Category Archives: Taxes

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.

Remarks from Nuns on the Bus in South Bend

Nuns on the Bus in South Bend

Jessica Brock
October 19, 2018

The following remarks were delivered by Jessia Brock, attorney, at the Nuns on the Bus Rally in South Bend.

Good afternoon.   Your presence here is so important.  Thank you for being here.  Your voice needs to be heard.  And your vote is your voice.

My name is Jessica Brock.  I am an attorney here in South Bend, and my law practice has primarily served people living below the federal poverty line.  Most of my clients rely on income from SSI or Social Security Disability.  They rely on Medicare or Medicaid for healthcare coverage.  And they rely on other human needs programs like housing vouchers and food stamps in order to make ends meet, put food on their tables, and keep their families safe. I see on a daily basis how these programs make the difference, quite literally, between life and death.  One unexpected and expensive life event  – like the illness and death of a loved one or flooding like we experienced in February – can put a family barely making ends meet in serious financial trouble, and it is often difficult if not impossible to recover from such a setback.

In South Bend, almost 1/5 of the population lives below the federal poverty line.  That means there’s no wiggle room in the household budget – certainly no money for big, unexpected expenses.  The poverty rate here for whites is about 17%, for people of color as a whole it’s about 33%.  For African Americans in South Bend it’s about 42%.  Not only do we have income inequality.  We have racial inequality.

Republicans passed an immoral tax law in 2017, which prioritizes tax cuts for the highest income brackets and biggest businesses on the dime of basic human needs.  In 2017, the federal deficit went up 17%, and Republicans are blaming this on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  The truth is the immoral tax law is to blame for the deficit increase as well as increased government spending approved by the Republican-controlled Congress.  We do not have reasonable revenue for responsible programs.

People here are already struggling to meet basic needs.

  • There are women, survivors of domestic violence, in South Bend who are unable to afford to change the locks on their homes in order to protect themselves and their children from their abusers.
  • There are older adults in South Bend who cannot afford to pay for their burial.  They may have a family burial plot, but they can’t afford to pay for the cremation/burial and transportation to be buried with their loved ones.
  • We lost my father unexpectedly to brain cancer this April.  A simple funeral can easily cost $10,000.  All of the expenses were due upfront.  That’s a financial burden many cannot handle.

The truth is that Social Security and Medicare are paid for through separate payroll taxes.  They do not add to the national debt.  In fact, Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus right now.  The sad truth is that we are using the Social Security trust funds to finance our overspending on programming that does not meet basic human needs like being safe in our homes, having food to put on the table, healthcare, and dying with dignity.  We are robbing human needs programs in order to cut taxes for the rich and for big business.

There seems to be little we can agree on these days, as our leaders have played on our fears in an effort to divide us.  But there is much we have in common.  We all want to be safe.  We all need to eat and sleep.  We all want to be healthy, and we will all get sick.  We will all encounter unexpected, traumatic, and expensive life events that can quickly change our financial stability.

At times, it can seem like there is nothing we can do.  But that’s not true.  We can vote.  It’s free.  It doesn’t matter who you are, each vote counts the same.  Your vote is your voice.

Vote!  If you think that the government shouldn’t take from the poor to benefit the rich.  Vote!  If you want reasonable revenue for responsible programs.  Vote!

It’s We The People.  It’s us.  And we have a job to do.  No one can do it for us.   Let’s get out and vote!

View more photos from this event here.

Studying the Damaging Effects of the Republican Tax Law

Studying the Damaging Effects of the Republican Tax Law

Laura Peralta-Schulte, NETWORK Senior Government Relations Associate
October 17, 2018

On December 22, 2017 President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law. The new law significantly rewrites the tax code to make wide-reaching, regressive changes to our federal tax system, largely benefiting corporations and the highest-income households with little relief for middle and lower-income households. The law also permanently eliminates the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, hurting the viability of our healthcare system. These major changes did not receive a public hearing in either chamber before passing on a nearly party-line vote. Republican Congressional leadership put the bill on a fast track to President Trump’s desk from day one.

