Category Archives: Policy Update

Investing in Housing Infrastructure Answers Gospel Call

Investing in Housing Infrastructure Answers Gospel Call

Jarrett Smith
June 9, 2021

I will also appoint for a place for my people, and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them anymore as formerly.

2 Samuel 7:10

On January 20, 2021,  President Biden was elected as the President of the United States of America.  As a practicing Catholic, Biden understands God’s call to pursue justice, and help amplify the power of the oppressed. For many, the Biden/Harris administration offers hope, especially when it comes to relief for basic human needs. A place to call home is a right ordained in scripture.

Here at NETWORK Lobby, specific policy goals on the topic of eradicating racism must be part of President Biden’s housing infrastructure proposal. NETWORK would like to see the following included as part of the foundation of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan:

    • Bridging the gap between incomes and housing costs by expanding rental voucher assistance to every eligible household. Currently, only 1 in 4 families eligible for rental assistance receives it;
    • Providing at least $70 billion to start increasing the supply and renovating existing rental housing; There is no state or congressional district in America with enough affordable homes for families with the lowest incomes.

According to researchers at Columbia University, universal housing vouchers would cut child poverty by 36 percent. This policy proposal is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cut child poverty by one-third. Only government elected officials can make these decisions.

NETWORK believes that even the lowest-earning household or individual should have a place to call home. Housing is a human right, and we can no longer allow federal policy to get in the way of this goal. A change in housing policy must happen today.  Homelessness is almost always a remnant of racial inequity. And while homelessness is a national crisis, here in Washington D.C. is a place many homeless people of color call home. We must eliminate racial disparities in housing on all levels.

NETWORK’s Build Anew cornerstone of “rooting our economy in solidarity” should be fundamental to future federal housing policy. Housing is the basis for stable economic prosperity. Without owning a place to live, how can contributions be regularly made to society, moreover, how can a person feel secure and accumulate capital? President Biden’s infrastructure housing proposal is an excellent start, and we will advocate for that proposal and further steps as it becomes our nation’s new infrastructure housing reality.

Access to Broadband is a Matter of Racial and Economic Justice

Access to Broadband is a Matter of Racial and Economic Justice

Jarrett Smith
May 28, 2021

President Biden recently released details of his much-anticipated infrastructure plan. It is a bold statement on the direction the President wants to take the country, and it is unprecedented. The President’s plan touts jobs which is an exciting step towards getting many people in the U.S. back to work.  President Biden’s plan focuses on increasing access to broadband in our country. At NETWORK, we believe broadband should be a utility, as every aspect of life requires access to the internet, like social services, health care, education, unemployment benefits, and more.   The COVID-19 pandemic proved that broadband is an absolute necessity for healthcare and other critical needs in communities across the country.

In NETWORK’s Raising Rural Voices report and national Raising Rural Voices event, lack of internet infrastructure was named as a key issue for communities, as it cuts them off from critical supports. A participant in the Wabasha, MN Rural Roundtable said, “Broadband is now essential to attracting people into the community. Many come with a job and then their spouse needs to work remotely. If there isn’t broadband, it really isn’t possible.” Stories like this emphasize the urgent need for comprehensive broadband investments.

President Biden’s proposal includes the following:

  • High-speed broadband – Investment: $100 billion;
  • Broadband coverage expectation: 100% coverage;
  • Enlists support from local governments, nonprofits, and cooperative broadband communities;
  • Providing set-asides for tribal broadband initiatives;
  • Provides price transparency for internet providers; and
  • Reduces internet prices, instead of subsidizing overpriced services.

Broadband USA recently hosted a webinar to illustrate the economic importance of broadband. According to a report by Professors Indraneel Kumar and Roberto Gallardo, internet providers contributed more than 77,000 jobs and more than $10 billion in economic activity across industries in 2017. So not only is expanding broadband needed for vital social services, it grows an equitable economy by creating jobs.

The path to implementation may be to use best practices developed in states. Virginia’s broadband initiative is a great example of expanding access. The state’s General Assembly passed legislation that simplifies the permitting process for broadband deployment and requires local jurisdictions to show detailed plans as proof for future deployment. This way, broadband service will not just be for the rich part of town. Another piece of Virginia’s broadband policy that could be part of the infrastructure bill requires utilities to lease their unused fiber to jurisdictions for alternative or supplemental use.

