pregnant individuals and the moral imperative of ensuring their safety. We also affirm the dignity of work and the obligation to treat workers justly. It is immoral for an employer to force a worker to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning a living. By passing the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694), Congress will ensure that workers who are pregnant will be treated fairly in the workforce and can continue earning income to support themselves and their families. Efforts to distract from the central goal of ensuring pregnant workers can maintain their health and the health of their pregnancies by inserting unnecessary, harmful, and politically divisive language into this bill undermines our obligation to protect pregnant workers across our country.

While many pregnant individuals continue working throughout their pregnancies without incident, there are instances when minor accommodations are necessary at the workplace to ensure the safety of the expecting mother and the baby. All too often, requests for simple workplace accommodations like a stool to sit, a water bottle, or a bathroom break are denied. Within the COVID-19 context, such critical accommodations might include proper protective equipment, telework, or staggered work schedules that offer employees commute times which avoid crowded public transportation and increased exposure. Currently, pregnant workers may continue to work without necessary accommodations because they fear losing their jobs and need the income, thus endangering their health or the health of their pregnancy. Without these protections, it is not uncommon for pregnant workers to be let go or forced out onto unpaid leave for requesting accommodations. Many others must quit their job to avoid risking the health of their pregnancy.

Passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a moral and economic imperative; two-thirds of women who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 worked during pregnancy, and 88 percent of these first-time mothers worked into their last trimester. Keeping these women healthy and in the workforce is paramount to family economic security. Nearly 25 million mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce, making up nearly 1 in 6 of all workers. And about 3 in 4 mothers in the workforce are working full time. Millions of families rely on their earnings. In 2017, 41 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners in their families, while 23.2 percent of mothers were co-breadwinners. Whole families suffer when pregnant workers are forced out of a job.

The undersigned religious and faith-based groups are united in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. We strongly urge you to vote for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and to vote against any motion to recommit that may be offered.

Sincerely, the undersigned:
Ameinu
Arizona Jews for Justice
Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
Catholic Labor Network
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces
Faith Action Network
Faith Action Network – Washington State
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Keshet
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Boston
Jewish Women International
Justice Revival
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Pax Christi USA
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Union for Reform Judaism
Uri L’Tzedek
Women of Reform Judaism

Read the letter here

Our Nation’s Political and Moral Response to a Global Pandemic

Our Nation’s Political and Moral Response to a Global Pandemic

Seeking Justice in the Face of Both a Health and Economic Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused illness and death and led to widespread unemployment and an entirely new daily reality in the United States and across the world. NETWORK quickly shifted lobbying priorities, advocating for workers and families to be prioritized in every coronavirus response package passed by Congress. We knew that those with the least would be the ones hurt the most by this crisis, as is often the case.

The COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health crisis and an economic one, and people of color have been disproportionately affected on both counts. Families and individuals, especially in communities of color, will continue to experience the negative financial effects of this crisis for months and even years to come. We need structural solutions. Congress must recognize the challenges facing those at the economic margins during this difficult time and choose people over profit in all of their policy decisions.

COVID-19 has given new urgency and significance to our moral mandate to provide health care for all, to protect the rights and health of workers, to ensure sufficient affordable housing, and to mend the gaps in all other areas of our society. As we continue our advocacy, we recognize the undeniable truth that during this pandemic, and at all times, the wellbeing of our nation depends on the wellbeing of each and every person.

So far, three main pieces of legislation have become law, with some provisions supporting health and the common good, and others giving tax breaks and other benefits to the wealthiest people and corporations. Further action must still be taken, however, to provide sufficient financial resources for families and individuals to be able to afford their rent and other necessities. In May, the House passed another large package with billions of dollars that would go toward those most affected by this crisis. The Senate must act to pass similar legislation to respond to the needs of our nation.

