Category Archives: Women and Families

Dreamer’s Survival Fight

Dreamer’s Survival Fight

Heyra Avila
December 08, 2017

We all essentially live life day to day, not knowing what tomorrow will bring. We wake up, exist, and survive. Those are all blessings that get taken for granted too often and too easily. Surviving looks different for each individual. For me, surviving means fighting. My parents and I fought for survival and to break through poverty when we decided to cross the border without the proper documentation. We risked everything we had in search of a better life.

Fast forward to today: survival means justifying my humanity and worth as an “alien”, trying to fit into a foreign land I have called home my whole life. I’m surviving to fight and fighting to survive and not to just simply exist but also to thrive. The uncertainties of my tomorrows are plagued by anxiety, but also by very real possibilities of tragedies. I have to be very mindful of the fact that my family can be separated through incarceration and deportation for simply trying to live a normal life.

It wasn’t always this bad though. The fears were always there, but now they are very much alive thanks to the political climate promoted by the new President’s administration. Our existence has boiled down to numbers and statistics, and even worse, we have become bargaining chips in this political gridlock involving immigration. I’m disappointed that our government has taken the stance it has, but I am not surprised.

What’s frustrating is that some people are leaving it up to faith alone. “Don’t worry, Heyra, something will be worked out.” I can’t just “not worry” when my life is on the line. I remember people told me not to worry about Trump winning. They also told me not to worry about the termination of DACA. SO naturally, I am going to worry. I understand that some people do not like to get involved in politics, but at this rate we cannot afford for people not to care.

I am a woman of faith, raised in a Mexican Catholic household. I do find solace in prayer and mass. However, we also need to pray for God to give us strength, clarity, and empathy, so we can better understand our neighbor and to try to work for something more tangible that jeopardizes fewer lives and instead offers opportunities. Well-intentioned wishes and prayers do wonders, but legislative action is a must.

DACA is dead, but my dreams are not. In as little as three months when DACA expires, some lives are going to be forever transformed and the economy is going to be impacted no matter what your stance is. I want to survive and thrive in the country I’ve known and grown to appreciate. But I cannot do it alone. We have done a lot of work with and for our immigrant brothers and sisters, yet we have a long way to go for justice.

Heyra Avila is an Honors student at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio where she is a Philosophy, Politics, and the Public major. She takes action on a regular basis to advocate as an immigration lobbyist. Heyra currently lives in northern Kentucky.

“Good Guys” Are Overrated

“Good Guys” Are Overrated

Jeremiah Pennebaker
December 07, 2017

“ – and he is made more dangerous still by the fact that those charged with analyzing him cannot name his essential nature, because they too are implicated in it.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, The First White President

So, dudes are creeps. I feel like I should probably just stop the presses right there. That statement and the hashtag, #MenAreTrash, seem pretty self-explanatory. Especially in a time when countless women are reliving some of their darkest and most painful moments out loud. There is an ongoing exposition of men ranging from anonymous individual cases, to some of the biggest names in Hollywood and the media. Yet, when women tweet or exclaim that #MenAreTrash they are typically hounded by #NotAllMen, a cohort of men who believe themselves to be the “good guys.” Statements like #MenAreTrash aren’t as easily digested in this society as ones like, “She’s a liar,” “Why was she dressed like that?” or “She’s just trying to get some attention.” Statements like those, while problematic and misogynistic, are simply accepted at face value as people go about their day.

I think that I’m a good guy, or at least that’s what I’ve been told and what I’d like to believe. That’s what my friends say after they finish listing out the varying degrees of trashiness of the men in their lives, the men that they encounter on the streets, the men they know from work, the guy on their social media who just won’t stop harassing them, the old boyfriend who won’t stop texting them, the guy from high school who shared pictures of them and so on. We live in a society where women have to be afraid of men, and where guys aren’t held accountable for their treatment of women outside of the typical “what if that was your sister?” retort. This all leads me to question how good of a guy I am.

Being a Black man in America is constantly at the forefront of my mind. I think about it when I’m driving around, when I walk into stores, and whenever I am in public spaces. While I completely recognize the fragility of my safety and my body when I show up somewhere as a Black man, I cannot fathom the things that women are simply expected to live with. After hearing and reading the multitude of stories that have come out in the past month on sexual harassment and sexual assault, it makes me wonder how much of a good guy I am.  If I am a “good guy” what have I done to stem the violence and abuse that so many women experience? Do I deserve a pat on the back for simply not assaulting every woman I pass by on a daily basis? Should I get a thumbs up for not catcalling the girl on the metro? Do I get a high five for not lashing out when I get “friendzoned” by a woman with free will? Am I entitled to a round of applause for simply treating women like people?

