Jennifer is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life. Before leading FPL Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations and is an ordained minister.
Last week I marched in front of the White House with faith leaders and federal contract workers demanding a living wage. Today those same workers are locked out of their jobs – without pay — along with 800,000 other federal workers. This futile, foolish government shutdown is making low-income and middle class families pay the price, and it’s just getting started.
The consequences of this political charade – forced upon all of us by “one faction of one party” – go beyond lost pay and economic disruption. Funding of critical nutrition supports for pregnant women, new mothers and infants is about to lapse. Children are already being turned away from Head Start even though it provides crucial educational and health benefits for low-income preschoolers. Seniors who struggle to put food on the table will see Meals on Wheels cut back. Even unemployed and disabled veterans will suffer.
House Republicans who trumpet themselves as pro-life and pro-family need to answer for both their hypocrisy and recklessness.
Yesterday, millions of uninsured Americans finally had the chance to get affordable coverage through Obamacare’s new health insurance exchanges. This is clearly something to celebrate. Republicans in Congress who object to Obamacare should be working to fix and improve it, not holding the government hostage in a desperate attempt to sabotage it. It’s time for them to set aside this childish scheme.
There’s no way this shutdown ends well for House Speaker John Boehner and his caucus. The government will resume functioning. Obamacare will continue to be implemented. The only question is how long American families will continue to feel the sting before their elected officials grow up and start doing their jobs again.
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Not long ago, “family values” was regarded as synonymous with the religious right’s polarizing social agenda. The Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association and others seized the “pro-family” mantle in the media and national political debates, casting a narrow definition of what it meant to defend families in public life.
But that day is over. A growing progressive faith movement is taking back what it means to be pro-family, and the public debate is changing fast — and much for the better. Strengthening families is a common thread through so many of the issues FPL and the faith community are taking on right now: immigration reform that keeps families together, protecting SNAP for struggling families, and standing up for budget policies that help parents provide for their children. There’s no mistaking what our community stands for.
Fair pay is another critical feature of a pro-family economy. Today I marched with Interfaith Worker Justice leaders alongside striking federal workers who are demanding a living wage, which is critical for working families. Religious leaders have also provided crucial support for fast food workers who are fighting for this cause.
Making workplaces more family-friendly by passing legislation that guarantees paid sick leave and family medical leave for workers is another front for this movement. No one should have to choose between caring for their loved ones in an hour of need or keeping a job that puts food on the table. The pro-family position on these issues is crystal clear.
The Audacity of Pope
Perhaps no one has signaled a desire to break from the culture wars of previous generations more so than Pope Francis. In a wide-ranging interview last week, he criticized church leaders for being obsessed with abortion, same-sex marriage and contraception, and said the church’s moral authority depended on leaders becoming more pastoral and less judgmental. Since then, he has also condemned economic inequality caused by a system that denies human dignity.
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Even though the House of Representatives leadership has been stalling the immigration reform debate for months now, faith leaders are still ratcheting up the pressure.
This past Sunday, congregations in Catholic dioceses across the country gave homilies and held events calling on Congress to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant families and builds a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans. The following day, leaders of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition announced the launch of Fast Action for Immigration Reform, a 40-day prayer and fasting campaign thousands of people of faith nationwide will participate in as Congress gets back to work this fall.
Today a Faith and Business Roundtable organized by Faith in Public Life at the University of St. Thomas in Houston will feature prominent local evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic leaders calling on Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) to support reform that includes a path to citizenship. Poe is an important figure in the Congressional debate, and St. Thomas is in his district.The Christian Community Development Association’s national conference this week is also mobilizing evangelical leaders to continue praying and working for reform.
All of these actions come on the heels of an August congressional recess in which thousands of faith leaders from coast to coast held scores of events urging House Members to support immigration reform.
Anti-immigrant politicians who thought they could quietly kill reform by delaying the legislative process underestimated the faith community’s commitment. We’re not going to waver just because it’s taking longer than expected.