 

This story was originally published in the Third Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Letter Urges US Congress to Pass HR 40, Reparations Bill

NETWORK joined partner organizations in signing onto a letter sent to House leadership on July 30, 2020 in support of HR 40. The letter reads:

“Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal text, “Why We Can’t Wait,” was written in 1963 and has emerged as more prescient than ever in this moment. The multi-racial, cross-generational protests across the United States have ushered in a national reckoning on structural racism—and a sea change in attitudes. A majority of people in the US support the protests and believe that racism is a serious issue in this country. We, the undersigned organizations, believe addressing it can no longer wait.

People in the US are now more eager than ever to pull back the curtain on institutions to see whether they have helped to advance or stall racial progress, and the US Congress is no exception. One bill in particular can demonstrate support for meeting this moment in a reasonable, rational, and compassionate way: House Resolution (HR) 40. We urge House and Committee leadership to bring this bill to a vote now.

The current social movement, the largest in US history, is in response to problems that are centuries in the making—issues intractably tied to the horrors of settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people in the United States. People in the US are increasingly aware that there is no way forward from the current strife without addressing one of the nation’s most egregious violations of human rights—the institution of slavery. HR 40 would establish a commission to investigate the legacy of slavery and its ongoing harms as well as come up with proposals to Congress for redress and repair.

HR 40 is simply a first and reasonable step—it is a commitment to truth-telling, studying and coming up with ideas to treat the disease, rather than a commitment to the treatment itself. The bill has been introduced for 30 years—yet for 30 years, it has languished. If the protests have demonstrated anything, it is that action cannot wait.”

Read the full letter with signatures.

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

Giovana Oaxaca
July 24, 2020

The Trump Administration has made several attempts to curb immigration under the guise of public health through rules that are clearly discriminatory amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, NETWORK Lobby sent a letter to the House of Representatives in support of the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020.

The letter read, “On behalf of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and our 100,000 members from across the country, we write to express our support for the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020 (together, H.R. 2486). NETWORK Lobby recognizes that all displaced people deserve access to protection, regardless of the faith they practice our country of origin. Welcoming individuals of all backgrounds is not only an American value enshrined in the U.S Constitution, but also a basic tenet of Catholic Social Justice. Consistent with our values, we call on Congress to pass the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 without amendments or changes.”

Please read NETWORK’s letter of support below:

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

Dear Representative,

On behalf of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and our 100,000 members from across the country, we write to express our support for the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020 (together, H.R. 2486). NETWORK Lobby recognizes that all displaced people deserve access to protection, regardless of the faith they practice our country of origin. Welcoming individuals of all backgrounds is not only an American value enshrined in the U.S Constitution, but also a basic tenet of Catholic Social Justice. Consistent with our values, we call on Congress to pass the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 without amendments or changes.

The NO BAN Act is an effective counter measure against numerous anti-immigrant executive orders and bans that have been issued under the guise of national security in recent months and years. These wide-scale and discriminatory bans have in use since the early days of this Administration, when President Trump issued the Muslim Ban. After a lengthy legal challenge in the courts, a version of the ban stayed in place despite the objection of humanitarian and civil rights advocates, NETWORK Lobby among them. It effectively precludes people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as other countries from entering the country. Like the refugee ban—which specifically targets refugees for extreme vetting—the ban targeting asylum-seekers arriving at the border, the expanded “African” ban on Nigerian, Sudanese, Tanzanian, and Eritrean nationals, and countless other orders promulgated in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis, the travel bans extend the Executive Branch’s authority to restrict or suspend immigrant entry, even when these bans exhibit discrimination on the basis of gender and race—clear violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) nondiscrimination clause.

We stand in solidarity with people of Muslim, African, Arab, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Central American, and South Asian communities impacted by this Administration’s travel bans. President Trump’s promulgations on travel restrictions for countries where a majority of peoples are people of color or religious minorities, defy our nation’s leadership in the cause for religious freedom and racial equality at home and abroad. Passing the No BAN Act is an important step in prohibiting arbitrary discrimination from happening in the future, by imposing stricter requirements before any future ban could be issued, as well as reporting requirements to Congress to create an oversight mechanism once any future ban is in place.