A good friend of mine always says, “You shouldn’t give credit to a fish for swimming.” While I recognize that all this #MenAreTrash talk isn’t necessarily about me, it really is. How many times have I allowed my brother to make an offhand, misogynist comment? How many times have I not stepped in when my friend was being too aggressive with his girlfriend? How many times have I just blindly participated in a culture of sexism and hate?

I cringe as I recall the moments I could’ve and should’ve stepped in, the times I myself have been trash, and all the times that I didn’t even know that I was being trash. The #NotAllMen and #GoodGuy movement loses all credibility when it is seemingly #AllWomen who have had to deal with varying levels of assault and abuse. I would hope that one day my son or I won’t have to get pats on the back for being “good guys,” but it will simply be the expectation.

Congress Must Prioritize Affordable Child Care for Families

Congress Must Prioritize Affordable Child Care for Families

Tralonne Shorter
November 9, 2017

On September 14, two leading Congressional champions for children —Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA)—introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 1806/H.R. 3773). The bill would make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to lower- and middle-class families under 150 percent of the state median income level by capping costs at 7 percent of a family’s budget. The bill would focus on preparing 3- and 4-year-old children for kindergarten and make new investments in training child care professionals.

NETWORK supports this bill because our faith teaches us that children are a gift and blessing from God. Working families are stretched beyond their means and struggle to meet day-to-day expenses like housing and utility expenses. In 33 states child care costs rival college tuition.  Between 2007 and 2014 the median worker’s wages and compensation declined, respectively, by 4.0 and 1.9 percent. High-quality child care is simply unattainable for most families.  That is unacceptable. The Child Care for Working Families Act would help alleviate this burden on working families and help more children enter Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten on track and prepared to meet core competencies in reading and math.

There is growing support for the Child Care for Working Families Act including from: 28 Senators, 98 Representatives, and more than 20 national advocacy organizations.  Despite this strong support, the bill faces an uphill battle for passage since there is no support from Congressional Republicans. Additionally, the GOP-majority under the leadership of President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has prioritized passing tax cuts for the super wealthy, raising the deficit by $1.5 trillion on the backs of our children and working families. The GOP tax reform legislation does very little to help working families who are desperately in need  of tax relief such as refundable tax credits for child care and housing.  The Child Care for Working Families is a better alternative to tax proposals that would widen the wealth and income gap, and we encourage Congress to pass S.1806/H.R. 3773. The joy of raising a family should not be overshadowed by the rising costs of child care.

Here are three ways for you to act:

  • Explore NETWORK’s position on Women and Families (Mend the Gaps)
  • Sign the Moms Rising Child Care for Working Families petition
  • Read Senator Patty Murray’s blog on why she introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

Being a Woman of Color in the Trump Era

LaTreviette Matthews
November 8, 2017

Historically our country has viewed women and people of color –especially those on the low end of the socio-economic scale– as second-class citizens.  Never before, however, had I experienced so many emotions for just being me than I did after the 2016 election. The first thing I felt was a tremendous amount of fear. After the election, there seemed to be a rise in hate crimes and attacks on unarmed men and women of color. I did not want to leave my house. Subsequently the fear left me and I turned to anger. I felt angry that after having an African American president for two terms, now in the year 2017, people of color were still being treated like they are less deserving of being in this country than everyone else. I felt the pain of my ancestors and was ready for war against white supremacy and white privilege.

When fighting for the right to self-determination, people of color have endured pain and resistance. I did not want to do things the old fashion way by engaging in non-violent protests, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. I vacillated between fight and flight, all the while determined to protect myself and my family at all costs. My emotions were beginning to change again. I was in limbo. I was still angry but now angry with a purpose. I wanted to do something. For centuries people of color have tried many forms of fighting back against racism and injustice. I wanted to do something that was going to make a difference. This presidential election was the catalyst for my ferocity. Uncertain of my future and armed with a fierce determination, I sought community support.

Before last year, I did not consider myself a political person. I did vote in the last five presidential elections; I felt it was important for my vote to be counted. However, for presidential elections held before then, I was uninterested in social political activism and did not understand the importance of having my voice heard through voting. Although I was aware that people fought very hard in this country for African Americans to vote, it did not dawn on me that my voice would make a difference today. Growing up as a young woman of color, I did not have someone like Sister Simone at my high school or college to discuss my political views, encourage me to go to a protest, or show me how joining a political group could make a difference. I thought the political stuff was best left up to the adults.

I believe everything happens for a reason. I am convinced that this backlash against Obama’s presidency happened in order to shake things up and to awaken people to the injustices happening in this country; injustices that have gone on for far too long. Aside from racism, sexual harassment and assault, just to name a few, are issues that have impacted me the most following the 2016 election. Over the past five years working at NETWORK, I have become more political in my views, more involved, and more “WOKE.”  As a woman of faith, I know that life and death are in the power of the tongue. As a woman of color, I know the double standard that comes with freedom of speech.

