If you want to see the power of faith to serve the common good, there are few better places to look than our nation’s religious hospitals and healthcare facilities. Their generous commitment and humble service show that the teachings of our faiths are truly life-giving, not just letters on the pages of Scripture.
Unfortunately, some of these providers and the people they serve are being directly harmed by politicians blocking Medicaid improvements in 24 states. Mercy Health, one of the largest Catholic health care systems in the country, just laid off 220 people thanks in part to this immoral obstruction. People are not only being denied health insurance, but also being prevented from providing healthcare.
The impact of Medicaid refusal is measured not only in illnesses untreated and thousands of lives cut short, but also in jobs lost and economic hardship. It’s unconscionable.
In state after state, faith leaders are taking this issue head-on. In Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and allies hold weekly prayer vigils for Medicaid expansion in front of the state capitol in Richmond. And last week, when State Sen. Phillip Puckett (D) resigned his office in apolitical tradeoff that allowed Republican lawmakers to block Medicaid expansion, they swiftly and publicly condemned the move.
Last month, clergy leaders of Missouri Faith Voices shut down the state Senate with a massive demonstration in favor of immediately closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and FPL recently held a press conference call with key faith leaders from Georgia, Florida and Missouri – as well as the head of the Catholic Health Association – lifting up this same message.
As people of faith, we know that every person matters in the eyes of God. Sooner or later, the extremist politicians who are depriving their constituents of healthcare will get the memo too.
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John Gehring is the Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life.
Pope Francis has made economic justice, specifically the stark gap between rich and poor, a defining theme of his papacy. In his Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel, Francis writes that “trickle down” economic theories — a sacred ideology for many conservatives — express a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” Framing economic dignity as a “pro-life” issue, the pope insists that we must reject an “economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” In a recent tweet to his more than 10 million Twitter followers, the pope called inequality “the root of social evil.” When Francis dared to utter the “R” word (redistribution) last week, he crossed into highly charged terrain in this country that brought to mind candidate Obama’s infamous 2008 run-in with “Joe the Plumber.”
But Pope Francis’ understanding of “redistribution” doesn’t come from liberal think tanks or display a knee-jerk aversion to capitalism. It grows from orthodox Catholic teaching that is rooted in biblical values about the shared gift of creation.
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I had the honor of speaking at the Brookings Institute last week with scholars and faith leaders about economic justice and the future of the progressive faith community. We heard from many perspectives and communities, but one message was clear – building a moral economy will be a central unifying cause in the years ahead. And in an age of rigid political polarization, a new moral narrative will be critical.
One part of remedying economic injustice is lifting up working families who are trapped in poverty. Sadly, many politicians just don’t get it. Yesterday 41 Republican Senators voted to block a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, permanently index the minimum wage to inflation, and increase the tipped wage to 70% of the minimum wage. While this measure is just one step in a long journey, it would give a badly needed raise to 25 million workers.
A day before the vote, FPL and Interfaith Worker Justice released a letter signed by more than 350 clergy from diverse traditions calling on Congress to increase the minimum wage, which said in part “Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.”
The press teleconference announcing the letter featured leaders from Catholic Charities USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and Interfaith Worker Justice, as well as U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Senator Cory Booker. They not only emphasized the moral consequences of this issue, but also rebuked of those who voted to keep working families in poverty. Rev. Dr. James Perkins of the Progressive National Convention captured the essential truth of the matter, saying ““People who are opposed to raising the minimum wage are more interested in their economic ideology than they are in providing struggling people with the dignity of work.”
Overcoming this obstacle might take a while, but justice will be done.
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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and U.S. Senator Cory Booker joined with faith leaders today to call on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. The press conference announced the release of a letter, which will be sent to members of Congress to rally legislative support for raising the minimum wage ahead of tomorrow’s Senate vote. More than 350 clergy members signed the letter, along with more than 5,000 people of faith from across the country. During a teleconference, Perez, Booker and the faith leaders voiced their support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, citing both faith values and economic necessity.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said that faith leaders have played a key role in the minimum wage fight, and that he has seen first-hand how the current minimum wage hurts hardworking American families. “The role of faith leaders in this debate is indispensable,” Sec. Perez said. “As I continue to travel the country, the stories I hear frankly break my heart…Progress is about persistence. We’re going to be persistent. Nobody who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty.”
“Being a Christian, I know what the call of my faith is, and I’m glad that faith leaders know that this is not just the economically right thing to do, but the moral thing to do,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said. “As a former mayor in a community with a disproportionate amount of poverty, I know that the boost in take-home pay a low-income family would see as a result of a minimum wage increase would be infused into the economy very quickly – giving everyone a boost. Raising the minimum wage can bring transformative change for millions of Americans, especially women and children. When you pay workers more, you see tremendous benefits.
Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, said that the current minimum wage fails to provide for the nearly 10 million people his organization serves each year. “This issue is a moral issue. The principles of Catholic social teaching give us a measure for how our policies impact our society, especially the least among us,” Rev. Snyder said. “It’s time to do something about raising the minimum wage in our country. When we can improve the lives of so many, it is the moral thing to do, and it is the right thing to do.”
“The call to raise the minimum wage is about more than income inequality. It’s a moral issue,” said Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins, Vice President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the pastor of the Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit. “Here is an opportunity to help families support themselves.”
Kim Bobo, the Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, reaffirmed the commitment of faith leaders to the fight for a just minimum wage. “The faith community is united across the nation in advocating for increasing the minimum wage,” Bobo said. “All faith traditions teach us that we have to care for the least among us.”
The letter calling for an increased minimum wage that was announced during today’s teleconference will be sent to Congress ahead of tomorrow’s vote. The letter and national signers can be found here. The letter with a full list of clergy signers can be found here. The full text of the letter is included below:
Dear Member of Congress,
We represent diverse faith traditions, but we share a common conviction that the dignity of work and the security of the family are non-negotiable moral values. Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.
For the minimum wage to be moral and just, it must be a living family wage. A minimum wage that pays a full-time worker $290 a week is unjust in an economy as wealthy as ours.
Far too many of our neighbors and loved ones perform grueling and important jobs but are paid so little that they must turn to charity and government assistance to make ends meet.
After a long shift cleaning buildings, no mother should have to wait in line at a food pantry just to provide for her children. No farm worker who toils all day should lack a roof over his head at night.
History teaches us that in the absence of adequate labor laws many corporations will pay wages that are too paltry to sustain life. Legislation requiring employers to pay a living wage is indispensable to ensuring that no worker will suffer the indignity of poverty.
As faith leaders, we support increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation so it won’t be eroded by the rising cost of living. We also support raising the tipped wage to at least 70% of the minimum wage.
Abundant economic research demonstrates that raising the minimum wage does not hurt small businesses or cause layoffs, but in fact stimulates the economy while lifting many out of poverty.
We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today’s unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage.
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Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals have been challenged in recent years by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prominent Catholic theologians, a “Nuns on the Bus” tour and respected anti-poverty experts. When your guiding ideology seems to be making life harder for the working poor and coddling the super rich with more tax breaks, you better expect some moral scrutiny along the way.
This consistent Catholic pressure on Ryan doesn’t seem to bother Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center, which is hosting a luncheon tomorrow in Washington to honor the congressman with a distinguished public service award. Named in honor of Les Aspin, a Milwaukee native who served in the House of Representatives and as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, the award honors a person who “serves as a role model for our nation’s future leaders.” Marquette has sold tickets and sponsorships for the luncheon, including a $25,000 “Gold Tier” buy in that gets you “priority seating.”
Marquette University has every right to give Rep. Ryan or anyone else an award. Universities should be settings that stimulate civil debate across the political and ideological spectrum. But you might expect officials at a Catholic university would think carefully about honoring and raising money off someone who perpetuates racial stereotypes about urban poverty, demonizes government and mocks those concerned about growing income inequality.
At a time when Pope Francis challenges “trickle-down” economic theories and warns about “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Ryan released a budget this week that slashes federal funding for low-income students, food assistance to hungry families and makes deep cuts to health care coverage. This is not a pro-life budget. It’s an ideological gimmick that reflects Ryan’s favorite intellectual hero, the libertarian icon, Ayn Rand. While Ryan has recently backed away from his encomiums to Rand, the congressman once praised Rand for doing “a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.” He once cited her as “the reason why I got involved in public service.”
Ryan will be handed his public service award just two days after releasing a 2015 budget proposal that fails a basic moral test.
“This budget proposal doubles down on policies that hurt our nation and is even worse than Ryan’s earlier ones,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, in a statement today. “Forcing the working poor to pay the price of addressing federal deficits while expecting nothing from those with the most wealth is wrong.”
Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a statement that Ryan’s budget is “an exercise in hypocrisy — claiming to boost opportunity and reduce poverty while flagrantly doing the reverse.” Here are just a few highlights (or lowlights) from the Ryan proposal, according to Greenstein:
- Eliminates Pell Grants entirely for low-income students who have families to support, must work, and are attending school less than half time on top of their jobs.
- Resurrects the draconian benefit cuts in SNAP (food stamps) that the House passed last fall and adds $125 billion of SNAP cuts on top of them.
- Repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), taking coverage away from the millions of people who have just attained it, and cuts Medicaid by $732 billion (by 26 percent by 2024) on top of the cuts
from repealing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.
- At least 40 million low- and moderate-income people — that’s 1 in 8 Americans — would become uninsured by 2024. They include the 25 million otherwise-uninsured people that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects will gain coverage through the ACA by 2024.
I’m not holding my breath that any of these inconvenient facts will be raised among the polite chatter and clinking silverware at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill tomorrow. I suppose it would ruin the mood.
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