This critical legislation would repeal President Trump’s Muslim ban, asylum ban, and refugee ban, and make necessary reforms to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to prevent future discriminatory bans. During the markup, the bill was amended to rescind the President’s recently expanded Muslim ban, targeting more Africans, and require reporting related to this ban, which was issued on January 31, 2020 and is now in effect. The language in this bill went through numerous negotiations, including during the House Judiciary Committee markup, to ensure that it would continue to provide meaningfully protection for impacted communities.

The Access to Counsel Act of 2020 would allow U.S. citizens or those who otherwise have lawful immigration status in the United States access to legal representation. Since the first Muslim ban, we have seen individuals detained at airports, barred from boarding flights overseas and in some cases forced to relinquish their immigration status without any opportunity to gain legal support. Access to counsel is critical to protect individuals from discriminatory government action.

This landmark bill honors our commitment to religious freedom and protection against discrimination. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges Congress to vote YES to passing the NO BAN Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 and vote NO to any amendments.

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Washington, D.C. Deserves Equal Representation

Sr. Quincy Howard, OP
June 26, 2020

Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act, legislation introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton that would finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people who call Washington, D.C. their home. NETWORK supports this legislation and the movement to secure equal representation and equal rights in the U.S. Congress for the District of Columbia.

In a letter sent to Representatives today, we write, “With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.”

The House vote on H.R. 51 could be a significant step forward for Democracy, as Rep. Holmes Norton said on twitter, “Neither chamber has passed the DC statehood bill in DC’s 219-year history. This is the beginning of the end of taxation without representation and the start of consent of the governed for DC residents.” We urge all representatives to vote yes on H.R. 51!

Read NETWORK’s full letter to the House of Representatives below, or download as a PDF.

 

 

June 25, 2020

Dear Representative,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges you to vote YES on the Washington D.C. Admission Act (H.R. 51). H.R. 51 is a vital piece of legislation that will finally give equal representation to the more than 706,000 people that call Washington D.C. their home.

Voting representation is the foundation of our democracy and it is past time to extend it to the people of D.C. Even with the passage of the 15th Amendment and the success of the women’s suffrage and Civil Rights movements, District of Columbia residents have remained disenfranchised from voting since its establishment. Today a population the size of Vermont—all neighbors to our nation’s epicenter for democracy—are stripped of their most fundamental right to vote. Our nation cannot proclaim to be the world’s strongest democracy when we deny hundreds of thousands of people political representation simply because of their zip code.

With a majority Black and brown population, the fight for D.C. Statehood cannot be separated from the struggle for racial justice in our nation. The lack of voting representation for D.C. residents is part of the harmful heritage of racial injustice in our nation. Our government cannot continue to arbitrarily revoke the fundamental, constitutional rights of our fellow citizens living in the District. It is wrong to justify the status quo based on party politics or the historical precedent of preventing Black and brown people from voting.

As people of faith, we believe that it is every citizen’s right and responsibility to participate in the political process as an expression of their inherent dignity. Our nation was founded on the principle of self-governance, but the people of D.C. do not have control over their own laws or their own budget. Residents of the District must no longer be denied this sacred right and responsibility—it is time for Congress to act.

Our status quo maintains that these Americans are not worthy of fully participating in our democracy. This historic vote brings us closer to achieving the ideals articulated in our founding documents. We urge a quick passage of H.R. 51 in the House of Representatives to grant Washington D.C. the sovereignty, rights, and dignity of statehood. Additionally, NETWORK Lobby urges a NO vote on any MTR’s introduced on the floor that diminish the pro-democracy reforms that H.R. 51 accomplishes as currently written.

Sincerely,
Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Government Relations Advocate, NETWORK

Police and Black Lives Matter protestor

We Call for Justice in Policing: Standards and Accountability

We Call for Justice in Policing

Necessary Standards and Accountability

Tralonne Shorter
June 11, 2020

Our nation is at a pivotal moment to redress systemic racism and the various ways it manifests as state-sanctioned violence, over-criminalization, and policing of Black people and communities. On Monday June 8, 2020, House and Senate Democrats unveiled a new policing reform bill in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. The bill, the Justice in Policing Act, now has over 220 cosponsors.