Today, social media and “fake news” seem to have surpassed the reach of traditional media. In spite of its limitations, social media has become a platform for getting voices heard. To that end, I commit to using my platforms to hold people accountable for their actions. I have joined racial justice groups and forums in hopes to educate myself and others about racism and the challenges that people of color face in the United States. Today I am more hopeful and more connected. Women of all races are rising up and raising their voices. This makes me proud to be a woman of color in the fight for racial justice and social justice.

Supporting Tax Policies that Benefit Women and Families

Supporting Tax Policies that Benefit Women and Families

Anna Chu and Jillian Edmonds
August 16, 2017

The Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress have promised to release a tax reform plan this summer, which is likely to include some of the largest tax cuts in decades. As elected officials debate tax reform, we must ensure policies that slash taxes for the wealthy few and big corporations under the guise of growing the economy do not become the new law of the land. The fallacy that tax cuts for the rich and corporations grow the economy has been the conservative talking point since Ronald Reagan first touted trickle-down economics, and has been widely discredited.[i] But not only is President Trump sticking to the same failed playbook of the past, the tax principles he released in April lack some of most important tax strategies that would help working families. For example, his principles do not mention expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an effective anti-poverty program which would greatly benefit working women and families. In 2013, the EITC lifted 6.2 million people – including 3.2 million children – out of poverty (when taking into account the indirect employment and earnings effects of the EITC, this number nearly doubles).[ii]

Although there are reports that President Trump is considering improvements to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, those potential improvements alone do not mitigate the other troubling aspects of his tax plan. For instance, President Trump proposes reducing the corporate tax rate by 60 percent and getting rid of the estate tax, which impacts only the richest 0.2 percent of estates (including his own estate).[iii] Coupled with his budget, which guts crucial programs that provide basic living standards to low-income Americans, what emerges is a clear picture of the Trump administration’s economic policy—giving big payoffs for the wealthy few and big corporations, while pulling the rug out from everyday women and their families.

Tax Cuts for the Rich Just Make the Rich Richer

President Trump’s tax plan would be a massive giveaway to wealthy Americans and big corporations, and would harm women and families if enacted into law. He proposes slashing the top marginal individual tax rate to 35 percent and consolidating the current seven tax brackets into three. He also proposes slashing the corporate tax rate to an astoundingly low 15 percent. While he claims that such tax cuts would grow the economy and “create 25 million new jobs over the next decade,” this couldn’t be further from the truth. A Congressional Research Service analysis of the top tax rates since 1945 found little or no association between reducing taxes on the wealthy and increased savings, investment, or productive growth.[iv] A review of research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of the impacts of a 1993 tax hike and the 2001 tax cut also revealed that job creation and economic growth were actually stronger in the years after the 1993 tax increases than in the years following the 2001 tax cuts.[v]

Instead of creating jobs or economic growth, tax cuts for the rich just make the rich richer. An analysis of OECD countries found that there was no correlation between the top tax rates and economic growth, but there was a correlation between lower top tax rates and greater income inequality.[vi] The earlier CRS study also found that cutting the top tax rate concentrates wealth at the top of the income spectrum because it incentivizes higher pay at the top end of the scale and allows those people to keep more of that money. By cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, President Trump’s tax plan will contribute to growing economic inequality in our nation, which harms both our current economy and future growth.

Tax Cuts Threaten Funding for Critical Programs

While women and families likely won’t get a fair shake in this upcoming tax plan, it’s not their only worry. President Trump’s tax principles work alongside his federal budget, which would cut programs that provide a basic living standard to low-income families. His budget proposes eliminating heating assistance for people in poverty, funding for meals for seniors, and several housing assistance. These cuts will affect women the most, potentially creating an even greater poverty gap between men and women. The Tax Policy Center found that cutting the corporate income tax to 15 percent would cost $2.4 trillion 10 years — and that number skyrockets to $4 trillion if the 15 percent rate applies to pass-through income.[vii]

Unless the White House plans to simply increase the deficit, these tax cuts must be paid for somehow. The Trump administration has claimed it would pay for these cuts by raising tax revenue from other sources and from economic growth, but the budget shows they are more than happy to slash critical programs that provide a basic living standard for women and families. President Trump’s budget proposes dismantling Medicaid as we know it and cutting its funding above and beyond the cuts in the ACA Repeal Bill. SNAP funding would be cut by nearly $200 billion over the next decade – which would result in many states making it more difficult for families to get food assistance..

The President’s desire to give huge tax cuts to wealthy people such as himself and take away critical programs that are lifelines for many women and families flies in the face of what his voters wanted and is a recipe for economic disaster. We can learn from what happened in Kansas, where massive tax cuts enacted in 2012 led to decreased revenue, underfunded schools, and cuts to services. Massive budget cuts won’t make America great again – but they are likely to hurt many people.