A moment of truth
Immigration reform has attracted bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress – at least 26 Republican House Members support a path to citizenship. If Speaker John Boehner would allow a House vote on the bipartisan Senate bill today, there would be a White House signing ceremony within a week. It really is that simple.
Boehner faces a test of leadership and a test of conscience. He can continue to side with anti-immigrant demagogues like Steve King, or he can listen to the faith community and reform a failed system that destroys families and makes a mockery of our nation’s values. As House Members signal that they’ll resume work on immigration next month, the moment of truth could come very soon.
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As Congress returns from their August recess, many important debates lie ahead. One issue that’s flown under the radar this summer is the looming showdown in the House of Representatives over SNAP funding. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, keeps millions of Americans out of extreme poverty and hunger, but it faces serious threats.
For one, benefits for every single SNAP recipient will be cut automatically in November as an emergency benefit increase begun in 2009 and renewed last year expires. At that point, SNAP benefits will fall to a meager $1.40 per meal.
House Republicans plan to not only slash SNAP funding by an additional $40 billion, but also to make massive structural changes that permanently hobble the program’s ability to protect children, seniors, the disabled and struggling families from utter destitution. The proposed changes include rewriting eligibility rules to cut off recipients who can’t find work, incentivizing states to kick people off SNAP and undermining enrollment programs that help eligible families sign up.
The policy details are complex, but the big picture is clear – unless House Republicans change course, up to 6 million Americans who are barely getting by right now will soon experience greater food insecurity, hunger and extreme poverty. That’s roughly equivalent to the entire population of Missouri. A vote is expected as soon as next week.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has great fact sheets explaining what’s at stake. You can read them here and here.
Faith leaders are weighing in too. This week, Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Catholic diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Rev. Russell Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches, published op-eds in their local newspapers calling on their Representatives to show moral leadership and protect struggling families from SNAP cuts.
As the fight over SNAP resumes, I’m reminded of the faith community’s crucial role in the budget battles that began when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Thanks to the Circle of Protection, Nuns on the Bus, and many others, SNAP was spared from deep budget cuts and politicians like Paul Ryan were held accountable for claiming that taking food away from poor families was consistent with Christian values. As yet another round of this moral struggle begins, I have no doubt that our community will be heard again.
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Church bells rang out across the country yesterday as thousands of Americans gathered in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Speakers at the Lincoln Memorial pointed out both the tremendous progress made and the steep road ahead on our journey to fulfilling the ideals that were so resoundingly expressed half a century ago.
At the March and in congregations hosting commemorative services, leaders addressed issues such as jobs, living wages, economic inequality, education, mass incarceration, healthcare, immigration reform, and discrimination against minority voters. That sounds like quite a laundry list of issues, but they are systemically linked and woven together by a thread of common values – dignity, equality and justice.
As the marchers return to their home communities, the fight for these values carries on. Today fast food workers in 60 cities mounted the largest strike ever for living wages in their industry. Included were places where key events of the civil rights movement took place, such as Raleigh, Chicago and Memphis.
Led by the faith community, people across the country are marching, holding vigils and pressing lawmakers every single day to pass immigration reform that protects immigrant workers and families, builds a roadmap to citizenship and ends the gross miscarriages of justice caused by our broken system. The list of struggles for justice animated by Dr. King’s dream is long.
When President Obama said yesterday that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own,” I nodded along in agreement, but I also felt a flutter of fear in my chest because none of us alone is equal to this great task. Our success, which is far from guaranteed, depends on our ability to inspire, organize and mobilize. Only then can we make the cost of perpetuating injustice unbearable.
When, God willing, my son goes to the Lincoln Memorial 50 years from now to mark the century anniversary of the March on Washington, I want him to be standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races in a nation where full justice and equality are no longer such a distant dream. Whether that happens is far outside my control. But I do have a small say over whether he knows that his parents’ generation did all they could.
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