NETWORK joins advocacy partners, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in encouraging all Members of Congress to support this legislation that would lay the groundwork for criminal justice reform by setting a standard for policing and safety and hold officers accountable for misconduct and excessive use of force. NETWORK sent the following letter to all Members of Congress in support of this critical legislation, as well as the accompanying leave behind document.

Download the letter as a PDF.
Download the Justice in Policing Act leave behind.

Read the letter:

 

June 11, 2020

Dear Members of Congress,

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice is pleased to express strong support for the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120) introduced by Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Senator Cory Booker, and Senator Kamala Harris. We applaud our elected representatives for taking quick, bold action in response to the abhorrent and pernicious use of police force against Black adults and children. Now is the time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against the systemic racism embedded in police departments across the nation and within the criminal justice system. We implore you to pass this bill to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tony McDade, Tamir Rice, and the countless Black lives lost at the hands of police violence and in the name of keeping communities safe.

The Justice in Policing Act takes a monumental step toward dismantling the chokehold of white supremacy in policing by ending long-held practices that allow law enforcement officers to murder or maim Black people with impunity. These egregious acts of state-sanctioned violence terrorize Black communities across the nation, sowing deeper mistrust, and assailing communities that need investments in meaningful social and economic reform, not more dollars in militarizing the police force. For the United States to be great, we must root out all patterns and practices that destroy Black lives. This moment in history lays bare the reality that Black communities are traditionally under-resourced in education, health, housing, political representation, banking, and other federal and state programs that are necessary for people to thrive.

The Justice in Policing Act opens a route to reestablish trust in law enforcement and facilitate greater police accountability. This will enable the police to faithfully protect the communities they are meant to serve. The bill would ban chokeholds and support implicit bias training and community policing. As the House prepares to debate this bill, and negotiations with the Senate ensue, we urge you to include and adhere to the following principles in any legislation addressing police brutality and accountability:

    1. Require a federal standard that use of force be reserved for only when necessary as a last resort after exhausting reasonable options, and incentivize states to implement this standard; require the use of de-escalation techniques, and the duty to intervene; ban the use of force as a punitive measure or means of retaliation against individuals who only verbally confront officers, or against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves; and require all officers to accurately report all uses of force;
    2. Prohibit all maneuvers that restrict the flow of blood or oxygen to the brain, including neck holds, chokeholds, and similar excessive force, deeming the use of such force a federal civil rights violation;
    3. Prohibit racial profiling, and require robust data collection on police-community encounters and law enforcement activities. Data should capture all demographic categories and be disaggregated;
    4. Eliminate federal programs that provide military equipment to law enforcement;
    5. Prohibit the use of no-knock warrants, especially for drug searches;
    6. Change the 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242 mens rea requirement from willfulness to recklessness, permitting prosecutors to successfully hold law enforcement accountable for the deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties;
    7. Develop a national public database that would cover all police agencies in the United States and its territories, similar to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training’s National Decertification Index,11 which would compile the names of officers who have had their licenses revoked due to misconduct, including but not limited to domestic violence, sexual violence, assault and harassment, criminal offense against minors, excessive use of force, violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242; perjury, falsifying a police report or planting and destroying evidence, and deadly physical assault; as well as terminations and complaints against the officers; and
    8. End the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents police from being held legally accountable when they break the law. To overcome the defense of qualified immunity, require that a victim must show that law enforcement violated “clearly established” law by pointing to a case arising in the same context and involving the same conduct.

A new day has dawned across the globe as millions march in protest, amid a pandemic, for an end to police assault of Black people and families. The time is long overdue for enacting policing reforms that hold law enforcement accountable and equally responsible for protecting and serving everyone in society. Failure to act now would be an abdication of your moral and civic duty and a blatant disregard for the humanity of Black lives.