A Tax Plan that Actually Helps Women and Families

Our tax policies should help the most vulnerable Americans by improving family tax credits and raising enough revenue for programs and services that support struggling families, rather than giving more tax cuts and loopholes to the wealthy and corporations. To have a tax plan that actually helps working women and families, President Trump and Congressional leadership should consider abiding by the following principles:

  • Don’t give more tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.They should pay their fair share in order to have a tax system that works for all of us.
  • Tax policies shouldhelp the most vulnerable now. Tax reform should preserve — and improve — tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit that help families make ends meet.
  • Support progressive tax reforms that would raise needed revenue— and expand opportunity for a stronger future for everyone. Every year, special interest tax loopholes cost the federal government billions of dollars. That’s money that could be used to support struggling families and give them a chance for a better life.

A tax policy that supports women and children requires that everyone pays their fair share regardless of their income or political power. It allows the government to fully support families that need assistance when they are struggling, as well as fund public parks, clean air enforcement, and other government activities that benefit everyone. Rather than giving the wealthy and corporations the largest slice of the pie, a tax policy that supports women and children expands the pie for everyone, resulting in more opportunities that keep America great.


[i] CNN Money. “The ‘trickle down theory’ is dead wrong.” http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/15/news/economy/trickle-down-theory-wrong-imf/

[ii] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). “EITC Boosts Employment; Lifts Many More Out of Poverty Than Previously Thought.” http://www.cbpp.org/blog/new-research-eitc-boosts-employment-lifts-many-more-out-of-poverty-than-previously-thought

[iii] CBPP. “Repealing Estate Tax Would Provide Windfall to Heirs of Wealthiest Estates.” http://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/repealing-estate-tax-would-provide-windfall-to-heirs-of-wealthiest-estates

[iv] Congressional Research Service. “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic

Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945.” https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42729.pdf

[v] CBPP. “Recent Studies Find Raising Taxes on High-Income Households Would Not Harm the Economy.” http://www.cbpp.org/research/recent-studies-find-raising-taxes-on-high-income-households-would-not-harm-the-economy?fa=view&id=3756

[vi] Piketty, Thomas and Emmanuel Saez. “Top Incomes and the Great Recession: Recent

Evolutions and Policy Implications.” http://www.imf.org/external/np/res/seminars/2012/arc/pdf/PS.pdf

[vii] CNN Money. “A 15% corporate tax rate could be very expensive.” http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/24/news/economy/trump-corporate-tax-rate/

[viii] National Women’s Law Center. “Cutting Programs for Low-Income People Especially Hurts Women and Their Families.” https://nwlc.org/resources/cutting-programs-low-income-people-especially-hurts-women-and-their-families/

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

New Rules Promote Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

By Colleen Ross
October 5, 2016

Protecting and promoting the rights of workers is at the heart of Catholic Social Justice. The stories of people like Kathy whose “temporary” position does not provide insurance or paid sick days and Joan who shared the story of a nurse’s aide returning to work the day after experiencing a miscarriage show the need for continued advocacy on behalf of workers. Nationally, there are about 41 million workers who lack access to paid sick days, forcing them to choose between their health and a paycheck anytime they or a family member are sick. [1] This is both an exceptional and unjust state of affairs; every other developed nation requires access to paid sick leave for their workers. [2]

Members of Congress, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and President Obama have called for legislation to provide American workers with paid sick days for years. In a significant step last week, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that requires businesses doing work on federal contracts to allow their employees to earn up to seven paid sick days a year beginning January 1, 2017. This rule could affect up to 600,000 people nationwide, and sets a strong precedent for businesses to follow.

In a related move last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published its final revisions to the EEO-1 form that will be used to collect data to prevent pay discrimination in workplaces. Though we have made progress as a nation in decreasing wage discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnicity, pay gaps still exist. As Pope Francis said “Why is it taken for granted that women should earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. This disparity is an absolute disgrace!” [3] NETWORK supports both the EEOC and the Labor Department in these steps towards realizing more just and equal conditions for all workers.


[1] http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-sick-days.html

[2] https://thinkprogress.org/the-u-s-is-the-only-developed-country-without-paid-sick-days-obama-is-calling-for-that-to-change-21af09694174#.d55xrlwdn

[3]General Audience, April 29, 2015  https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2015/documents/papa-francesco_20150429_udienza-generale.html

Blog: 10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

10 Things Speaker Ryan Could Do to Address Poverty Right Now

NETWORK Lobby
June 7, 2016

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice welcomes anyone, any time, to the conversation about how to make sure no one in the United States lives in poverty. But we strongly dispute the claim that this is a deeply complicated problem requiring a brand new agenda, such as the one likely to be presented by Speaker Paul Ryan in the coming days. The fact is Congress knows, and has always known, how to end poverty. It is simply not that difficult, in the richest country the world has ever known, to create an inclusive economy where everyone has the resources to live with dignity.