NETWORK believes that the new federal broadband policy must include funding and policy regulations to provide high-quality service to all users, whether they live in cities, suburbs, or rural communities. A way to guarantee the same level of service is implementing neighborhood block speed maps. Without block speed maps, the industry contributes to digital redlining, which allocates the best service to those with the highest income in a zip code.

At NETWORK, our Build Anew Agenda is based on four cornerstones inspired by Catholic social justice. A community that offers the same broadband service throughout regardless of economic status is cultivating an inclusive society and rooting our economy in solidarity. NETWORK hopes for the American Rescue Plan broadband subsidy to become permanent. It would help millions of people in the U.S., especially those most in need. It is impossible to be a community committed to inclusivity and economic solidarity without excellent broadband service for all community members.

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

A Year After George Floyd’s Murder, Still Working for Policy Change

Caraline Feairheller
May 25, 2021

On the one-year anniversary since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin, it remains clear that the criminal legal system will not self-correct. The racism embedded in the system continues to terrorize Black and brown communities across the nation. We cannot tolerate the loss of another life to police violence. In order to build anew, we must affirm that every person is made in the image of God and entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. This is a sacred responsibility. As Pope Francis reminds us, “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

Since passing the House in the 117th Congress on March 3, 2021, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (H.R.1280) has seen no action in the Senate. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is a crucial step in facilitating greater police accountability and towards dismantling the white supremacy in policing by ending long-held practices that allow law enforcement to murder Black people with impunity. The legislation:

  • Ends qualified immunity for law enforcement
  • Establish a national standard on use of force
  • Bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level
  • Mandates data collection on encounters with law enforcement
  • Restricts police access to military-grade equipment
  • Improves federal laws to prosecute excessive force

Congress has a moral and civic duty to protect Black lives. NETWORK calls on the Senate to pass H.R.1280, The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act immediately.

Opportunities to remember George Floyd and act for racial justice:

  1. Call your Senators at 888-496-3502 and ask them to pass H.R.1280 the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
  2. Join the Sisters of Mercy in prayer at 2:00 PM Eastern.
    Register here.
  3. Mark the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death with prayer with Catholics 4 the Common Good – GA at 8:00 PM Eastern. Register here.
  4. Watch the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s panel discussion From Protest to Policy.
  5. Follow the George Floyd Memorial Foundation to stay informed of their work on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
  6. Participate in the George Floyd Memorial Foundation’s Virtual Day of Action.

Both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are needed to Build Our Democracy Anew

Both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act are needed to Build Our Democracy Anew

Two critical bills, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, are being considered in Congress to transform our politics and safeguard our democracy. These bills have key similarities and differences, but both are essential in ridding our democracy of systemic racism and exclusion and building a new democracy that honors both the dignity of each individual and the value of community.

What is The For the People Act (H.R.1/S.1) and what does it do?

  • The For the People Act is a once-in-a-generation bill that reimagines American democracy into one that works for the people. It protects the freedom to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, gets big money out of politics, and strengthens government ethics and accountability.
  • From a voting rights perspective, it creates a national floor of accessibility to the ballot box that doesn’t currently exist, making same-day voter registration, no-excuse vote by mail, and at least two weeks of early voting the law of the land no matter where a voter lives. Many of the challenges of voting during COVID, for example, would be addressed through For the People Act.
  • And, in terms of the voter suppression laws currently moving in the states, S.1 would override many of them by requiring all states to meet this baseline of accessibility.

What is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R.4) and what does it do?

  • The John Lewis Voting Rights Act (VRAA) would restore the full power and protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
  • In 2013, in the disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. This provision required states with a history of enacting racist anti-voter laws to get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice before their state’s election laws could be changed.
  • This bill would restore the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act and hopefully expand the list of covered states.
  • This would prevent future discriminatory laws from being allowed on the books — like we are seeing proliferate across the country now.

How they work together

  • These bills are complementary and are both sides of the same coin — so if you hear folks talking about how we need to pick one or the other — that is a false choice and needs to be called out as such.
  • We should not be picking one — both of these bills are wildly popular — and both are 100% necessary to protect the freedom to vote. They accomplish different things.
  • If we’re thinking of this as a battle for voting rights the For the People Act can be seen as a sword—an assertion of rights and reclaiming the power of the people. The VRAA can be thought of as the shield, our defense against racist, discriminatory voting laws.