Sincerely,

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

NETWORK Supports Fix for Corporate Tax Giveaway

NETWORK Supports Fix for Corporate Tax Giveaway

Laura Peralta-Schulte
May 8, 2020

NETWORK has worked to make sure each piece of coronavirus legislation cares for those with the greatest need in our nation. Unfortunately, the final laws have had their flaws, and left people out. Now, one of those flaws could receive a much-needed fix as the result of legislation introduced by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Senator Sherrod Brown (OH). NETWORK and other justice-seeking organizations support this bill, to repeal a Republican giveaway to millionaires included in the CARES Act. The provisions included in the CARES Act would reduce government revenue by $160 billion over ten years and overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers. These provisions must be repealed at a time when our nation’s economic outlook is so difficult, especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Senator Sherrod Brown noted NETWORK’s support on his website, sharing Sister Simone’s quote, “Rather than stewarding taxpayer resources to promote the common good during this historic pandemic, Senate Republican leaders snuck an outrageous tax break for 43,000 millionaires into the CARES Act. Hedge fund managers, real estate tycoons, and other millionaires will each receive a $1.6 million tax cut. This is a shocking misuse of scarce resources! This Republican give-away is what Pope Francis calls ‘an economy that kills.’ It takes resources from the common good and showers it on those who do not need it. This is wrong, and Congress must immediately repeal this giveaway and invest these precious funds into programs that sustain the health, safety, and well-being of our communities. Sen. Whitehouse’s bill will make this right.”

As we continue to lobby for the common good in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we support this legislation that would advance tax justice in our nation.

Read more about the legislation here.

Bold Bills Aim to Mend the Gaps in Access to Housing

Bold Bills Aim to Mend the Gaps in Access to Housing

Tralonne Shorter
May 7, 2020

In 2020, NETWORK started the year with an expanded focus on housing to address mending the gap between housing costs and stagnant wages. Our goal is clear: build a pathway from poverty to prosperity for families. To achieve this goal, NETWORK joined the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign, a solutions-driven coalition comprised of multi-sector groups working at the federal, state, and local level to improve housing affordability and end homelessness.

While our lobby efforts continue to include increasing federal funding for critical affordable housing programs (like Section 8 vouchers, public housing, Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships), we are also supporting a growing list of critical bills that would make structural change by:

  1. Bridging the growing gap between renter incomes and rising housing costs.
  2. Providing aid to people experiencing job losses or other economic shocks to avert housing instability or homelessness.
  3. Expanding the affordable housing stock for low-income renters.
  4. Defending existing rental assistance and other targeted housing resources from harmful cuts.

Eviction Crisis Act (S.3030): A bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH) that would establish a federal emergency housing assistance grant program that would provide aid to people experiencing housing insecurity to avert homelessness and would create a national database to track evictions.

Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act (S.3083): A bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN) that would create an additional 500,000 housing vouchers specifically designed for low-income families with young children under 6 to expand their access to neighborhoods of opportunity with high-performing schools, strong job prospects, and other resources.

Housing Is Infrastructure Act (H.R.5187/S.2961): A bicameral bill introduced by House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) and Senator Kamila Harris (D-CA). This legislation would invest more than $100 billion to improve our nation’s housing infrastructure, build affordable rental homes, and create jobs.

Homes for All Act (H.R.5244): Introduced by Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05), a bill that would commit $1 trillion to fund the construction of 12 million new homes in the U.S. over 10 years, mostly as public housing.  

Rent Relief Act (H.R.2169/S.1106): Introduced by Representative Danny Davis (D-IL-07) and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), this bicameral bill aims to reduce rent burdens by creating a new, refundable tax credit for renter households paying more than 30% of their gross income for the taxable year on rent and utilities.

We applaud the authors of these bills for proposing solutions to the real problems facing too many families and individuals in the United States. In the coming months, NETWORK will mobilize to build support for this legislation in Washington, D.C. and across the country. Watch for additional communication from NETWORK with ways to support this faithful legislation.

Tralonne Shorter is a NETWORK Senior Government Relations Advocate.