In fact, we could do much of it as early as tomorrow.

Toward that end, we offer Speaker Ryan, the driving force behind the Republican “anti-poverty” agenda, 10 things he could bring to the House Floor tomorrow that would actually work. This is not everything that has to be done to mend the gaps in the fabric of our society, but it’s a darn good start.

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour — Even as the economic recovery has brought lower unemployment, too many people working full-time jobs (or even two or three of them) don’t make enough to get by. A study by the National Employment Law Project found that $15/hour was the lowest wage that would still allow a single worker to meet the basic cost of living just about everywhere in the United States. Speaker Ryan could help lift thousands of workers out of poverty by passing H.R. 3164, the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act introduced in Congress last year.
  2. Guarantee paid sick leave — 49% of workers in America still lack paid sick leave and are forced to choose between losing the salary they desperately need and jeopardizing their health and the health of those around them. After passing a comprehensive paid sick leave policy New York City found not only that it improved the health and financial security of workers, but also that unemployment dropped and businesses grew.The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932) was introduced in Congress more than a year ago. There’s no excuse not to pass this legislation today.
  3. Guarantee paid family leave — In addition to ensuring that everyone has the ability to take a sick day to care for themselves or their family, we must also guarantee paid leave for new parents and those who have to take extended time to care for a sick family member. Only 5% of workers in the lowest 25% wage category have access to paid family leave, compared to 22% of workers in the highest 10% wage category. The FAMILY Act (H.R. 1439), introduced in Congress last year, builds on successful legislation passed by cities and states around the country to create an insurance program that provides workers with the family leave they need.
  4. Expand and protect the Earned Income Tax Credit — The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of our most effective anti-poverty programs. It provides tax relief to low-income workers to ensure that no one who labors to earn a basic wage is taxed back into poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the EITC helped lift 6.2 million people out of poverty in 2013. But the current law overlooks too many workers in need, including those low income workers without children and workers under 25 or over 65. Speaker Ryan himself discussed his support for addressing these gaps when he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee, now he has the means and the opportunity to make those changes today.
  5. Expand childcare subsidies — The high cost of quality childcare takes a dramatic toll on low-income families across the country. A report from theEconomic Policy Institute found that in every state, quality childcare cost more than 30% of a minimum-wage worker’s earnings. Access to high quality childcare allows parents to support their families and better prepares children to learn and grow into healthy adults. We shouldn’t ask people to choose between their kids and their paychecks — H.R. 4524, the Child CARE Act, is one way that Speaker Ryan could solve that problem.
  6. Ban the box — It’s no secret that admitting to having a criminal record is the kiss of death for job applicants. Conviction records are likely to reduce the prospect of a job offer or interview by almost 50%. There are currently 70 million people in America with arrest or conviction records, we are only just beginning to realize the massive economic implications of discriminating against the people who are reentering society and the workforce. Passing the Fair Chance Act (H.R. 3470) would allow people seeking to reenter the workforce the opportunity to apply based on merit, without facing discrimination.
  7. Pass immigration reform with a path to citizenship — For the millions of people who live in the U.S. without documentation or with only temporary permission to work, finding stable employment can be nearly impossible. Many more immigrants are barred from accessing the social programs they need because of decades of anti-immigrant legislation. By allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows and fully participate in society, immigration reform would benefit individual families and our community; the CBO estimated that immigration reform would reduce our federal budget deficit by $200 billion over ten years. H.R. 13, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, had the votes to become law in 2014 and is a viable solution to fixing our broken immigration system. Speaker Ryan should work with his fellow members of Congress to pass real immigration reform now.
  8. Expand eligibility and opportunity for low-income housing units — There is a significant shortage of affordable housing units across the country. Bipartisan legislation in the Senate rumored to be introduced in the House of Representatives (The Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act) would incentivize the building and preservation of almost 1.3 million homes. Speaker Ryan can move forward with his commitment to end poverty by developing a housing plan that focuses on ensuring that everyone has a home.
  9. Continue to make healthcare more affordable — The Affordable Care Act was a critical step toward making sure that all Americans can access the healthcare they need, but it stopped short of realizing the goal of universal healthcare. H.R.3241, the State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015, would allow states more flexibility and freedom to work toward universal healthcare. Speaker Ryan can move forward today to ensure that no one lives in the healthcare gap and take a powerful step toward alleviating the economic uncertainty and financial burden of families still left without health insurance.
  10. Reauthorize and improve the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act — The landmark legislation that helps feed children in schools across the country has been under attack by congressional Republicans. Congress has sought to cut the number of schools eligible to feed all of their students and increase the amount of time and effort schools must put into qualifying for the program. Beyond these initial changes that will kick thousands of students out of the program, Republicans in Congress want to replace the entire program with ‘block grants’ that will seriously jeopardize our ability to feed children in need. Congress has an opportunity to improve child nutrition programs to feed more children who are hungry. If Speaker Ryan wants to lead on poverty, he can start by leading his party away from policies that take food from children.

As NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus reminded Congressman Ryan in 2012, to implement programs that work to eliminate poverty, Congress must have the political will to raise reasonable revenue for these responsible programs. We can pay for these programs by closing tax loopholes and having the courage to fix our broken tax system. Right now, a loophole in tax law allows hedge fund managers to call a portion of their earnings a ‘capital gain’ instead of ‘income’ and that small difference costs the nation billions in tax revenue every year. The Carried Interest Fairness Act (H.R. 2889) is one such piece of legislation that promotes tax fairness in the United States.

Creative solutions to solving poverty are necessary, but we don’t need to look far to find the answers. What if — instead of giving the billionaires another break — we took that money and used it to expand Section 8, the federal program that helps low-income families find affordable housing? NETWORK Lobby judges all legislation by how it would affect people experiencing poverty. If Speaker Ryan is serious about this issue, we encourage him to use the same criteria.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Sister Janet standing with residents of Providence House

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Guest Blog: Without Living Wages, Women Face Instability

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ
May 12, 2016

As the Executive Director of Providence House – a Brooklyn nonprofit providing transitional and supportive housing to formerly incarcerated women and homeless women and their children – I hear every day the heart wrenching stories of women struggling to make ends meet, and their searches for suitable employment that will help them care for their children and get back on their feet. Each of them desperately wants to return to the mainstream of life, living in their own apartments. Time and again the frustrations they express are very real – because the wages they receive for the hours they work, just don’t match up to the cost of living here in New York City.

Stories like Marisa’s, a 35-year-old Hispanic woman with a three-year-old daughter who entered the New York City shelter system in September 2015 due to domestic violence abuse. Prior to moving to Providence House she had been working for five years in a bookstore as a barista. In those five years her wage crept up to a mere $9.50/hour. Before taxes this would equate to an income of $1,520/month: barely enough rent for a one bedroom apartment. Add utility costs, food costs, and general living expenses, it was clear that as a single wage earner she needed to either find higher paying employment, take on a second part-time job, or do a combination of the two. Because Marisa did not have a high school diploma her options were limited. She received training as a Home Health Care Aide, and was able to add 15-25 hours of health care work at $10/hour, though the hours are inconsistent: a worry for Marisa as she tries to save while juggling these two jobs.

Then there is Thomasine, a 31-year-old African-American woman with an eight-year-old son. Thomasine is already working two jobs – one as a security guard and the other as a waitress in a restaurant. Her combined income from these two jobs barely hits $1,500/month before taxes. She has now resided in our shelter for two years.

Mary Lou, age 34, a white woman with two children has lived at Providence House just over a year. She is a delivery supervisor at a restaurant, earning $11.25/hour, with a before taxes monthly income of $1,800. Mary Lou is working hard to save her money for the security deposit and first month’s rent of a two bedroom apartment – which range from $1,500-$1,800/month – but again, it is an upward battle.

The economic divide here in New York crosses racial lines, although people of color are disproportionately affected. In New York the minimum wage has just been raised to $9.00/hour and both the mayor and governor are challenging the legislature to adopt a $15.00/hour minimum wage phased in over three years. Across the country, the federal minimum wage is even lower, only $7.25/hour.

Fighting for a living wage is more complicated than simply raising the hourly minimum wage. Workers today face multiple challenges, such as employers increasing part time and contract work, receiving different wages for tipped work, and decreasing benefits.

Living wages also depend on having access to affordable housing and maintaining savings. There was a time when ‘the norm’ was an individual or family dedicating 30 percent of their income to rent, which allowed them to not only pay for other living costs (food, utilities, clothing, medical, transportation) but also contribute to a savings account or pursue further education. The women I work with will be lucky if two-thirds (67 percent) of their income is dedicated to rent. Savings become difficult, if not impossible, so even when one of our group of women can earn enough to afford her own apartment, without savings, she lives on the precipice of future homelessness if any part of her fragile income stream falters.

Living wages ensure workers can care for themselves and their families and meet their housing, nutrition, health, and other needs regardless of where they live. A minimum wage is not enough; we must have living wages.

Sister Janet Kinney, CSJ is the Executive Director of Providence House in Brooklyn, New York,  www.providencehouse.org

This story originally appeared in NETWORK’s Connection magazine. See the full issue here.

