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.
In two days, an indiscriminate cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will take up to 21 meals per month away from American families who count on this crucial protection to put food on the table. It’s clear that hunger will rise and poverty will deepen in all 50 states.
These cuts — which will reduce benefits to a mere $1.40 per meal — aren’t just taking food away from seniors, children, families and veterans, they’re placing an unbearable burden on congregations that serve low-income communities. Faith–based charities, food banks and service providers that already strain to feed their struggling neighbors are bracing for a surge in need as people scramble to make ends meet.
The tireless advocacy of groups like the Faithful Budget Campaign have gone a long way toward preventing cuts like this, but this time Congress has turned a deaf ear.
Looking forward, these unconscionable cuts show the need for the faith community to maintain an ironclad commitment to protect low-income families and seniors. During upcoming budget negotiations between Republican and Democratic Members of Congress, there is renewed concern of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. While this agenda is carefully cloaked in rhetoric about debt reduction, what it really does is take money out of vulnerable seniors’ pockets at a time when millions are already on the edge of poverty. That’s not right, and we can’t go along with it.
No individual should go without life-saving medical care because of partisan politics. Governor John Kasich got it right when he bypassed the Ohio General Assembly this week and asked the state’s Control Board to approve Medicaid Expansion. (Kasich had earlier appealed to Republican legislators’ faith and values.) I’m thrilled the panel rejected Republican obstructionism and voted 5-2 to expand this long-overdue reform. This momentous decision makes Ohio the 4th GOP-controlled and 25th state overall to expand Medicaid, allowing over 275,000 uninsured people (including 26,000 veterans) to receive care. Advocates must remain on high-alert as Republican lawmakers filed suit against the expansion in the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday.
While we rejoice in the expansion of Medicaid, our work is far from over. Across the country, organizations backed by the notorious Koch Brothers, are funneling millions of dollars into campaigns designed to chip away at the structural integrity of the Affordable Care Act. With six to seven million Americans denied health care in the 25 states that continue to reject Medicaid Expansion funds, we must not sit back silently while billionaires and their right-wing chorus attempt to take life-saving health care out of the hands of hardworking Americans. We have come too far and waited too long to sit back and let that happen.
Staking out the moral high ground
The open enrollment period for the ACA has faced a number of technical hurdles, but focusing on these ignores the clear moral imperative. The faith community must continue to give voice to the need for affordable health care and to protect the most vulnerable among us. For far too long, 47 million uninsured Americans have gone without critical preventive and chronic disease care, subjecting millions of families to needless sickness, pain and suffering. We are called to provide a prophetic witness in the face of continued opposition that is determined to undermine the social safety net and rob low-income Americans of their right to affordable and necessary care.
As the shutdown entered its third week and we approached the brink of economic catastrophe, I couldn’t sit and watch families, seniors, veterans and our economy suffer. Yesterday morning I joined more than 70 faith leaders, as well as dozens of families harmed by the shutdown, to march and pray at Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. We visited the offices of 13 GOP Representatives – including the Leadership — and called on them to have the courage and wisdom to end the shutdown and the threat of a debt default. At the same time, Faithful America members delivered 32,000 petitions to Congressional offices in five states calling on Congress to end the shutdown.
As we sang Amazing Grace while marching through the halls of the Cannon House Office Building, I was overcome with the realization of just how much guidance and grace Congress needs right now. Reckless Tea Party Representatives aren’t playing political hardball, they’re rejecting their basic governing responsibilities and making innocent people suffer for no good reason. Even though it appears that we’ve avoided a catastrophic default on our nation’s debt, this reckless episode of political hostage-taking diminishes our nation’s moral credibility and global leadership.
In response, Faith in Public Life released a hard-hitting statement from faith leaders calling for an end to the shutdown and rebuking Members of Congress who claim to be pro-life but have no compunction about taking food away from pregnant women and young children. One hundred Catholic, evangelical and Mainline Protestant leaders — ranging from nationally prominent voices to local clergy from coast to coast — have signed on, and more are doing so every day.
Almost 30,000 Faithful America members have also added their names, and next week they’ll deliver the statement as a petition to the offices of Members of Congress who support the shutdown.
If you’re a faith leader and would like to add your name, you can do so here. If you’re a lay person, you can sign the statement here. The handful of reckless legislators who are behind the current crisis need to hear from all of us.
The March for Citizenship forges on
In a stirring display of commitment and courage yesterday, more than 200 people — including faith leaders and eight Members of Congress — mounted a civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill to call attention to the moral urgency of reforming our unjust immigration system. With civil rights movement leader Rep. John Lewis among those arrested, the echoes of historic struggles for equality were clear.
Earlier in the day, influential clergy leaders held a press at the Capitol directly challenging House leadership on this issue, and in the afternoon tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to tell Congress to get back to work on reform that protects families and builds a path to citizenship. This came on the heels of a National Day of Immigrant Dignity and Respect last Saturday that featured 180 events in 40 states, many of which had religious leaders playing key roles.
In a promising sign that our community’s hard work is paying off, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) – the 4th ranking House Republican – told Univision this weekend that the House will pass immigration reform this year.
Ending the government shutdown, averting the economic catastrophe that will occur if Congress defaults on our nation’s bills, and reforming our immigration system are grave political challenges that share a common solution. House Speaker John Boehner must defy the radicals in his caucus who have forgotten their responsibility to serve the common good and protect American families.
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.