 Housing Facts

  • When families struggle to pay rent, they face greater risks of instability, eviction, and even homelessness, which research links to food insecurity, poor health, lower cognitive scores and academic achievement, and more frequent foster care placement among children.
  • Our nation’s continued legacy of racism can be found within generations of public policy that continue to segregate communities by race and income.
  • On a single night in 2018, half a million people experienced homelessness in the United States.1
  • An estimated 1.3 million U.S. school children lived in unstable housing during the 2016-2017 school year.2
  • 4 million people in 5.2 million U.S. households use federal rental assistance to afford modest housing. 68% are seniors, children, or people with disabilities.3
  • 23 million low-income renters in the U.S. pay more than half their income for housing. Most do not receive rental assistance due to funding limitations.3

Who are they?

  • 32% are children
  • 34% are working adults
  • 12% are seniors
  • 18% have a disability
  • 3% are veterans

Sources:

  1. Department of Housing and Urban Development: hudexchange.info/resource/5783/2018-ahar-part-1-pit-estimates-of-homelessness-in-the-us
  2. Department of Housing and Urban Development: huduser.gov/portal/publications/Worst-Case-Housing-Needs.html
  3. Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: cbpp.org/research/housing/federal-rental-assistance-fact-sheets#US

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

NETWORK, Faithful Democracy Coalition Request $4 Billion for 2020 Elections

As Congress begins discussions of the next coronavirus response package, NETWORK joins the Faithful Democracy coalition in urging Congress to protect voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter signed by NETWORK and 28 other national faith-based advocacy organizations was sent to Capitol Hill today. The letter says:

“We cannot risk undermining our foundational democratic systems. The federal government must enable states and local jurisdictions to prepare for an historic election, even in the midst of this crisis. Planning and preparations must begin now to protect the integrity of the 2020 election and ensure that new protocols for voter participation are safe and accessible.…

The $400 million for elections in the CARES Act was a welcome start but is woefully insufficient. Faithful Democracy calls for $4 billion in the next response package for the Election Assistance Commission to uphold a safe and secure general election and to support states and localities still facing risks with primary elections”.

Read the full letter with signers.

Bearing Witness to Harmful Policies on Capitol Hill

Bearing Witness to Harmful Policies on Capitol Hill

Child Poverty Would Worsen Under Trump Administration Proposals

In February, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a series of four hearings over two days to examine the negative effects of regulations proposed by the Trump administration on children. The Oversight Committee invited Sister Simone Campbell, SSS to testify at the first hearing in the series, about how President Trump’s proposed change to calculating the federal poverty would harm children and families if it goes into effect. The remaining three hearings focused on: the Trump administration’s proposal to gut Fair Housing Accountability, proposed changes to Categorical Eligibility for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and the Trump administration’s proposal to undermine protections from Mercury Air Toxics Standards.

NETWORK was honored to participate and applauds the House Oversight Committee for holding these hearings. Using Chained CPI (Consumer Price Index) instead of regular CPI to calculate the poverty line — the proposed change that Sister Simone discussed — has been criticized by people of faith, advocates for children, and social justice organizations across the country. This hearing allowed Members of Congress to hear and discuss these concerns with experts, including Mr. Indi Dutta Gupta, the Co-Executive Director of the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Ms. Amy Jo Hutchison, an organizer with the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, West Virginia, as well as Sister Simone Campbell.

While Mr. Dutta Gupta offered an economic argument and Ms. Hutchinson shared her lived experiences of raising children in a low-income family, Sister Simone’s testimony provided a moral perspective on this change, with an emphasis on how it would affect our nation’s most vulnerable children.

Here is a portion of Sister Simone’s testimony to the Committee:

Protecting children is about caring for the common good — today and into the future. Thanks to modern understanding of human development, we have a heightened awareness of how children are uniquely vulnerable to a variety of factors — physically, emotionally, psychologically. Grave, potentially lifelong impacts can result from malnutrition as children grow. Exposure to chemicals and stressors as children develop inhibit their health. Traumatic experiences and encounters early childhood can create lifelong scars. Children are also intensely responsive to the emotional well-being of their caretakers and are formed by their living situation and immediate surroundings. In so many ways, children are more susceptible to physical and psychological stressors and less able to respond or understand their experiences.