Blog: During Women’s History Month Don’t Forget Women Behind Bars

During Women’s History Month Don’t Forget Women Behind Bars

Joan Neal
March 29, 2016

March is Women’s History month and this year’s theme is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union.” This is certainly a noble goal and one we should aspire to attain. But as we celebrate and honor women this month, let’s not forget that women still suffer, often unjustly, in the United States. Take the criminal justice system for instance. Not only are women treated unequally in this system, they are more often than men, victimized by it. To form a more perfect union we must address this issue.

The number of women in prison has exploded over the last couple of decades. Between 1997 and 2007, the female prison population grew at nearly twice the rate of men. Today, over 100,000 women are imprisoned in federal and state institutions – a 646% increase over the last 30 years! Nearly 58% of these women were jailed for drug offenses because women are more likely than men to be imprisoned for drug and property offenses. (Bureau of Prisons) We can’t form a more perfect union while this inequity exists.

To make matters worse, a quarter of women in state prisons and one third of females in federal prisons are pregnant when they are locked up. This has resulted in a 131% increase in the number of children with a mother in prison compared to a 77% increase in those with a father in prison! (The Sentencing Project) The pipeline of women into the prison system because of mandatory minimum sentencing has left thousands of children without stable homes and deprived them of the experience of a relationship with their birth mother.

While it is certainly clear that some women are guilty of non-violent drug offenses and should be held accountable for their crimes, it is also true that many women are victims of overly long mandatory minimum sentences. We can’t form a more perfect union until judges are able to give sentences that afford women greater opportunity to be treated fairly by the criminal justice system and to be held accountable in a manner that is proportionate to their offense.

Congress can honor women and make history during this National Women’s History Month by passing much needed sentencing reform. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123) is a vital reform that will reduce some mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of non-violent drug offenses and help right past wrongs by retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to approximately 6,000 women and men currently in prison. Although much more reform is needed, these changes are an important first step toward addressing some of the causes of the unsustainable increase in the number of women in the federal prison system.

Now is the time to pass sentencing reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.2123 over 4 months ago and it is time for the bill to come to the Senate floor for an up or down vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should put justice before partisan interests and bring S.2123 to the floor for a vote right away. Passage of this reform will go a long way toward honoring National Women’s History Month while at the same time helping the country ‘Form a More Perfect Union.’

Blog: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Work for Women and Families

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Work for Women and Families

By Carolyn Burstein
May 23, 2014

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) celebrated its 20th anniversary in February of this year. Back in 1994, the legislation, which guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers recovering from a serious medical condition and those caring for seriously ill spouses, parents or children or for new children, was a significant advance for this country. However, the law’s shortcomings are glaring:

  • Unpaid leave often is financially impossible for many people. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), that’s the main reason people don’t take family and medical leave.
  • Only applies to employers with 50 or more workers and excludes recent hires. Over 40% of the workforce isn’t covered by the law nor are those who haven’t worked for their current employer for at least 12 months or 1,250 hours.
  • Doesn’t cover reasons people often need to take time off to care for their parents
  • Person needing care must have a “serious medical condition”
  • Doesn’t cover care for grandparents, in-laws, siblings or adult children

Largely because of these shortcomings, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced “The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act” (S 1810/ HR 3712) in December 2013. The bill, which has not yet garnered Republican co-sponsors, would ensure 12 weeks of paid leave a year for a new child, to take care of an ill family member or to care for oneself. At this time only 12% of workers have access to paid leave through their employers. Just three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — have instituted paid family leave.

Paid leave would be available to every worker regardless of the number of employees in the firm or how long s/he had been employed there. The legislation would create a federal insurance program with an independent trust fund within Social Security where all employees and employers would make payroll contributions of .2 of 1% of wages (or roughly $1.50 per week for a typical worker). Like Social Security, wages would be taxed up to a cap of $117,000 per year. The person taking paid family leave would receive 66% of pay during leave up to a maximum of $4000 per month. However, it should be noted that two major flaws still exist: 1) care does not cover grandparents, in-laws, siblings or adult children, and 2) the definition of a “serious medical condition” still applies. In the latter two cases, “paid sick leave” laws should handle these situations.

If the Gillibrand-DeLauro bill becomes law, it would make many more Americans eligible for a benefit usually offered in the U.S. only at large companies such as Bank of America or Goldman-Sachs. The U.S. is the lone hold-out of all developed nations (and even many others not-so-developed) in not having a guaranteed maternity leave policy. Other countries offer up to 40 or more weeks of paid leave for mothers (and the U.K. passed a bill several months ago allowing moms and dads to share 50 weeks of paid leave).