NETWORK opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act because it violated basic principles of tax fairness and encouraged even greater economic inequality. The bill violated NETWORK’s Principles of Tax Justice, which state that any changes to our tax policy must: make the tax code more progressive, raise revenue to support programs that invest in people and communities, and decrease inequality. The law fails to do these, in fact, it adds $1.9 trillion to the federal deficit over ten years, draining the treasury of valuable revenue for human needs programs.

Since passing the law, President Trump and House Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan, have used the increase in the deficit as justification for proposing deep cuts to programs including Medicaid, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It is clear that the Trump Administration and the Congressional Republicans would like to cut funding for these programs to pay for their tax law.

Despite increased annual corporate profits this year, corporate tax revenue is more than $100 billion lower than last year because of the law’s corporate tax rate cut. These corporate tax cuts are not trickling down. Nine months since the law went into effect, working families have not received the economic benefit they were promised. 4.4% of workers have gotten a pay hike or bonus connected to the tax law— only about 7 million out of 155 million— and most increases were a one-time bonus, not a permanent wage increase.

The provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act put our country on a dangerous path to higher economic inequality and decreased investment in our communities. We must put an end to these policies that enrich those who are already thriving and make changes to help those struggling while generating reasonable revenue for responsible programs.

 

Congressional Votes on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by State

See how your Members of Congress voted on last year’s tax law here and hold them accountable for their votes!

The Consequences of the 2017 Tax Law

The Consequences of the 2017 Tax Law

Tralonne Shorter and Ashley Wilson
Published in the October issue of Connection Magazine

In February, touting the benefits of the Republican Tax Law, Paul Ryan tweeted “A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA said she was pleasantly surprised when her pay went up $1.50 a week… she said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year” with a link to an article “Workers are starting to notice larger paychecks following tax overhaul.”  Assuming this teacher gets paid over the course of 52 weeks – which isn’t a given in many teaching contracts – this unnamed teacher would receive $78/year from the tax bill. A basic Costco membership is $60.

In comparison, a Republican Member of Congress, Rep. Vern Buchanan (Fla.) bought a yacht valued between $1 and $5 million on the same day the House passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  The Center for American Progress estimates that just through one provision of the tax bill, Rep. Buchanan will receive a $2.1 million tax cut.

So, the so-called “benefit” from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act isn’t exactly distributed with justice in mind. The authors of this law – and those who voted for it – made their decisions based on how they (and their wealthy donors) would personally benefit. And, they attempted to appease their constituents by making a false claim that everyone would receive great benefit.

Nuns on the Bus is on the road this fall – before the midterm elections – because the Republican Tax Law robs our nation of reasonable revenue for responsible programs. The law increases our federal deficit by giving handouts to the wealthiest individuals and corporations in our nation and claiming that everyone gets a tax break.

In fact, we know that not only do we not all benefit – the Republican Tax Law actively undermines the common good. Instead of shaping inclusive tax policies that promote equitable growth, the Republican Tax Law also exacerbates the racial wealth gap. Going forward, as we begin to feel the effects of the tax law and Congress debates additional cuts to federal programs, Congressional leadership will disinvest in the common good, especially programs that support individuals and communities of color.

Now, Republican leadership is again using their flawed argument to justify outrageous federal budget cuts to health, housing, labor and other human needs programs. These cuts are an attack on the common good of our nation! We know that when people at the economic margins of society do better, we all do better. To make the situation worse: while claiming we must cut human needs programs because of lack of revenue, President Trump continues to push for increased spending on border wall, Pentagon spending, and other programs that we don’t need.

When it comes to human needs programs, Republican leadership thinks our national purse is empty, but no fiscal constraints exist when immigration or war get considered. The vicious cycle of tax cuts for the wealthiest, spending cuts for human needs programs, and increased funds for border security and war have gotten us into a bit of a mess.

Explaining the Republican Budget Cuts

President Trump’s FY 2019 budget proposal called for at least $57 billion in cuts to non-defense programs. Those cuts to programs that contribute to the common good are counter to the bipartisan spending caps agreement that Congress reached just a short time before President Trump’s proposal. Further, President Trump is also pushing Congress to cut $3 trillion over 10 years to entitlement programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, Medicaid, and other critical programs.