Different Bills on Different Timelines: Why aren’t the bills aren’t moving together or combined?

This is because of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — it requires a legislative record of field hearings on voter discrimination to protect it from a potential legal challenge in the future. So that means it is moving at a somewhat slower pace than the For the People Act, and it hasn’t yet been introduced in 2021 because there is a lot to incorporate into the record from the 2020 election.

The For the People Act is ready to go and is on an aggressive timeline: it passed the House in March and we need it to be signed into law by the end of the summer. It will impact redistricting and it could positive impact voting laws for the 2022 election, but its reforms need time to take effect, so it is critical this bill moves in the next couple of months

We need to move forward with passage of S.1 now and take up JLVRAA as the next immediate step in our democracy agenda. Think of American democracy as a sick patient.  The For the People Act is the treatment the patient needs to survive, H.R.4 is the vaccine to ensure it doesn’t get sick again. If we want to nullify the laws that have passed in states or those that will pass in the coming months, we need the For the People Act to pass.  The voting rights provisions of H.R.1 came straight from the late John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act, which he originally introduced in 2012 and reintroduced every session since.

Supporting a Pathway to Citizenship for Essential Workers

Supporting a Pathway to Citizenship for Essential Workers

Audrey Carroll
May 17, 2021

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, around 5.2 million undocumented essential workers in every state across the U.S. continued working in critical industries, including as health care providers and agricultural workers. Despite being an integral part of our communities and contributing to our shared wellbeing, these mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, and neighbors do not have an assured, safe path to citizenship. Nearly one million essential workers are Dreamers with no pathway to permanent status in the U.S. currently. It is time for this to change.

On May 12, Senator Alex Padilla chaired a subcommittee hearing focused on legislation which would provide a pathway to citizenship for essential immigrant workers.  The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act creates a pathway to citizenship for over 5 million undocumented essential workers in the U.S. The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senators Alex Padilla and Elizabeth Warren and in the House by Representatives Joaquin Castro and Ted Lieu.

NETWORK Lobby submitted a statement for the record for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety’s hearing, highlighting the vital role of undocumented essential workers in our society. Immigrants have always been at the heart of our communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized that without essential immigrant workers, we cannot survive. Undocumented workers have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic without vital benefits and protections. We can no longer treat essential immigrant workers as expendable.

NETWORK’s statement tells the story of Jose*, an undocumented student and worker who overcame the odds to receive approval for DACA. Despite Jose’s achievements, he lived in fear of what may happen to him and his family without the security of U.S. citizenship status. Undocumented workers are the backbone of our society and should not live in fear. No one should live in fear in the United States. Our immigration system has been broken for decades and we must build anew with a vision of inclusion and welcome for the future of our country.

All people in the United States, regardless of immigration status, make up one single community. Policies that prevent immigrant families from accessing citizenship, permanent legal residence, or needed resources for food, housing, and health care are unjust and hurt not only immigrant families but also our entire national community. It is time to respect and honor the human dignity of undocumented immigrants in the United States by providing an accessible pathway to citizenship.

*Name changed.

NETWORK Urges Congress to Vote Yes on Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

NETWORK Urges Congress to Vote Yes on Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Caraline Feairheller
May 10, 2021

 

Ahead of this weeks vote on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R.1065), Government Relations Associate Gina Kelley sent a vote recommendation to the Hill urging Representatives to vote yes. NETWORK Lobby proudly endorses the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and we ask each member of the House of Representatives to recognize the dignity of life and work by voting yes.

In the aftermath of the pandemic and an economic recession, this legislation is urgently needed. Despite current protections included in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pregnant workers are routinely denied basic, temporary accommodations to ensure a healthy pregnancy. In lieu of reasonable accommodations at the workplace, many pregnant workers face undue pressures to take an often-unpaid leave of absence, which may jeopardize their livelihood.