Let’s examine the human dimension. Without paid maternity leave, many women struggle to afford time off to take care of themselves and their newborns after the birth of a child. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), over 40% have to take unpaid leave, and 25% either quit or are let go from their jobs when a new child arrives. The financial hardship is clear: 1/3 borrow money, dip into savings, and/or put off paying bills, while about 15% even have to go on public assistance to survive.

In her talks around New York State, Sen. Gillibrand reminds her audiences that in over 40% of families, women are the primary breadwinner. This fact alone places the Family bill (as it has become known) on an entirely different level — a unique place where it deserves universal congressional support. Her own Senate office grants three months paid maternity leave, one of the most generous in Congress.

Only about 15% of men get paid family leave when a new child arrives. Although 85% take leave at that time, nearly all take a week or less. But paid leave entirely changes that situation, as data from California affirms. Since 2004, with paid leave, 75% of California men take off an average of three weeks with the birth of a child. The vast majority of these men have claimed in surveys that they want to spend more time with their children and split parenting equally with their partners, and paid family leave may be the key to achieving this goal.

Seniors, too, would benefit greatly from a policy allowing paid family leave since 62% of caregivers for parents and/or loved ones have full-time jobs and often find it difficult to take unpaid leave. Making sure that these caregivers are at least partially compensated will not only make it easier to take care of their loved ones, but it will also allow the burgeoning population of older Americans to stay in their homes rather than the less cost- effective path of going into nursing facilities.

CAP maintains that research findings show that paid family leave also benefits the economy in several ways:

  • Keeps people in the labor force and even expands it
  • Reduces the chance that family members will have to quit their jobs when someone becomes ill
  • Reduces turnover and employment interruptions to the benefit of employers. California’s program alone has been estimated to save employers $89 million per year in reduced turnover costs. A study of companies listed in Working Mother magazine’s “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” finds that the availability and usage of work-family programs and policies have a positive impact on company profits.
  • Allows people to return to their original jobs where their experience can benefit the economy as a whole

It is possible that, as more states join California, New Jersey and Rhode Island in passing their own versions of the “Family Act,” more momentum will be created for federal action.

As part of her efforts to foster job creation, Sen. Gillibrand is focused on an agenda to create economic empowerment and security for women because she feels strongly, according to her literature, that women are the key to economic recovery. In addition to paid family and medical leave discussed above, Kirsten, a working mom, is also heavily involved in the following efforts, most legislation of which she herself has introduced:

  • “Paycheck Fairness Act,” and “The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013” to create fundamental fairness for women and economic stability for families and children, and to slow the decline of real wages.
  • “National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Tax Incentive for Teachers Act” that provides STEM teachers who work in low-income, high-need schools a tax credit to cover 10% of their undergraduate tuition. Closely related to this effort is the “Undergraduate Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Act” that would establish a new program under the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award 2,500 undergraduate scholarships each year for students’ full tuition (program would seek out low-income, high-achieving students) during their last two years at a state institution. These efforts together would help ensure that all students have a path to higher education and success in careers that will define the economy of the future.
  • “Small Business Lending Enhancement Act of 2009,” that would spur small business growth and create jobs by increasing access to loans from credit unions, especially for women. She is also working on legislation to reform the Small Business Administration to help women-owned businesses access federal contracts.
  • “Family Work Flexibility Act,” that would offer businesses a $500 tax credit to help pay the cost of equipment, such as computers and telephone lines that would enable more employees, especially women, to work from home.
  • To make child care more affordable for working families, Gillibrand is working with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to double the amount of credit with a maximum deduction of $6000 for families using “The Dependent and Child Care Tax Credit.”
  • “The Strong Start for America’s Children Act,” would establish a federal-state partnership to increase the number of high-quality early childhood educators and improve the student-to-teacher ratios in preschools. It would also increase the hours per day and weeks per year families have access to high-quality early education programs.

These are just some of the numerous efforts Gillibrand has been espousing and advocating over the past few years since she entered the Senate in 2009. We would say that she is “one busy woman in support of other women,” especially women who are among the poor and vulnerable of society. We at NETWORK are impressed with her agenda for the empowerment of women and, in turn, support her efforts as outlined above.

The recession has demonstrated that keeping a job is an absolute necessity. Losing one because of giving birth, helping a parent recover from a stroke, or care for a dying family member is a catastrophe that can be avoided at minimal cost, as the Gillibrand-DeLauro “The Family and Medical Insurance Act” shows. It’s hard to understand the reluctance of any fair-minded Republican to support this bill since, as the National Association of Mothers’ Centers says, it preserves the connection to self-sufficiency through employment so that the family can withstand a temporary emergency that allows them to care for each other without resorting to under-funded public programs paid for with tax dollars..

How long will it be before the U.S. joins every other industrialized country in the world in providing paid family and medical leave?