Here’s how just some of the funds compare between President Trump’s most recent budget proposal and President Obama’s final budget proposal:

 

Program President Obama
(FY 2017)
President Trump
(FY 2019)
Net Change
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) $733 Million $0 -$733 Million
Federal Work Study $983 Million $200 Million -$783 Million
Department of Education $69.4 Billion $63.2 Billion -$6.2 Billion
Housing and Urban Development $48.9 Billion $39.2 Billion -$9.7 Billion
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (Program Operations) $2.9 Billion $2.4 Billion -$500 Million
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) $3 Billion $0 -$3 Billion
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) $82 Billion $73 Billion -$9 Billion

 

Let’s make sure we’re clear on this: These cuts President Trump is proposing aren’t “savings.” Instead, they are cuts to essential programs that will put already vulnerable individuals at greater risk. This threatens the stability and wellbeing of our communities.

In President Trump’s first year, Republican leadership showed us their priorities. Instead of working to improve the health of our nation, they attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (numerous times) and finally dismantled the individual mandate. Instead of working to reduce poverty, they proposed budget cuts that would risk the livelihoods of some of our nation’s most vulnerable people. And, instead of using principles of tax justice to make sure everyone pays their fair share, they rammed through legislation that benefits the wealthiest in our nation.

This is the opposite of mend the gaps – they make them wider. The faithful way forward is to promote tax justice, promote reasonable revenue for responsible programs, and work for the common good.

As you cast your vote this November, ask yourself, “Which candidate will help mend the gaps in economic inequality? Which candidate demonstrates concerns for the common good? Which candidate will undo the damage of the 2017 tax law?” and vote for that person.

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Travel Log: Las Vegas Canvassing

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
October 10, 2018

We started our second day in Vegas after a late night of heavy drinking and gambling (I’m joking, of course).  We were warmly greeted by the Culinary Workers Union 226 at their headquarters, joining a large room crowded with culinary workers diligently prepping canvassing materials.  Their morning briefing before heading out was raucous and full of energy—a great primer for a quick rally with the nuns to follow.  Sister Bernadine Karge, OP and Sister Simone were joined by two female union members to address a crowd of 150 or so unionized workers.  They spoke powerfully about human dignity, the need to respect workers, especially women (54% of their union members are female) and the importance of communal action and unity to bring about change.  The idea of solidarity and shared responsibility is especially crucial for a union that consists of 50,000 members from 173 countries that speak 40 languages.

Since over half (55%) of Union 226 members are Latinx, Sister Chris Machado, SSS and I had the opportunity to canvass with two Spanish-speaking women from Mexico and Cuba.  Most of the union workers had taken a political leave of absence—one of the contract provisions won through years of hard-fought negotiations.  Maria and Martha were both proud to take a leave—along with a pay cut—in order to put in their share of hours canvassing.  They want to promote candidates who will, in-turn, support workers’ rights and strengthened collective bargaining.

During their familiar routine going door-to-door, they explained that the names and addresses were of residents who did not, or rarely, voted in past elections.  As non-partisan participants, for myself and my fellow Nuns on the Bus, our primary push was to stress the importance of voting on November the 6th—that their vote and who we elect makes a difference. Most knocks had no response, so we left the materials at the door and Maria and Martha would return to follow-up.  Each time Maria saw that a resident was a registered Republican she would make the Sign of the Cross before approaching the door—but she did it anyway.  Needless to say, they are sometimes turned away with harsh words, but these workers are a persevering bunch.  They are driven for the sake of their families and inspired by their fellow union members who they consider their sisters and brothers.

 

To view more photos of the canvassing event, visit our Flickr album.

President Trump’s Plan to Take Back Funding from the Children’s Health Insurance Program

President Trump’s Plan to Take Back Funding from the Children’s Health Insurance Program

Kaitlin Brown
May 29, 2018

Just as supporters of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) thought they could relax after the popular health insurance program was renewed for ten years with bipartisan support, Congress is again threatening to cut funding. This past winter, months after federal CHIP funding expired, families waited nervously as funds began to run low and states started to send out notices to families, warning them of the possible end of the program. At the eleventh hour, funding for the program was approved, and families across the country let out a collective sigh of relief.

Now, however, there is a new threat to CHIP. Last week, the Trump administration sent a request to Congress to begin a rescissions process. This is something that hasn’t been done since President Clinton, and is a bit complicated. At the President’s request, Congress has 45 days to take back money they previously allocated. They need to pass this by a majority vote, but they also have the option to not take back any of the money.