While pregnancy discrimination effects many, Black and Brown workers carry a heavier burden as they disproportionately occupy jobs with low wages and few pre-existing benefits and protections. Low wage jobs are often more physically and emotionally demanding, which increase the risk for pregnancy complications. Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications compared to white women. We cannot allow this racial and gender inequity to continue and the PWFA takes a step towards ending this cruelty.

As Executive Director Mary J. Novak writes, “This common sense, bipartisan legislation is faithful to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching—and the dignity of the human person in particular—by caring for the health and economic security of pregnant people and their families. Forcing workers to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck is immoral and the PWFA ends this injustice.”

Read NETWORK’s Vote Recommendation on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

The EQUAL Act Helps Us Dismantle and Build Anew

Joan Neal and Sr. Mara Rutten, RSM
April 13, 2021

The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act (H.R.1693/S.79) is bipartisan legislation that seeks to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for cocaine offenses, a major contributor to mass incarceration, and apply retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.

The EQUAL Act was introduced in the House on March 9, 2021 by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY-08), Bobby Scott (D-VA-03), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND-AL) and Don Bacon (R-NE-02). Across the Capitol, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously introduced the bill on January 28, 2021.

Before introducing the bill, Senator Booker said, “For over three decades, unjust, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness… I encourage my colleagues to support the EQUAL Act as a necessary step in repairing our broken criminal justice system.”

While there are many provisions within the justice system that produce discriminatory and racist impacts, the crack/powder sentencing laws are among the most obvious. For many years now, science and experience have shown us there is no difference between use of crack or powder cocaine. Neither one is more or less addictive nor produces more violent behavior in the user. The difference is that crack cocaine has historically been used in more urban communities of color, specifically Black communities, while powder cocaine has more often been found in whiter, more suburban communities. The racial implications couldn’t be clearer.

Furthermore, the sentencing disparity between these two drugs has contributed significantly to the growth of mass incarceration in this country. According to FAMM, in 2019 alone, 81% of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses were Black, even though historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been white or Hispanic. It is time to end this racist policy and restore proportionality in sentencing.

Events of the past few years have illuminated the systemic inequalities in our country’s criminal legal system. At NETWORK, we cannot continue to tolerate racial profiling, police brutality, the loss of another generation to mass incarceration, or the perpetuation of poverty. As we Build Anew, we affirm the truth that every person is entitled to dignity and equal justice under law. It is time for Congress to act and take a firm stance against institutional racism embedded within the criminal legal system by passing the EQUAL Act (H.R.1693/S.79).

Join NETWORK’s Virtual Lobby Day on May 12 to lobby your Representative to pass the EQUAL Act in the House! Learn more and register here.

NETWORK Joins Faith Leaders Calling on Congress to Pass H.R.40

NETWORK Joins Faith Leaders Calling on Congress to Pass H.R.40

Jarrett Smith
May 4, 2021

At the end of April, NETWORK Lobby joined a sign-on letter to Congressional Leadership along with 180 faith-based organizations, faith leaders, and advocates to urge Congress to support the passage of H.R.40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act. H.R.40 is the only bill that will lead to concrete proposals for repairing the damage that the United States government has inflicted on Black people and its passage will allow us to take steps towards dismantling white supremacy and steps towards repair so that we can build anew together.

Catholic Social Teaching is clear: racism is a sin. Our faith teaches us to reject the immoral system of white supremacy and to work for truth-telling and repair. We can no longer deny the sins of the past and its ongoing implications Black people experience every day. NETWORK urges Congress to support and pass H.R.40.

Read the full sign-on letter sent to Congressional Leadership.

Read Jarrett Smith’s blog on passing H.R.40.

Read the statement on H.R.40 from NETWORK’s Executive Director, Mary Novak.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Introduced in the Senate

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Introduced in the Senate

Audrey Carroll
April 29, 2021

Today, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The PWFA has been introduced in the House of Representatives and passed in the House Education and Labor committee in a 30-17 vote on March 24, 2021. NETWORK celebrates introduction of the PWFA in the Senate to advance long overdue family-friendly workplace protections.

In a statement from the Pregnant Workers Fairness Coalition, NETWORK Executive Director Mary J. Novak said, “NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice celebrates the reintroduction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in the Senate. This common sense, bipartisan legislation is faithful to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching — and the dignity of the human person in particular — by caring for the health and economic security of pregnant people and their families. Forcing workers to choose between a safe pregnancy and a paycheck is immoral and the PWFA ends this injustice. NETWORK Lobby calls on Congress to swiftly pass the PWFA into law and support gainfully employed people bringing new life into the world.”