The Role of Government:
The Trump administration’s choices — reflected in the regulatory rule-changes under scrutiny in these oversight hearings — make it harder for families to survive and to support thriving children. While the rules under review in this series of oversight hearings may seem like technical decisions, they are, at their core, moral decisions and must be treated as such.

This proposed change in the calculation of the Consumer Price Index is based on the middle and upper class experience of “shopping around” to find the best price. It also is based on the capacity of wealthier families to buy in bulk. Lower income families have neither the extra money to buy a large quantity nor the space in cramped rental residences to store extra supplies. Creating a rule that incorrectly assumes those experiencing poverty have the same experiences as wealthier people betrays the Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare.

The OMB’s proposal to change how poverty is measured is not only misguided, but is immoral. I am here to emphasize the lived reality of people in poverty and how this rule change not only ignores their reality, but would further sideline working families and the children they struggle to care for. Choosing to apply the Chained-CPI for setting poverty thresholds would not only further skew known shortfalls of the official CPI, but also would increasingly mask the extent to which families in the United States — and particularly children — suffer in poverty.

Poverty, the Lived Reality:
It is tempting to lump together all kinds of people to frame “poverty” in stereotypes. But people living in poverty are diverse and the challenges they face are varied. In 2019, NETWORK held 17 roundtables in rural communities in 16 states. What we learned was that these rural communities have no options for shopping.

In Tutwiler, Mississippi we were told that there was only the Dollar General and it had no fresh fruits and vegetables. If you wanted something else, there were no restaurants, fast food places, or farmers markets. There was only “gas station chicken”—fried chicken prepared at the gas station. There were no options or choices. Outside of Tiffin, Ohio, the story was the same. The rural residents referred to their Dollar General as the “shopping mall” because it carried a bit of everything and was their only option. In rural northern California, we learned that the casino was even beginning to stock food items for surrounding residents since the casino provided the only transportation option in several surrounding counties. It was the only way for many families to get somewhere they could purchase food. These rural residents had no store, no choice.

Conclusion:
We will never address these families’ struggles by masking the true extent of poverty in our nation. My faith tells me that both individuals and our governments have a responsibility to act for the common good. Central to this responsibility is protecting and supporting the most marginalized in our society. We should be investing in our nation’s children, not amplifying the crushing socioeconomic burdens of so many who are pushed into poverty.

NETWORK Responds to the Committee’s Questions

Following Sister Simone’s testimony, NETWORK submitted the answers below to the Oversight Committee in response to questions asked during the hearing. These questions and responses provide a look into how our nation’s elected officials are thinking about child poverty in the U.S.

Question: The 2020 poverty guideline issued by the Department of Health and Human Services is $26,200 for a family of four. Is this amount sufficient to meet families’ needs? Why or why not?

Answer: Under no circumstances is this income sufficient — at least not in the U.S. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the Living Wage Calculator to estimate the cost of living in a community or region based on typical expenses. The tool helps determine a local wage rate that allows residents to meet minimum standards of living for their basic needs.

In 2019, Yahoo! Finance rated the top 25 least expensive cities to live in the U.S. and rated the Texas city of Harlingen as the cheapest place, overall. [i] According to the MIT Living Wage calculator, a single parent with three children living in Cameron County (where Harlingen is located) would need to earn $65,291 before taxes to cover their basic expenses.[ii] A family of three with both parents working would need to earn $50,509 to cover their expenses. This example alone demonstrates how out-of-sync our federal measures have become in light of the reality of living costs.

Question: In your testimony, you focused on the long-term effects that poverty has on children. How do children experience poverty differently from adults?

Answer: The contextual factors of poverty amplify the experience of children growing up poor. The neighborhoods in which children grow up shape many aspects of their adult lives, including life expectancy, how healthy they will be, and how much money they will earn.[iii] Nearly 10 million U.S. children live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to good schools, parks, and healthy food and often experience discrimination as a result. Simply being born in these pockets of poverty puts these kids at a stark disadvantage. While adults may move through periods of hardship and bounce back, the experience for children can be formative.