President Trump’s rescission request asked Congress to take back $7 billion from the CHIP program, along with money from some other social safety net programs, including housing. Some of the money (around $5 billion) is money that had been given to the states but was not spent. In programs like CHIP, more money is given to the states than what is expected to be needed, in case of increased expenses and these extra funds are usually re-appropriated to other health and human services programs if they are not used.

The other $2 billion is money that is set aside in what is called a contingency fund. This is money that can be used in the case of an emergency, like a natural disaster, or Congress failing to fund the program in a timely manner. Last winter, this was the fund that was used to help ensure kids in the program continued to have coverage while Congress stalled on funding the program.

White House officials argue that the money is unlikely to be used, and wouldn’t take healthcare away from kids. However, without the contingency fund last year, millions of children would have lost healthcare coverage. And while some of the money has not been used, it has traditionally been absorbed back into other healthcare programs that need it.

Instead, this funding President Trump requested to have taken away from CHIP will be used to drive down the deficit caused by last fall’s $1.3 trillion tax cut. After giving tax breaks to millionaires, Congress has faced pressure on the huge deficit it created and decided to try and decrease the deficit by taking money from CHIP. While the rescission package isn’t guaranteed to take healthcare away from children, the damage this will do is enough to make families nervous. After last winter’s unfortunate CHIP battle, families deserve peace of mind about their children’s health insurance, not further cuts to undo the damage caused by tax cuts for millionaires.

Let’s Change Course Starting This Tax Day

Let’s Change Course Starting This Tax Day

Simone Campbell, SSS
April 17, 2018

I’m usually proud to pay my taxes, but this year is different.

Ordinarily I am glad to contribute to the common good. I’m glad that some of my taxes go to fund food programs and housing programs for so many in our nation who have been excluded from economic prosperity. I delight in paying my taxes to fund the education of the next generation. I am glad to pay my taxes to support critical healthcare for so many in our nation. I still criticize the amount of money going to the military for violence in our world, but I do my part even in that.

I am glad to contribute my part to “forming a more perfect Union.” It is part of my Catholic faith to contribute to the common good. In the past, I have delighted in faithfully, patriotically doing my part.

But this year is different. I am haunted by the fact that this year is the last time that our current tax code will be in effect. The Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House enacted a new tax code in December 2017. This new code increases our national deficit by $3 trillion dollars by shifting yet more money to corporations and those at the very top of the income scale.

This same dramatic decline in federal revenue is also the excuse that some Republicans, like Speaker Paul Ryan, are already using to explain why the government must cut funding for food to feed hungry children or senior citizens. It is the same excuse that politicians are using to claim our nation cannot afford to provide access to quality, affordable, equitable, accessible health care. It is the same excuse that they are using to say that it is all right if our families don’t have a place to live, because we refuse to invest in affordable housing. Our Republican elected officials are saying it is all right if the income and wealth gap in our nation continues to grow and our low-wage working families continue to suffer.

In short, the Republicans in Congress are proud that they are creating even bigger economic divides in our nation through their skewed tax policy.

But I know that their preference-the-rich policy does not faithfully support our people or our national needs. It fails the Pope Francis test when he says, “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies” (Joy of the Gospel, 203). It fails the Jesus test when he instructs us to love our neighbors. It fails the test of the Hebrew Scriptures that call on us to care for the orphan and the widow.

This tax policy fails any faith test. We as a nation will be judged because of it.

But that is not all. In our diverse society, not all of us are people of faith. But what we do share in common is our founding document of the Constitution. The key is found in the preamble where we assert “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…insure domestic Tranquility…promote the general Welfare.”

This profoundly flawed Republican tax law is undermining our Union. It promotes the welfare of the few over the many. It sows the seeds of social discord by preferencing those who already have so much.

This tax law makes me weep for who we have become as a nation. We are failing our people. President Franklin Roosevelt said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

This Tax Day, let us resolve to change course. Let us set our sights on the common good, not individual wealth. Let us as a nation raise reasonable revenue for responsible programs. This is what will make America great again.

Originally published at https://www.redletterchristians.org