Read the full statement from the Pregnant Workers Fairness Coalition here.

Read NETWORK’s Letter of Support for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act here.

 

Taxes and President Biden’s American Families Plan

Taxes and President Biden’s American Families Plan

Colleen Ross
April 28, 2021

The American Families Plan, the second part of President Biden’s transformational plan for U.S. jobs and families, makes investments into our nation’s children, our education system, and our health care.

While some members of Congress have already begun a strong campaign against the plan’s changes to the individual side of the tax code, it is long past time to modernize the tax code and make it more just.

Here’s a look at the transformational investments in the American Families Plan:

  • Extend the Child Tax Credit increases in the American Rescue Plan through 2025 and make the Child Tax Credit permanently fully refundable.
  • Make the Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion for childless workers permanent.
  • Extend expanded ACA premiums tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.
  • Permanently increase tax credits to support families with child care needs.
  • Expand summer EBT to all eligible children nationwide.
  • Create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program
  • Offer two years of free community college to all Americans, including Dreamers.

Read the White House summary of the American Families Plan here.

The American Families plan reverses the biggest giveaways that were passed in the 2017 tax law and reforms the tax code so that all contribute to our shared prosperity in a just tax system, including the wealthiest.  These reforms are urgently needed at a time when economic inequality and the continued persistence of the racial wealth and income gap are harming our country. We cannot be a healthy country while systemic racism and economic inequality continue harming individuals and families in our nation.

For this reason, we support the tax reforms included in the American Families Plan which specifically address the ways that the tax code widens racial disparities in income and wealth. These reforms include:

Increasing the top tax rate to 39.6%

One of the 2017 tax cut’s clearest giveaways to the wealthy was cutting the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 37 percent, exclusively benefitting the wealthiest households—those in the top one percent. This rate cut alone gives a couple with $2 million in taxable an annual tax cut of more than $36,400. The President’s plan restores the top tax bracket to what it was before the 2017 law, returning the rate to 39.6 percent, applying only to those within the top one percent.

Enforcing compliance with the tax code

The American Families Plan would invest $80 billion to strengthen IRS enforcement, which has been decimated over the last decade and improve reporting on the income for high-earners. According to ProPublica, millionaires get audited at close to the same rate as workers with less than $20,000 of annual income. The Treasury estimates these enforcement improvements could raise $700 billion over 10 years.

Changing how capital gains are taxed

The biggest source of income for the wealthiest people in the U.S. is the profit they make from the gain on stock or other assets; this is known as capital gains. (This creates the much-talked about reality where Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.)

The American Families Plan would partially fund the programs it proposes to invest in children and families by taxing income from capital gains like the taxes workers pay on their wages. It does this by closing two major loopholes that create the current system where wealth has a lower tax rate than what many middle-class workers pay on their wages.

Our partners at Americans for Tax Fairness explain how the plan closes these two loopholes:

  • For people making more than $1 million a year, or the richest 0.3% of taxpayers, Biden wants to eliminate the nearly half-off tax discount they currently get when they sell assets at a profit. Instead of paying today’s top tax rate of 20% on the profits from the sale of assets like corporate stock, the rich would pay the same nearly 40% they already pay on their big salaries and other income. The current capital-gains discount is what allows a billionaire to pay a lower tax rate than a teacher or truck driver.
  • Biden also wants to tax the wealthy on the accumulated gains of assets they inherit—gains that now go completely untaxed. The plan would only apply to gains over $1 million per individual, $2 million per couple ($2.5 million per couple when combined with existing real estate exemptions). This reform will narrow the wealth gap, limit the creation of economic dynasties, and raise revenue for services vital to all of us who do not inherit a fortune.
  • Together, these two reforms would raise around $300 billion over 10 years exclusively from rich people. This will narrow the wealth gap and limit the creation of economic dynasties. It will also fund investments in healthcare, childcare, education and tax credits for working families that raise millions of children out of poverty. (The Tax Policy Center estimated a similar plan proposed by the Biden presidential campaign would raise $327 billion.)