The well-being of a child cannot be separated from the well-being of their household and their family unit. Children develop in an environment of relationships that begin in the home and they are uniquely sensitive to instability, disruption and the emotional well-being of those around them. I practiced family law for 18 years in Oakland California serving most of the low-income, high-conflict clients in our county. As such I learned that the single biggest cause of the breakup of a marriage is economics. Financial stress and the inability to pay the bills on time puts tremendous stress, guilt, and anger into any relationship. One poll from the Harvard School of Public Health found that more than 4 in 10 people “under a great deal of stress in the last month” reported that this stress made it harder to get along with family members (45%) and prevented them from spending time with family members (44%).[iv] For children growing up in a low-income home or neighborhood, caretakers with chronic or acute financial anxiety can further destabilize the environment and give rise to toxic stress, which can have lifelong impacts on children.[v]

Question: You have traveled across this country and seen poverty in different areas. What would you say are ways that poverty is different or similar across the nation?

Answer: Regardless of where they live, families living in poverty have something in common: their lives are regularly afflicted by obvious hardships and by invisible barriers. Across the board, U.S. families experience poverty as a relentless, crushing reality and a constant state of anxiety. People living in poverty in the U.S. share in their lack of access to needed goods and services and lack of options in decision-making.  Nevertheless, rural and urban realities of poverty differ in their manifestations. Rural poverty has the added burden of isolation and loneliness and lack of internet access. Childcare—and especially affordable childcare—is even less available in rural communities than in urban settings. Health care is challenging in both settings, but access to a pediatrician in rural communities is unheard of. Finally, mental health practitioners are simply absent in most rural communities.

Question: The Trump Administration’s proposal to apply the Chained CPI to the Poverty Line would cut many individuals from government programs, but some Republican members have touted it as helping to curb an ‘expansion of the welfare system.’ How would you respond?

Answer: This false narrative is tired and dangerously misleading. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) passed in 1996 as welfare reform and basically did away with cash assistance for struggling families. The amount appropriated in 1996 is approximately the same dollar amount appropriated today. There has been no increase for inflation or increase in amount to reflect the needs of struggling families, even during the Great Recession.

TANF was meant to have many supports for parents to go to work. There was to be funding for education, childcare, transportation, and much more. None of this materialized because Congress never fully funded their promise. The only thing that was done is cutting cash aid.

Any expansion of the “welfare system” in recent years is the result of formula-based programs responding to flat wages and growing income inequality. SNAP and Medicaid have become the actual safety net for allowing children to eat and get needed health care as their parents struggle in an increasingly perilous low wage labor market. The real spending value of SNAP benefits has actually gone down in the past several years so claiming “expansion” of the program is disingenuous and misrepresents the root cause of more need.

The short answer is that if we care about our future as a nation, we will ensure that our children eat and that they have access to health care. It is the least that we can do.

Question: How common is abuse by adult family members of programs like Free and Reduced Lunch programs or SNAP that are intended for children? Are there ways that we can better ensure these programs benefit children in need?

Answer: I was shocked by this question from Ranking Member Meadows. It evidenced his disconnect from the actual lived reality of children participating in the Lunch programs. His willingness to focus on a hypothetical scenario and the judgement built into that scenario is deeply disturbing. Rather than prioritize and lift up the benefits to children, he is focused on a misguided narrative that demonizes poor parents as prone to taking advantage of or neglecting their children. Any instance of this type of abuse of benefits in which a parent funnels food assistance away from their hungry child clearly could not stand.

I was told by a father in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that it might be okay for a parent to eat once or twice a day, but growing children (especially his 14-year-old boy) needed much more than that. I have also talked with parents in rural Iowa who shared the same concern and were so grateful for the lunch program for their growing children. This is the TYPICAL response of parents and Representative Meadows would do well to talk with them.

Parents — even parents struggling financially — can be trusted to prioritize the well-being of their own children. This question is the quintessential example of how out-of-touch lawmakers make classist judgments about the motives and accountability of people — and parents — struggling in poverty.

This story was originally published in the Second Quarter 2020 issue of Connection magazine. Read the full issue.